By now, this has been dissected from the Pliocene era to infinity, and ad nauseam – pros and cons. There is just no more post-mortem left. So, after saying that, why am I writing this? Because I think the real reason for this has been overlooked and is very basic. I wrote this missive to call it as I see it. No hard numbers or analyst-backed statistics or assessments, and no second-guessing. Just a simple observation of why it was inevitable. It was bound to happen because…
The fact that Verizon and AT&T are the majority stakeholders in customers (they have 70 percent of all mobile subscribers) has been an issue for Sprint and T-Mobile for a long time. No matter what they did, they just could not move up the ladder. They have tried all kinds of schemes, specials, deals, spiffs, enticements, yadda yadda with little success. And, some of the deals are way better than what Verizon or ATT had to offer. It was time to punt or accept the fact that they would always be bringing up the rear.
I have moved around a lot in this ecosystem. Why? Because I am in the business and want to speak from a position of experience. I talk to my friends and associates, often, about mobile phone issues as well as what their likes and dislikes are around the various service providers – (including some of the shirt-tail second- and third-tier ones like MetroPCS, Boost mobile, Walmart, Consumer Cellular, etc.). Plus, I like to discuss how things change within the player platforms, and how well they provide the service.
Here is how I see it at the moment. And, frankly, this has been the scorecard for some time.
If one focuses on the four (likely three, now going forward) horsepersons of the wireless apocalypse, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile (except Sprint and T-Mobile will be going by the new name of T-Schmobile), certain strengths and weaknesses have become apparent, among them, over the years. (Editor’s note, this is not, in any way, a scientific analysis. Simply the opinions of this editor).
The analysts break it out this way. Depending upon which one, it may vary a few points, but the order is valid (these numbers are for 4G)
Coverage – I agree with the statistics. Hands down, overall, it has always been Verizon, followed by AT&T, third and fourth places are T-Mobile and Sprint. Having had all carriers at least two or three times each in the last 10-15 years, this has been my experience. As well, many of my friends and professional associates agree.
Reliability – Generally, the same as coverage. Overall, T-Mobile has fared the worst when it comes to dropped calls and poor quality conversations.
Business accounts/services – Here, both Verizon and AT&T shine. My informal polls and experience is that it depends upon where, in the country one is, who is the stronger of the two. But the differences are slight, and one pays for that.
Consumer – T-Mobile has been the consumer choice and cheapest service for some time now. In the early days, they had an advantage as the GSM carrier, allowing international roaming (but, oh was it touch and go then).
Customer service – About all I have to say here, irrespective of the service provider, is that I do not recall anyone telling me how much they love CS from any provider.
Verizon and AT&T put their resources, from the beginning, into the CDMA/TDMA platform. They got the ball rolling. T-Mobile decided to bet on GSM while the market leaders were deploying CDMA. I have heard various reasons for that however, I have always thought that was a bad play.
CDMA and GSM are, fundamentally, incompatible. I recall, in the early days (the 80s and 90s) there was a lot of discussions on which technology to deploy, both in the United States, and the rest of the world. In the end, the U.S. went with CDMA and Europe, and most of the rest of the world went with GSM, initially. One could discuss why for eternity, but that is not the scope of this missive.
In the early days, if one was traveling outside of the United States, one had to get another phone. And in the beginning, world-wide coverage was not the primary concern. Today, there is no question that both will exist, and the incompatibility problem has largely been resolved with dual- and tri-mode phones. Technology comes to the rescue, as usual. But, even today, some problems exist with multimode phone accessing both schemes.
So T-Mobile was fighting an uphill battle from the beginning. Sprint never really seem to want to put in (or had?) the resources for its networks, which were required to make it, categorically, completive, as opposed to Verizon and AT&T. Therefore, they were just destined to be the laggard.
Finally, T-Mobile and Sprint saw the handwriting on the wall and, once joined at the hip, should have a pretty ubiquitous network – possibly better than either of the other two competitors. They will have both CDMA and GSM networks – something that should be able to be highly leveraged. But neither has a history of making solid choices.
However, there is some fog in the horizon, particularly with catching up, remaking their losing image and, especially, the need to come on strong with 5G. If this move does not place them in a favorable position to compete with Verizon and AT&T, it may be the worse deal of the century.
Both Sprint and T-Mobile need to put the pedal to the metal with aggressive marketing and capital expenditures if they want to be a top player in the next generation of wireless networks. They need to come up with a value proposition that appeals to the masses. Verizon and AT&T are powerful entities (as proven with AT&T’s investment in FirstNet) with lots of leverage and resources. Trying to knock them off the podium is going to be a monumental challenge.
Finally, the wireless and content arenas are changing, dramatically. That is the immediate, upcoming battlefield. It is a field full of dizzying changes, mergers, deals, acquisitions, and fallout, promising a new generation of services. How the players capitalize on this brave new wireless world is the real deal maker or breaker.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.