Over the coming months any number of “transformative transactions” in the U.S. media and communications market are going to be floated. T-Mobile US making a bid to merge with Sprint is among the earliest such proposals. There will be many others. AT&T making its own bid for T-Mobile US now is speculated. Whether that once-rejected combination has a chance is the big question.
The antitrust situation would not seem to have materially improved since both AT&T bids to acquire T-Mobile US and Sprint’s later effort both foundered. Ironically, T-Mobile US success in recent years might conversely demonstrate the value of maintaining more-robust levels of firm diversity in the mobile market.
Vertical combinations (AT&T-Time Warner; Dish Network-Verizon) likely would have an easier antitrust clearance hurdle, since those combinations would not generally reduce the number of competitors in the market. That was the case for Comcast-NBC Universal, for example.
In addition to Sprint, T-Mobile US, Dish Network (potential acquisitions, generally), some content entities, device suppliers or over-the-top distribution assets almost certainly will emerge as potential merger candidates, as buyers or sellers
Almost nobody considers Comcast, AT&T or Verizon a likely seller, under any reasonable set of circumstances. Charter Communications, a rumored seller, also could easily be a buyer, longer term.
One could easily argue that none of those acquisitions (distribution with media; distribution with distribution) are as much strategic as tactical, aiming to achieve revenue and customer mass immediately, rather than representing investments in future services (internet of things, machine learning, immersive content).
The issue is that no set of investments in “future” opportunities, no matter how strategic, would help the big players with revenue mass or customer base in the near term. And that is what the coming consolidation wave will aim for.