It looks like the T-Mobile 5G wireless infrastructure buildout is not going to slow up any time soon. Mike Sievert, president and CEO of T-Mobile, had just said that the wireless carrier “crushed” its 5G wireless communications expansion coverage goals in 2020, when he pivoted and promised to double the amount of Ultra Capacity 5G coverage in 2021. Sievert spoke during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call last week.
Ultra Capacity 5G wireless communications can deliver average speeds of 300 Mbps with peaks approaching 1 Gbps and is now available in more than 1,000 cities and towns.
“We’re on to our next audacious goal: to cover 200 million people (POPS) nationwide by the end of this year,” Sievert said. “For a number of reasons, getting to 200 million is a much taller challenge, but we’ve ramped the biggest network factory this country has ever seen, and we’re up to the task. This is important. We’re now running a huge deployment machine at pace with a proven rollout model.”
Last year, T-Mobile expanded the coverage of its 600 MHz Extended Range 5G wireless service to 1.6 million square miles, including 280 million people, which is many times more than the 5G coverage of its competitors, officials said. Coverage of the carrier’s Ultra Capacity 5G, which uses dedicated mid-band or high-band 5G signals, or both, was expanded to 106 million people last year, as well.
Referring to Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s president of technology, Sievert said, “Neville and the team are doing something that’s never been done before, operating at this scale. Many, many thousands of tower sites had to be touched and upgraded with advanced 5G technology to get us to that 106 million number, let alone the 280 million people who are covered by Extended Range 5G.”
Answering an analyst’s question, Ray said he wanted to celebrate passing 100 million POPs before talking about moving to 200 million POPS this year.
“Just to do the competitive comparison,” he said, “our high-capacity footprint is about 50 times the size of the Verizon high-capacity footprint, which is pretty stunning. It’s almost embarrassing, when you think about it.”
Ray said the carrier has the resources, supply chain, commitments and processes in place to continue the expansion apace.
“Even though we have a huge lead, you’re asking, can we get even further in front of our competition and do more than we said we’ll do in 2021? Obviously, we’re going to push on every target,” he said. “We have to build and upgrade a lot more sites in 2021 to get to that 200 million covered people with the Ultra Capacity. This machine is moving at real pace. So it’s going to be a really fun year in 2021.”
T-Mobile also plans to add advanced technical capabilities like voice-over-5G (VoNR, which refers to 5G as New Radio), network slicing and multi-user massive MIMO antenna technology to its 5G network.
Under 5-year deal that represents a continuation of a longstanding partnership with T-Mobile, Nokia will provide its Airscale radio platform to the wireless carrier to deploy an ultra-capacity 5G wireless communications layer with 2.5-GHz massive multiple-input multiple output (MIMO) technology. Meanwhile, Nokia will continue to expand T-Mobile’s extended-range (low-band) 5G coverage. Both the extended range and ultra-capacity enhancements will augment user experience and network capacity by making use of T-Mobile’s multilayer spectrum strategy.
“From the moment Sprint became part of T-Mobile, we’ve been rapidly combining networks for a supercharged Un-carrier experience while continuing to aggressively expand our nationwide 5G footprint,” Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile, said. “We have already taken a massive step forward with nationwide standalone 5G earlier this year, and this agreement with Nokia will help us to deliver incredible innovation and opportunity in this country.”
To support the T-Mobile’s 5G network, Nokia will supply AirScale radio access products and systems, including macro and small cells across low, mid-band and millimeter-wave radio-frequency spectrum. Massive MIMO, a key 5G technology, will allow T-Mobile’s 2.5GHz mid-band spectrum to be used to its full potential. Massive MIMO will boost network performance to its customers in the form of higher speeds and lower latency, further assisting T-Mobile’s home internet strategy. All of these enhanced user experiences are built upon T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G standalone network. As part of the deal, Nokia will also enable T-Mobile to upgrade its mid-band LTE network to 5G and continue to expand its extended range (low-band) 5G network.
Pekka Lundmark, president and CEO of Nokia, said that Nokia’s 5G radio access network solutions will underpin the new T-Mobile network. “The expanded and upgraded 5G network that makes use of all spectrum bands will deliver exciting new solutions to even more people and businesses, and our technology will play a fundamental role in delivering these compelling connectivity experiences for work and play.”
T-Mobile is suing the City of San Francisco alleging that it did not process applications to modify wireless sites within the timetable set up the under the FCC’s shot clock.
T-Mobile submitted 27 applications for “minor modifications” to wireless facilities via the City’s electronic planning review process to obtain approval between June 24, 2020 and August 14, 2020, and the City had not acted on the applications by late October 2020, according to the wireless carrier’s complaint. Eleven applications have been acted upon, albeit belatedly, and the wireless carrier is seeking “deemed granted” status for the 16 applications that are still outstanding.
“T-Mobile has encountered significant delays by the City. Under Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act, the City must act on T-Mobile’s modification applications within 60 days,” according the complaint. “The City also had not notified T-Mobile that any of those applications were incomplete.”
In June 2020, the clarified that the 60-day “shot clock” begins to run “when an applicant takes the first procedural step in a locality’s application process and submits written documentation showing that proposed modification is an eligible facilities request,” according to the complaint.
Despite a widely reported slowdown in cell tower deployment, T-Mobile has accelerated its plans to launch its nationwide 5G network on 600 MHz spectrum on a nationwide footprint of more than 200 million POPs, which it expects will be live later this year, according to comments made by CEO John Legere in the company’s third quarter earning call yesterday.
