RENTON, Wash. — Sitting across from Verizon Communications Chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam in a conference room overlooking Lake Washington this morning, it seemed fitting to point out that we could almost see the headquarters of his wireless competitor, T-Mobile, just over the trees in nearby Bellevue.
“Is that where the hot air is coming out of?” McAdam joked.
Notwithstanding that barb, the Verizon CEO expressed indifference about T-Mobile, its outspoken CEO John Legere, and T-Mobile’s new plan to merge with rival Sprint in a $26.5 billion deal that the two companies hope will create a more formidable rival to AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
“We don’t care, is the answer to that,” McAdam told GeekWire. He alluded to past attempts by T-Mobile to merge with Sprint and AT&T. “Maybe the fourth time is the charm here, I don’t know.”
McAdam also shrugged off T-Mobile’s contention that the deal would make the U.S. more competitive in the emerging market for high-speed 5G wireless broadband access.
“In the areas like 5G, we’ve been pushing forward with that strategy. I don’t think that merger matters from a 5G perspective. We’re going to do it regardless and we’re way ahead of everybody. We’ve made all the investments that are required in fiber and millimeter wave spectrum and those sorts of things.”
What about the impact on competition among the major U.S. wireless players?
“I think the U.S. has always been a competitive market,” he said. “Competition will probably be different if they’re together, but it’s still going to be a very competitive market. So we don’t care. It’ll take them two years — a year of approval and a year of integration — before they’re pointed into the wind, if you will. And we’re going to make the most out of those two years.”
In addition to bringing together their network capacity, T-Mobile and Sprint would have about 127 million total retail and wholesale customers combined, compared with AT&T at 141 million and Verizon at 150 million, according to Strategy Analytics data reported by Fierce Wireless.
But McAdam pointed out that the competitive landscape is more complex than just the four major U.S. wireless carriers. Verizon partners and competes with cable companies, tech giants such as Apple and Google, and even Facebook as a result of Verizon’s Oath online division, which includes advertising-based businesses such as AOL and Yahoo.
“To look at this market as Sprint-T-Mobile vs. AT&T vs. Verizon is kind of silly,” McAdam said. “It’s far more dynamic and far more interesting frankly than that.”
T-Mobile has grown its market share steadily in recent years through its “Un-carrier” marketing strategy, and McAdam acknowledged that, in some situations, T-Mobile has caused Verizon to do things it otherwise wouldn’t have done.
“I think the answer to that has to be yes, anytime you have a competitor in the market. Things that AT&T has done have made us change. Things that we’ve done have made them change. So every carrier impacts the other,” he said. “I think from that perspective, if you look at where T-Mobile was five years ago versus where they are today, you have to say, hey, they’ve done some things right, but we feel pretty good that we’ve done a lot of things right, too, and we continue to lead the industry, and we’re going to make sure we do that.”
What about Legere’s frequent jokes at the expense of Verizon and AT&T?
“I don’t pay any attention,” McAdam said. “I’m not a big social network person. If you take a look, I don’t tweet. … You can either be a celebrity or you can have your head down running your business. I choose to be the one that has my head down running the business. I think all this other stuff is a waste of energy, so I don’t pay any attention.”
McAdam’s presence in the Seattle region just days after the T-Mobile-Sprint deal was announced is a coincidence. Verizon holds its annual shareholder meeting in different locations around the country each year, and this year’s meeting will be held Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at the Southport development in Renton, south of Seattle.
We’ll have more from our interview with McAdam, including the latest on the company’s 5G rollout, in a follow-up post.