September 29, 2016 —
At Goldman Sachs Communacopia 2016 in New York this week, competition was in the air. Cable providers – Comcast and Charter Communications – announced they are getting into wireless as Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO). And Verizon Communications discussed its plans to get into fixed wireless video.
Charter, which already provides Wi-Fi, has activated its MVNO agreement with Verizon Wireless, according Tom Rutledge, president and CEO of Charter, similar to what Comcast has done.
“We have talked to other MVNOs and internally about how to build out our network capacity, both terrestrially and wirelessly,” Rutledge said. “To get from where we are to true mobility is going to require the use of our Wi-Fi, relationships with MVNOs and the buildout of our network sometime in the near future.”
Rutledge said increasing the penetration of the Charter network, which will soon pass 52 million homes, is the impetus behind the company’s entrance into wireless.
“Five years from now, you will have the traditional cellular as the umbrella and underneath that will be a dense network of small cells: one in every house and business we serve. Currently, there are 25 million non-subscribers in front of our two-way high-capacity network. That universe is our upside. To the extent that mobility can drive the penetration of that segment, that is the ROI.”
Fran Shammo, EVP & CFO of Verizon Communications, told an audience at Communacopia 2016 that he was not concerned about the additional wireless competition and that there will be plenty of growth in the market to handle the new entrants.
“That pie is growing and it’s not only cable companies. If you believe the world is going to be a wireless world, this pie is going to grow and everybody is going to try to figure out how do they get a piece of the pie.” he said. “But for the carriers who exist today that doesn’t mean that their pie shrinks, their pie grows as well and we all grow together.
Shammo’s company has the same idea as Comcast and Charter. Only in reverse. Verizon Communications is going to compete with the cable companies to bring video into homes using 5G-style high-speed, fixed wireless technology.
Verizon’s acquisition of XO Communications gave it 28 GHz spectrum across 40 percent of the United States, according to Shammo, which will give it a head start over other carriers that want to provide fixed wireless. It plans commercial trials in 2017 in different markets testing different manufacturers’ equipment in different models.
“If you look at 5G we’re at the beginning stages. Now, we’re much further ahead than some others,” he said. “So you will see us in cities; you will see us in suburbs; and you will see us in rural areas. Part of the commercial trials is to really test exactly the capability of 5G. How many beams can you deliver to homes? How many homes can you cover with one small cell?”
Shammo said he didn’t think running fiber to every household could ever compete with wireless on price.
“Because now I can deliver a beam into a window with a credit card size receptor on it that delivers it to the wireless router and there’s really no labor involved and there’s no real hardware other than the router and the credit card. So the cost benefit of this is pretty substantial, at least we believe it is,” he said.
In general, 5G technology will be less expensive because it will leverage the same fiber and small cell infrastructure currently being built out for 4G LTE communications, according to Shammo.
“The capital requirement for 5G is not like LTE. It’s not a replacement technology. It actually rides over the same infrastructure, the dark fiber, that is already there,” he said. “When you deploy a 4G small cell, we lay fiber to the small cell. The only incremental change for 5G is we have to add an antenna to that small cell to create the beam.”
In the last quarter, Verizon Wireless announced that its LTE coverage build out was completed and its service now available to more than 303 million people in more than 500 markets, but it continues to improve upon the network and push LTE into the AWS Band, according to Fran Shammo, Verizon Wireless CFO.
“Throughout the rest of this year, we will continue to add capacity and optimize our 4G LTE network, ensuring that customers are receiving the quality and consistent reliability that they expect from our network and devices,” he said. Since June, the main emphasis at Verizon Wireless has been increasing capacity and densification.
This month, Verizon Wireless began deploying LTE in the Advanced Wireless Services band (1710 MHz to 1755 MHz for uplink, 2110 MHz to 2155 MHz downlink) to deal with capacity issues in major cities.
“Given the growth of this we have had some densification issues in major cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, what you see us doing is being very proactive in more in-building coverage, more densification cell sites,” Shammo said.
Wireless capital spending in the third quarter totaled $2.5 billion. Year-to-date, wireless capex was $6.7 billion, nearly 11 percent higher than last year.
“We are very focused on improving investment returns and capital efficiency and expect that our annual capex to revenue ratio will improve, even with the planned additional spending in 4G LTE,” Shammo said. “We are utilizing our AWS spectrum to further optimize the network and we are already spending some of the incremental capital we allocated to wireless capacity.