During the second quarter earnings calls, LTE deployment was on the lips of several major carriers as they seek to catch up with Verizon Wireless.
T-Mobile US is pushing forward with its LTE upgrade and HSPA+ build out, and it has doubled its MetroPCS brand presence to 15 new markets. The carrier, which launched its LTE network in seven major metropolitan areas in March, lit up 116 Metro areas covering 157 million people with LTE by the end of July, exceeding its midyear goal of 100 million. The company is also still building out its HSPA+ network, which now covers 228 million people on AWS spectrum and 108 million in 1900 band.
“We have hugely accelerated the modernization and upgrading of our network to 4G LTE,” John Legere, president and CEO, told the second quarter earnings call. More than 200 million covered pops are projected to receive LTE by the end of 2013.
Also during the quarter, the carrier purchased of US Cellular’s spectrum covering 32 million POPs in cities such as St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville; Memphis, Tenn.; and New Orleans.
“Our coverage spectrum position is improving. The [US Cellular] spectrum is adjacent to our current holdings which provide key network efficiency benefit,” Legere said. “Further, due to the spectrum position and our network deployment program … we are on track to achieve 20×20 megahertz 4G LTE coverage in 90 percent of the top 25 market in 2014 and beyond.”
Additionally, T-Mobile is moving forward with the integration of MetroPCS, completing the planning and beginning the implementation of the network migration. So far, it has launched HSPA, HSPA+ and LTE in multiple MetroPCS markets and expects to complete the launch in all existing markets by the end of Q3. The implementation of multi-operator core network allows MetroPCS customers with LTE handsets to use T-Mobile 4G LTE network for data without a change in handset.
AT&T LTE Growth ‘On Track’
AT&T currently covers more than 225 million people with LTE and is on track to reach nearly 270 million pops by year end covering 400 markets.
“We continue to move fast with our 4G LTE deployment. We now expect to substantially complete our 4G LTE network by the next summer,” Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO for AT&T Mobility, told a second quarter earnings call.
AT&T bumped up its CapEx $900 million year over year to $5.5 billion in the second quarter.
“We spent that money at this time, because the network team could get more done and efficiently get it done and so we want to make sure we fund that and we will stick to that philosophy,” de la Vega said.
Network Vision Momentum Continues
While shutting down the Nextel platform, Sprint made progress on the Network Vision deployment in the quarter, completing 6,500 sites for a total of 20,000. LTE has been launched in 151 cities, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. Sprint expects to provide 200 million people with LTE by the end of 2013.
“Momentum continued in the second quarter and expanding the Network Vision footprint we now have zoning complete on nearly 35,000 sites and leasing complete on close to 34,000. More than 30,000 sites are ready or have already begun construction. There are 600 cities under construction,” said Steve Elfman, Sprint president of network operations and wholesale.
Another significant milestone in the evolution of Network Vision is the closing of both the Midwest spectrum acquisition from U.S. Cellular and the acquisition of Clearwire. The U.S. Cellular transaction brought 20 megahertz of PCS spectrum in Chicago and its surrounding markets and 10 megahertz of PCS spectrum in the St. Louis market. Sprint has already begun to deploy LTE on the acquired spectrum and we’ll continue to do so through the third quarter of next year.
“With regard to Clearwire, we’ve been actively engaged with them to build both a network integration plan as well as the integration of all functions into Sprint,” Elfman said. “As it relates to expanding LTE on 2.5 gigahertz, Clearwire had roughly 2,000 TD-LTE sites commissioned at the time of closing and expect these and additional sites under construction to continue coming on air in the second half.
Future LTE Growth Looks Good Too — Moody’s
Tower companies will get a nice boost from Sprint’s purchase of its subsidiary Clearwire Corp. through upgrading existing cell sites and adding sites to achieve nationwide LTE coverage, according to Moody’s Investors Service in the report “Independent Towers Will Get an EBITDA Boost As Sprint Deploys Clearwire Spectrum.”
“We expect that Sprint will repurpose the Clearwire tower sites and add an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 cell tower sites, which will generate increased leasing revenue that the carrier pays to the tower companies,” says Moody’s Vice President — Senior Analyst Gregory Fraser, the author of the report. “These new tower sites will replace the 16,500 Clearwire sites scheduled to be decommissioned and will therefore eliminate the risk that lost rent from those towers would not be replaced with new rental revenue.”
Moody’s expects AT&T to further its 4G/LTE deployment on Leap’s underutilized spectrum on 15,000 to 20,000 sites (including the 9,700 leased sites acquired from Leap), which will also to the benefit of the independent tower firms.