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John Legere
John Legere at T-Mobile’s ‘Uncarrier 5.0’ event

If you can’t join them, beat them.

That’s the message from T-Mobile after Sprint this week decided not to pursue a merger with the Bellevue-based wireless carrier. After some initial smack talk, T-Mobile CEO John Legere took things a step further — predicting that T-Mobile will surpass Sprint in total customers by the end of the year.

Legere made the prediction as part of T-Mobile’s announcement that it has already overtaken Sprint in prepaid wireless customers.

“The momentum we’re seeing with our T-Mobile and MetroPCS brands is outstanding, and the fact that we’ve blown by everyone to take the No.1 spot in prepaid is icing on the cake,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I’m going on record—I predict we’ll overtake Sprint in total customers by the end of this year. Not someday. Not next year. This year. Americans are voting with their feet, and they’re joining this Un-carrier revolution by the millions.”

It’s not a big stretch. T-Mobile had more than 50 million subscribers as of the end of the second quarter, up from 44 million a year earlier. That compares with 54 million subscribers for Sprint at the end of the second quarter.

Legere isn’t the only one making the prediction. Wireless industry analyst Chetan Sharma wrote this week that T-Mobile is “now within a striking distance of Sprint and could become the number 3 operator in the country before early 2015.”

But surpassing Sprint is like picking off the weak member of the herd. The bigger challenge for Legere and T-Mobile is both Verizon Wireless and AT&T, which have a whopping 104 million and 116 million customers, respectively, according to their latest financial reports.

Legere spoke to the larger challenge in an interview with GeekWire earlier this summer, when the Sprint deal was still in the works.

“I know what we’ve done in the last year-and-a-half is a small inkling of what real competition is like,” Legere said at the time. “In order to keep it going, there’s things we need in the long term — scale, spectrum, etc. And one way to get those is consolidation.”

With the Sprint deal now out of the picture, T-Mobile will have to grow through other means. We’ll get a glimpse of the company’s strategy soon — T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier 7.0” announcement is expected later this summer.


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