Report: Altice looking to buy Ryan Reynolds-backed Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile has been enjoying brisk business the past year, and a report Thursday said it’s being shopped around to a new buyer for anywhere from $600 million to $800 million.

The main contender in the buying spree is Altice USA, according to this New York Post report. Altice USA declined to comment to a Fierce inquiry. Altice, a cable operator that uses T-Mobile’s network under an MVNO arrangement, recently rebranded nationwide under the Optimum Mobile name.

The Post cited an unnamed source “with direct knowledge of the situation,” and said it was unclear whether Altice would end up closing a deal for Mint.

Mint Mobile didn’t respond to a request for comment on the report.  

Last month, Mint Chief Marketing Officer Aron North told Fierce that the company was doing great, doubling in size and revenue during the past year – at a time when many businesses were struggling from the economic impact of Covid-19. He gave no indication at the time that parent Ultra Mobile was looking to sell the Mint business, which operates as an MVNO using T-Mobile’s network exclusively.  

Mint Mobile recently was the subject of a data breach where an attacker was allowed to port numbers to another service provider and potentially accessed account information, according to reports. Mint also declined to address that with Fierce.   

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Ryan Reynolds Mint Mobile
Ryan Reynolds 

Mint hasn’t said much publicly about how much of the business actor Ryan Reynolds owns, but it’s one of a few wireless companies currently hitching itself to star power. (In years past, wireless carriers hired spokespeople like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luke Wilson to pitch their products.)

According to the Post report, Reynolds’ stake is estimated between 20% and 25% of the company.

Publicity stunts 'working for them' 

So, what is Mint saying? The company has been talking about the success it’s found in some of its more outlandish offers. Mint recently ran a one-day campaign that allowed customers to buy 25 years of service for just $2,500.

Spokesman Reynolds tweeted on July 2 that 124 customers had purchased the 25-year plan. That tweet garnered 358 retweets and more than 14,500 likes. Sure, the offer was a publicity stunt, but “they’re known for that and it seems to be working for them,” said Jeff Moore, principal of Wave7 Research.

Throughout the pandemic, “we’ve fared exceptionally well,” North recently told Fierce. The company sells physical SIM cards at Target and Best Buy, but the bulk of its business is done online, and that structure was fine- tuned well before Covid-19 hit. Therefore, Mint Mobile was well prepared for the online deluge, he said. That includes eSIMs.

Last month, Mint started offering six months of free service with the purchase of a phone and six months’ service in advance. That effectively set up customers with a year’s worth of service – which isn’t bad for an MVNO that typically sells service in 3-, 6- and 9-month increments.

It was early days into the offer when Fierce talked with North, but at the time, it was “so far, so good,” he said in terms of the offer’s acceptance. “We’re all about creating disruption in the marketplace to attract new customers, and this felt to me like the most disruptive way to get people to look at Mint,” he said.  

Like other MVNOs that use T-Mobile’s network, it’s affected by the shutdown of Sprint’s 3G CDMA network, which is set to happen in January 2022. But it’s not dwelling on that part. “We’re excited about the prospect of an enhanced network,” and less concerned about the old network turning down, North said, emphasizing that the future is 5G.

He declined to elaborate on how the company planned to handle customer phones that aren’t compatible with the upgraded network, but he said only a small part of the customer base would be affected.
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From a branding perspective, Ultra is very retail focused; it’s sold through thousands of independent dealers and/or distributors, as well as in national retail and brick and mortar stores. Ultra offers single monthly plans whereas Mint is predicated on buying in bulk and that’s where the savings come for customers.

North, who’s background is in the fast-food space – also a hyper-competitive environment – said one thing about wireless is it’s more or less restricted when it comes to new entrants. With Sprint out of the picture, there are fewer large operators to support MVNOs, and their numbers are dwindling.

“But the marketplace is incredibly competitive,” he added. “I haven’t seen competition back down at all.” In fact, the major carriers are all offering $1,000-plus devices for free as they attempt to get more consumers to adopt 5G and/or switch to their offering. And North was clear on Mint’s most direct competition: It’s Verizon and AT&T. “We don’t look at the MVNO space for competitors,” he said.

Mint owns the “5G for free” trademark, he said, and it doesn’t charge extra for 5G. “We’re very excited to partner with T-Mobile," he said. "We think they are excellent partners. They have a fantastic network,” and it's only extending the lead.