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Sprint drops pursuit of T-Mobile, hires new CEO

Sprint and its corporate parent, Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank, have dropped their pursuit of T-Mobile US after conceding that antitrust regulators would block a deal in an industry that is dominated by just a few large players, a person briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

The decision, made at a Sprint board meeting Tuesday afternoon, is the second failed effort by large U.S. wireless carriers to merge in three years. And it represents a serious blow by SoftBank to develop a big challenger to the two giants of the U.S. cellphone industry, Verizon and AT&T.

The end of the deal leaves open the question of what paths Sprint and T-Mobile will forge as smaller competitors to the titans of their industry. Combined, the two control less than a third of the U.S. wireless market.

Already this year, both Comcast and AT&T have announced deals meant to bolster their reach. But the existence of both transactions — Comcast’s $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s $49 billion purchase of DirecTV — has made the Obama administration wary of concentrating too much power in the hands of too few companies.

In 2011, AT&T’s attempts to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion failed after the Obama administration sued to block the deal.

Today, Sprint announced it had hired Brightstar Corp. CEO Marcelo Claure to replace Dan Hesse, 60. Hesse, who has led the third-largest wireless carrier since 2007 and starred in a series of black-and-white TV commercials to help the company restore its image, will receive a severance package worth more than $40 million.

Hesse was the highest-paid CEO in the U.S. wireless industry last year, with $49.1 million in compensation, including $27.8 million in stock awards.