Sprint (NYSE: S) has fallen on hard times. The company has sunk to number four in the wireless space, being passed by T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS), which has created a strong brand around being the clear alternative to market leaders AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ).
In addition to seeing its place in the market slip, Sprint also failed in its attempt to merge with T-Mobile. That deal failed because Sprint's parent company, Softbank (NASDAQOTH: SFTBF), and its CEO Masayoshi Son did not like the price offered. Son was also concerned about giving up control of the wireless carrier.
That may have killed the merger, but it's perhaps a positive for Sprint in the long term. The company is languishing as a wireless carrier, but it has cut its losses and gone back to adding customers in its most-recent quarter.
What's next for Sprint?
Sprint has over $31 billion in debt, but it's not without assets. As my colleague Jamal Carnette pointed out when the merger collapsed, Sprint is sitting on a huge amount of 2.5 GHz high-band spectrum, "which is perfect for transmitting data at a high speed." That's an asset that could make Sprint a viable partner for a cable company or another player looking to launch a service that needs to quickly transmit data.
That, plus Softbank's very deep pockets, could make Sprint a merger target. It's worth noting that the company conducted negotiations with Comcast and Charter Communications, but no deal was reached and control was rumored to be a potential issue as well.
That leaves Sprint in a position where it could try to merge with a smaller player or attempt to roll up a number of companies that could leverage Sprint's customer base as well as its spectrum. That's a much dicier proposition and it's a lot riskier than simply selling to T-Mobile at a small premium on the current stock price.
Can Sprint be a millionaire maker?
With Softbank in the picture, it's possible Sprint could become a lot more than it is. The reality is that money alone won't solve the company's problems. Aside from T-Mobile and maybe DISH Network, which has a chairman in Charlie Ergen who's as unwilling to cede control as Son is.
Aside from those two deals, both of which appear to be out of play, there's no easy answer for Sprint. It could partner with one of the above-mentioned companies on building out its spectrum or Softbank could fund doing it on its own. That's possible, but it's hard to see a clear play for the company that would greatly enhance its value. Son has money and ambition, and Sprint still has a sizable customer base to leverage to move into new spaces.
Tt's very possible that no deal presents itself and Softbank decides to cut its losses on Sprint. It's also possible that no major move gets made and the wireless carrier keeps muddling along as it has been for years.
Most of those are not millionaire-maker scenarios. Sprint could be a millionaire-maker stock, but that's a lot less likely than it becoming a slight gain on a sale or an unpredictable performer as it chugs along on its own trying to compete with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.
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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and T-Mobile US. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.