Japan attack on wireless 'oligopoly' awkward for SoftBank's U.S. plans

Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:10pm EDT
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By Yoshiyasu Shida

TOKYO (Reuters) - For Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, who wants to build the world's largest mobile Internet company, criticism of his operations from regulators in his home market could not come at a worse time.

The feisty entrepreneur is lobbying skeptical Washington officials to let him buy a second U.S. mobile operator, saying he would help to break up a cozy U.S. wireless oligopoly.

Son says he is an outsider who stirred up a price battle that benefited consumers after he took over Vodafone's failing Japanese operation eight years ago.

So it must be galling to hear regulators in Tokyo chide his SoftBank Corp (9984.T: Quote), along with NTT DoCoMo (9437.T: Quote), Japan's mobile industry leader, and No.2 KDDI Corp (9433.T: Quote), for lack of competition in the domestic smartphone market.

"You could say the mobile market is an oligopoly of the three big companies," Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo said at a regular news conference this month.

His ministry is preparing long-term proposals to bring lower prices and faster services, including fostering growth of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), cut-rate providers that lease network access from the big carriers.

The sniping will not help Son's plans to acquire T-Mobile US Inc TMUS.N.

He wants to combine the No. 4 U.S. mobile carrier with No. 3 Sprint Corp (S.N: Quote), which SoftBank bought last July for $21.6 billion. Together, he argues, they would have the heft to take on dominant carriers AT&T Inc (T.N: Quote) and Verizon (VZ.N: Quote), which he derides as a complacent duopoly.   Continued...

A man holding his mobile phone walks past the logo of Softbank Corp at its branch in Tokyo April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino