August 1, 2014 — T-Mobile is aggressively rolling out LTE in the 700 MHz A-Block, achieving coverage of 158 million people or about 50 percent of the population and 70 percent of the existing T-Mobile customer base. Nine of the top 10 and 21 of the top 30 metros have coverage.
“I’m thrilled to report that the first 700 megahertz sites are already on air,” said John Legere, T-Mobile’s CEO. “Compatible handsets are being field tested right now and are expected to be available for sale by the fourth quarter.”
Not the entire A-Block spectrum block is currently available. Half of the markets covered by A-Block spectrum are encumbered by Channel 51, which limits T-Mobile’s ability to use the spectrum until the incumbent broadcasters are relocated. However, agreements have been signed to relocate broadcasters in five markets covering more than 13 million people, which will be available for launch in 2015.
Additionally, T-Mobile has acquired A-Block spectrum in multiple markets covering 8.7 million in population for $50.5 million. The average megahertz per POP price of approximately $0.48 compared to $1.85 per megahertz POP price T-Mobile paid in the Verizon A-Block transaction.
T-Mobile has also begun its LTE network expansion on its limited remaining 2G footprint lighting up its first 1.9 GHz LTE sites. The LTE rollout should cover more than 280 million people with by mid-2015.
At the Speed of LTE
T-Mobile maintained its position that it is the fastest network in the second quarter, according to Legere, with average download speeds of 19.3 megabits per second. The carrier based its claims on its analysis of crowd sourced LTE data.
“We continue to amp up our speed as we commit more spectrum to LTE and upgrade our cell site backhaul,” he said. “We’ve now rolled out 10×10 4G LTE in 43 of the top 50 metro areas, and we continue to grow our wideband LTE footprint, currently covering 17 metro areas and aiming for at least 26 by year end. As a reminder, with wideband LTE, customers are regularly observing speeds into 70 megabits per second range. Our network’s speed is simply incredible.”
Capex, Down Year Over Year, Will Ramp Later in 2014
T-Mobile spent $940 million on capex in the second quarter, which was flat compared to the first quarter ($947 million) and down 15 percent from $1.1 billion in Q2 2013. First-half 2014 was $1.8 billion and full-year capex is projected to be between $4.3 billion and $4.6 billion, according to J. Braxton Carter, chief financial officer.
“There will be a bit of a ramp up later in the year as we shut down the CDMA portions of the MetroPCS network and continue the rollout of 700 MHz and the deployment of 4G LTE on the 1.9 GHz PCS spectrum,” Carter said. “We continue to see the benefits of our spend as our 4G LTE network, the fastest in the nation, covers more than 233 million people in 325 metro areas.”
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link. He is also an occasional contributor to AGL magazine.
Rumors that Sprint would buy T-Mobile may be dead wrong.
John Legere, T-Mobile president and CEO, was certainly not acting vanquished as he triumphantly announced the purchase of a nice chunk of spectrum last week.
The transaction puts into the carrier in position to continue its aggressive network expansion and represents a “significant step in T-Mobile’s evolution as a company,” Legere said.
T-Mobile US purchased 700 MHz A-Block spectrum from Verizon Wireless for $2.4 billion in cash and the transfer of AWS and PCS spectrum licenses, which have an aggregate estimated value of $950 million. T-Mobile anticipates rolling out service and compatible handsets on this A-Block spectrum as early as the fourth quarter of 2014.
Combined with its existing Boston A-Block holdings, T-Mobile will have low-band spectrum covering approximately 158 million people — including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Detroit. The transactions give T-Mobile low-band spectrum in 9 of the top 10 and 21 of the top 30 U.S. markets.
As a result of the transaction, T-Mobile went from less than one to 9 megahertz of 700 MHz spectrum in the top 25 markets.
“The development of our nationwide low-band spectrum position is key to the long-term strategic health of T-Mobile,” Legere said. “The A-band spectrum is the ideal low-band complement to our current mid-band holdings.”
