Does Verizon Own US Cellular in 2024? The Full Breakdown

You’ve likely seen the familiar Verizon logo on retail stores across America as one of the largest wireless carriers. But what about US Cellular? With roots dating back to 1983, this regional provider takes a localized approach in parts of the Midwest, Northwest, and New England focusing on rural markets often overlooked by national telecom giants.

So with contrasting strategies, does Verizon own or control US Cellular right now? Or could we see an acquisition deal happen in 2024? Let‘s compare what each of these companies offers to better understand the competitive landscape.

How US Cellular Stacks Up To Verizon at a Glance

While both well-known wireless providers in their own right, Verizon and US Cellular differ greatly in scale and geographic footprints:

Key MetricVerizonUS Cellular
Subscribers~125 million5 million
Owned Towers7,700+1,000+
5G AvailabilityNationwide ultra wideband, covers over 2,700 citiesSelect regions covering 10% of subscriber base
Annual Revenue (2022)$136.8 billion$4 billion
OwnershipPublicly traded (NYSE: VZ)84% owned by Telephone & Data Systems Inc.

With 10x higher annual earnings and 5G spanning the entire country, Verizon dominates as expected from its position as the #1 wireless carrier.

Conversely, US Cellular concentrates on 23 states focusing just on its own customers rather than nationwide coverage.

Why Verizon Covets Rural Markets

Despite the scale differences, Verizon still has incentives to grow its rural presence where US Cellular operates with its partnerships:

  • Untapped revenue potential – Rural areas make up over 15% of wireless subscribers nationally per 2021 census data
  • Competitive pressure – After failed Sprint merger, T-Mobile aggressively expanding rural 5G putting pressure on Verizon
  • Reputation & regulatory – Buying smaller regional telcos improves public profile as extending critical access

An acquisition of US Cellular would allow Verizon to capture more rural subscribers, accelerate 5G buildouts in mountain states, and reduce dependence on roaming agreements.

And with a market cap hovering under $2 billion, US Cellular is reasonably sized target for a cash-rich suitor like Verizon.

What‘s the Likelihood of a Deal in 2024?

Verizon has yet to make an offer to acquire US Cellular as a whole. However, some factors point to deal prospects increasing:

  • Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg emphasizes expanding 5G coverage for underserved areas
  • US Cellular currently lacks resources and spectrum depth to match national 5G rollouts
  • Regional telcos struggle to fund growth while Verizon annual infrastructure spend tops $20 billion

My prediction is we‘ll see Verizon re-enter talks to buy US Cellular assets within the next year. This strengthens Verizon‘s spectrum position and customer retention in competitive rural areas.

Furthermore, concrete merger interest emerged back around 2011 at a ~$3 billion price tag before legal issues derailed the potential deal. If Verizon revisited acquiring US Cellular now with rural 5G in focus, offering 10-20% premium to current valuation could seal an agreement.

Of course, no deal is guaranteed as US Cellular‘s owners may refuse buyout offers to preserve independence. Nonetheless, the business case for bringing this regional operator under Verizon‘s umbrella remains compelling from multiple strategic angles.

The Bottom Line

While Verizon continues leveraging US Cellular‘s network via existing roaming partnerships, consolidation may be on the horizon.

As 5G rollout competition intensifies, Verizon could make another play to subsume US Cellular’s operations like it has done with various small rural carriers over the past decade.

That would mean an influx of resources and world-class infrastructure for current US Cellular customers but at the cost of losing a home-grown Midwest brand.

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