Helio backer SK Telecom, the Korean wireless giant, is in negotiations to purchase Virgin Mobile USA. The plan: combine the two properties and then invest enough in Sprint Nextel to get all three companies working together. Sprint already runs the network over which Helio and Virgin run their cell-phone services. Complicating the deal: T-Mobile's rumored interest in buying Sprint. "Part of something is better than all of nothing," a source close to Helio tells us.
Helio wants the deal because it will put them into the prepaid market and Virgin wants the deal because it will put them in the subscription market. They also feel that a combined company will give them more clout with Sprint — or T-Mobile if Sprint get purchased. If Sprint is not purchased, look for the combined company to inject a few billion into Sprint and also giving them a 20-30 percent stake in the new firm.
We've not seen a deal so complicated since Park Place was on the table for all the railroads and free rent on Boardwalk for 10 turns, but given Sprint's vulnerable position these days, and the fact that Sprint uses the same technology, CDMA, as SK Telecom — a rarity — there's logic to the deal.