The carrier swapped spectrum in other bands. Legere assured analysts that the reduction in its AWS holdings from 45 to 42 megahertz and the decrease of its PCS spectrum from 31 to 30 megahertz would not affect its LTE rollout plans. In fact, the carrier’s total spectrum in the top 25 markets grew from 77 to 82 megahertz.
Legere said, “The spectrum to be transferred to Verizon is surplus to what we require to roll out our 20 by 20 megahertz LTE system.”
Addressing the Channel 51 interference issue, Neville Ray, T-Mobile CTO, said less than half of the population covered by the A Block licenses are affected by possible problems, and techniques also exist to shrink these zones. The interference problem will be resolved as a result of the FCC’s Broadcast Incentive Auction, planned for 2015.
“Recent regulatory and technological developments have notably improved the near term usability of the A-block licenses,” Ray said. “In addition, the confirmation of the Broadcast Incentive Auction have added certainty to the final resolution of any outstanding Channel 51 interference issues.”
Good News/Bad News for Towers
The good news for towers is T-Mobile will begin system deployment immediately in the A Block out side of the Channel 51 service contours. No Channel 51 service exists in the Dallas, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami markets.
The bad news is the purchased spectrum covers 70 percent of the existing T-Mobile customer base and T-Mobile has 15,000 towers with in those areas. The overlay of low-band spectrum on existing infrastructure will lessen the need for new towers.
Ray assured the conference call that T-Mobile is not done adding spectrum to its cache in ways that are “prudent and pragmatic.” Expect the carrier to take part in future spectrum auctions.
The low-band spectrum, which covers 150 million people in major metro areas, improves in-building coverage as well as coverage in rural areas.
“It materially improves in-building coverage, providing an in-building signal that is two times that of mid-band and even greater when compared with high band,” Ray said.
And because it travels greater distances than high-band spectrum, it is more efficient for coverage at edge of cities and in less densely populated areas. Because of the strength its urban network, its initial focus for low-band build out will be in suburban and rural areas.
“There is a significant signal propagation improvement compared with mid-band. In rural areas this expansion of coverage can be four times better,” Ray said. “It gives us a very cost-effective path for in-fill and for extending our coverage area.”
Also, as part of the transaction, the two companies will realign spectrum blocks in certain markets, primarily in northern California and the Atlanta area.
Neville Ray, chief technology officer, T-Mobile USA, expounded on how the combination of MetroPCS and T-Mobile is accelerating the carrier’s LTE strategy, as Deutsche Telekom hosted a Capital Markets Day at its headquarters, Dec. 6, in Bonn, Germany.
T-Mobile’s LTE rollout will reach 100 million pops in the first half of 2013 and 200 million pops at the end of the year. It will achieve a two-by-10 MHz LTE position in nearly 90 percent of the top 25 service areas in 2013 in the AWS band and then expand to a two-by-20 MHz position in 2014 and 2015. Release 10-capable LTE equipment and tower top amplifiers will be implemented at 37,000 cell sites across T-Mobile’s network.
“We are excited about what the MetroPCS combination does for us in allowing the deployment of LTE in the AWS band, rapidly accelerating our deployment,” Ray said. “We have a lot of capacity coming online to support the migration of MetroPCS customers. Look to see the completion of the migration in 2015, which is when we will begin to decommission their CDMA system.”
Complementing its 225 million pop HSPA+ AWS position, T-Mobile is also rapidly expanding its HSPA + footprint in the 1900 MHz band, which will surpass 100 million pops by year end 2012, reach 170 million pops in the first half of next year and then to 200 million pops by year end 2013. In Bonn, T-Mobile announced another three service areas – Atlanta, Minneapolis and Seattle in addition to the 15 markets already announced, which included Miami; Phoenix; San Francisco; Mesa and Tucson, Ariz.; Modesto, Oakland, San Jose and Stockton, Calif.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We are in the middle of refarming, replacing GSM [at 1900 MHz],” Ray said. “We have completed clearance of the band and are now rapidly introducing HSPA+ in 1900 MHz PCS spectrum.”
John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA, confidently announced that the carrier will soon be able to AT&T’s network.
“All the growing pains of getting this huge modernization and transformation process are done,” he said. “It took a while to ramp up to full speed, but we will hit those targets.”