You're the largest global wireless provider, but you're hemmed in to your home market, which inhibits growth. OK, your home market is China, so your customer base is immense, but you've already achieved saturation there. What to do? Where to go?
That's the dilemma facing China Mobile, a wireless carrier with over 790 million subscribers. Its revenue expressed in U.S. dollars is $54 billion this year, and that revenue represented a 7 percent increase over the previous year, based on better data revenue that offset losses in voice and messaging areas.
While revenue rose, profit, which matters more, declined by 8.5 percent, mostly due to those voice and messaging losses. Revenue in those categories fell 5.3 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively.
Data revenue should improve as China Mobile and competitors ramp up their 4G services. The rollout of 4G has lagged behind in China compared with Western companies. But that still does not represent a path into the future for China Mobile.
Acquisitions -- that's the ticket. China Mobile enjoys a prodigious amount of cash reserves, about $74 billion at last glance. And a likely target in the view of industry observers is T-Mobile USA Inc. Acquiring T-Mobile's U.S. affiliate would open up a huge source of new customer and international expansion for China Mobile.
T-Mobile U.S.' parent company, Deutsche Telecom, seems to be listening to offers made for the American subsidiary. After the planned merger with Sprint fell through, a French telecom firm, Iliad AKT, submitted a $15 billion offer for T-Mobile that did not even match Sprint's bid and was turned down. Dish Network Corp. may be the next suitor. Dish is rich in spectrum assets and a merger with T-Mobile's own spectrum assets would give T-Mobile a step up on other domestic wireless carriers.
China Mobile's offer would experience a smoother regulatory ride than the Sprint-T-Mobile deal would have received, since China Mobile does not currently compete in the U.S. market. But China Mobile does not have much experience with acquisitions on this scale, having only dabbled in investing in smaller Asian carriers near its home market.
So there sits T-Mobile, ripe for the taking, and China Mobile, cash in hand, ready to rumble. Will China Mobile find the asking price a bit too steep? Will there be regulatory hurdles unforeseen, given the current political and economic tensions between U.S. legislators and China? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the trade winds.