“Our 600 MHz spectrum will be the foundational layer for the New T-Mobile’s 5G Network that once combined with Sprint’s spectrum will result in a broad and deep nationwide 5G experience for everyone, everywhere,” Legere said. “We now have thousands of 5G-ready cell sites capable of lighting up 5G on our 600 MHz spectrum.” More than 26 million 600 MHz-compatible handsets are already operating on the T-Mobile network, he added.
Legere touted the strength of the low-band spectrum radio waves The carrier also continues to invest in building its nationwide 4G LTE network, reaching 326 million POPs including 311 million with both 600 megahertz and 700 megahertz combined. Legere said the carrier has caught up with AT&T and Verizon with coverage of 99 percent of the U.S. population.
“New T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G will be able to cover more people in more places and work indoors and out unlike Verizon and AT&T’s current 5G networks, which can be blocked by things like walls, glass, and leaves, and this is all while we continue to expand our 4G LTE network coverage and deliver industry-leading performance,” he said.
A story in the Aug. 28, 2019, Wireless Estimator titled “T-Mobile cancels 5G upgrades and new builds nationwide, possibly crippling some contractors,” told a different story about the T-Mobile buildout.
“Beginning last Friday, contractors started getting calls from T-Mobile’s market managers informing them that most purchase orders they had for new builds and 5G upgrades were going to be put on hold until 2020 unless materials for the project were sitting in a warehouse,” according to Wireless Estimator. “The news came as a shock to many wireless contracting companies that had been counting on fourth quarter builds to maintain their increased staffing required for T-Mobile’s ambitious buildout of the past eight months.” One contractor was left with a purchase order for $700,000.
It’s not official, but it feels real. After months of speculation, Bloomberg Asia is reporting that Dish Network has agreed to buy wireless assets from T-Mobile and Sprint in a $5 billion deal creating a fourth carrier designed to convince the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to bless the merger of the mobile phone carriers.
It’s not the final step before the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint becomes a reality, but it would appear to be a big one. The DoJ must still okay the merger and the states would have to withdraw their lawsuit. Then we can go back to the full-time task of wondering what Charlie Ergen will do next.
Dish would pay $1.5 billion to receive several prepaid mobile businesses and $3.5 billion for spectrum. In return, according to Bloomberg, the satellite TV provider would receive a seven-year wholesale agreement allowing it to sell T-Mobile wireless service under its brand and a three-year service agreement from T-Mobile to provide operational support.
Solving one of the final reported sticking points, Dish will not be allowed to sell the assets or hand over control of the agreement to a third party for three years, Bloomberg reported.
One of the reasons this year-plus roller coaster of negotiations feels like it is coming to an end stems from reports last week that the DoJ said it would oppose the merger, if T-Mobile and Sprint had did not finalize their deal with Dish within a week. A deadline! Who knew that would work?
New Street Research summarized what Dish will receive: 9 million prepaid subs, mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) status for 7 years, 14 megahertz of 800 MHz band spectrum and eSIM support. The firm also reported that there would be two payments: $1.4 billion now for prepaid subs and then $3.6 billion in three years for spectrum when it has been cleared.
What about Charter?
Adding another wrinkle to the story, Reuters reported that the Justice Department did not reply to Charter Communications’ proposal to buy the carriers’ telecom assets.
“The Justice Department’s lack of response to Charter could raise concerns among critics of the $26.5 billion merger of wireless carriers T-Mobile and Sprint that officials did not weigh all divestiture offers before deciding on a deal with Dish,” Reuters wrote.
And don’t forget about the lawsuit from several state attorneys general, which is attempting to block the T-Mobile/Sprint merger.
“The merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would stifle competition, cut jobs and harm vulnerable consumers from across the country, so unity among the states will be key in defending our citizens against this power-hungry corporate union,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. It is not known whether the Dish deal would pacify the state attorney general.
Can Dish Make It as a National Carrier?
New Street Research has published analysis that shows Dish would be a disruptor in the wireless business.
“Dish has a path to an attractive wireless business on their own; one that would result in a value well above where the stock is trading today,” the analysis reads. “If they can secure a network hosting deal with T-Mobile, the business would be more valuable still. We worked with network engineers to determine what it would cost Dish to build and operate a new 5G network. We show that, once fully loaded, Dish would have a lower cost per unit of capacity than any of the four national carriers today. This gives Dish the ability to price aggressively, to fill the network swiftly, and to create tremendous value for themselves at the expense of the existing carriers.”
The news of the breakthrough that may advance the merger was welcome for the wireless industry, but unfortunately, it raises more questions than it answers. Will Dish continue to build out its license-saving internet-of-things network? The DoJ most likely will give it an extension to keep the millions of dollars of spectrum it has accrued.
“The broader question is what will they build and when will they build it?” asked Alex Gellman, CEO and cofounder of Vertical Bridge. “Will they build a 5G network and start transitioning the MVNO customers over? It makes sense if they have the freedom to figure out where most of the traffic is and can start picking off the hottest spots with their own proprietary infrastructure.” Comcast and Charter do not have the right to build their own cores as part of their MVNO deals with Verizon.
Perhaps the biggest questions that need to be answered, according to Gellman, is who does Dish partner with and when? “How quickly does Dish partner with someone to build the new network?” he asked. “Does that partner bring customers, capital or the ability to build? That is the wild card.”
But don’t hold your breath. Gellman said he believes Dish will take its time finding a partner and developing a build strategy. “They will take a measured approach,” he said. “They will get to know the Boost customers and they have seven years to use T-Mobile’s network. One thing is for sure, this deal cements the existence of a fourth carrier. Dish can no longer sell its spectrum to AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile.