Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) has tried to make Sprint hip again with the fancy Palm Pre handset. No dice. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is sort of giving it a go as Sprint introduces Android-based smartphones. We'll see how that works out in a few months.
But perhaps Sprint's savior will rise from Germany.
T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT ) is trying hard to turn around the flagging fortunes of T-Mobile in Britain and the United States. Recently, T-Mobile UK announced a merger with competing mobile carrier Orange, which is owned by France Telecom (NYSE: FTE ) . This deal would create the leading mobile network in the UK market if approved. (It's also probably the first time Germany and France have joined forces to subjugate the English.)
And well-respected British newspaper The Daily Telegraph now reports that Deutsche Telekom is looking to repeat that deal Stateside. Folding Sprint into T-Mobile would transform two also-rans into an instant competitor to Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless and AT&T (NYSE: T ) with more than 78 million combined subscribers.
The Telegraph is leaning on anonymous sources in the grand old Wall Street Journal tradition. There has been talk about a deal like this for a year or more, but serious talks started about three months ago. That sounds like an opportunistic play by Deutsche Telekom. Watching the Pre launch barely making a difference to Sprint, the Germans may have seen an opportunity to do a ride-by rescue on the cheap. Sprint's shares fell 28% between early May and last Friday, while the S&P 500 benchmark cheerfully recovered to the tune of 12%.
But the faceless insiders also noted that T-Mobile is looking at other ways to turn the sinking ship around as a standalone business. And there are many reasons why that is the more likely outcome here: The erstwhile partners run on vastly different network technologies today, and are committed to different next-generation technologies as well. Also, our regulatory bodies might not want the German government to hold a major stake in a company that holds about one-third of our mobile networks.
All things considered, I'd be very surprised to see T-Mobile joining forces with Sprint. The only major consolidation move that would make sense in the light of technical challenges and political pressures would be Verizon Wireless plus Sprint -- but the antitrust guys might not like that combination. So those Sprint shares should give back this rumor-induced 13% pop before too long.
That's just one Fool's opinion, of course. What do you think? Share your wisdom in the comments below.