I have, for some time now, been writing about how one of the first and best use cases for 5G will be fixed wireless broadband. So far, that platform has not seen a lot of action. However, I do think that is about to change.
In recent missives, I have discussed why and how it has great potential, even return on investment. Carriers have stuck their toe in this water from time to time as well, but only skimming the surface. I really do not believe they have seen the possibilities…until now.
It appears that T-Mobile is about to get serious. They may see this as a vector that can give them an early edge while the others catch on or catch up. This was one of its main points in their latest FCC filing. T-Mobile’s Legere boasts that T-Mo can provide a “true alternative to fixed broadband.”
It sounds awesome. To be able to get consistent speeds up to, even beyond, 100 Mbps, reliably, would really put a dent in the encapsulated market owned by the few “cableopoly” ISPs like CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, etc. Especially if T-Mo can do it cost-effectively. Their ultimate goal is to deliver those 100+ Mbps wireless broadband speeds to 90 percent of the population and in-home service to over half the country’s households by 2024.
T-Mo has the resources to do this. It is looking at its 2.5 GHz spectrum for deployment. Point-to-multipoint (PMP) should have very good propagation characteristics here. Make it 5G technology and the pot gets even more interesting. 5G will up the ante with multi-user MIMO (MuMIMO), frequency aggregation, beam forming, network slicing, and a few other goodies. Throw in self-organizing networks (SON) and the end result is almost too good to be true.
The only real issue is reliability. We all know that the higher in frequency we go, the more fragile the link. And 2.5 GHz propagation characteristics are much better that 5 GHz and up. If someone puts up a high-rise in your line of sight (LOS), unless the signal can be picked up as a bounce, with sufficient signal strength, you are up the, proverbial, creek without a paddle. That means a truck roll for the provider.
Secondly, signal strength becomes a concern. It is not like a cable or fiber pipe where every termination provides a -30 dB, or whatever signal level. We also know that signal strength is a function of distance. Therefore, if you are at the end of the practical propagation footprint, service can be touchy.
Fixed wireless is not a cure-all for every situation or population. However, there is a good argument as a primary case for fixed wireless in underserved, hardwired areas, aka, rural America. That moves some of the impedances out to the edge a bit. Most rural areas have fairly clean LOS’s. Even in tough terrain, once the sites are up and working, not much will change. Therefore, for this model, it is, definitely, a good solution. In fact, a recent 5G test conducted by the University of Sussex, and Plum, in the 3.5 GHz band, researchers modeled the complicated ways in which 5G signals will interact with buildings and trees. Despite these conditions, the test recorded data speeds that were as much as 100 times faster than average broadband (which is about 30-40 Gbps).
What will make or break this is the integration of advanced technologies. While RF hardware is much improved, making for better antennas, front-end sensitivities and selectivities, and such — the biggest challenge to FWA is bandwidth. While mmWave offers some relief, it brings other challenges with deployment metrics. That is one good reason to look at the lower bands, such as 2.5 GHz.
Densification is where the dollars are, but the more users on the band, the narrower each user’s pipe gets. It is the same with hardwires, but they start out with a much wider pipe so they have a lot more available bandwidth, up front. That is where these new 5G technologies and better specs will have to step in and work some magic.
In the end, there are many other options that will help make next-generation fixed wireless access (FWA) work. Frequency reuse and other manipulation technologies, and coverage area metrics, for example, offer flexibility in network design. This enables new capabilities that will allow all kinds of geographic footprints to be covered with multiple hardware sites using beam steering, adaptive power control, frequency manipulation and other technologies.
This next-generation is not your mother’s FWA. T-Mo may just be on the fast track with FWA as a, workable, business use case for 5G. However, we will have to wait and see how this takes shape after the merger (which will happen, eventually). It might get really interesting with the combined resources of Sprint and T-Mobile.
There were plenty of warnings about the possible negative effects of the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint on rates, rural coverage and jobs during the House Telecom subcommittee hearing, “Protecting Consumers and Competition: An Examination of the T-Mobile/Sprint Merger.” But T-Mobile CEO John Legere, not surprisingly, held his own.
Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America (CWA), said the merger would “kill American jobs, lower wages, and raise prices.”
CWA estimated that the merger will eliminate an estimated 30,000 jobs, 25,500 of which would be in retail stores. The Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute predicted a decline in annual earnings between $520 and $3,276 for workers, according to Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy council, Public Knowledge.
Shelton noted that T-Mobile’s 2018 acquisition of iWireless, a regional carrier in Iowa, led to the closure of more than 72 percent of iWireless corporate stores, more than 93 percent of authorized dealer stores and the call centers in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Shelton predicted harm would come to employees of the carriers not even involved in the merger. “When you decrease competition for labor, wages go down. That is what will happen throughout the wireless industry at all the wireless carriers if the merger takes place,” he said.
The merger will harm rural carriers by removing a nationwide roaming option, according to Carri Bonnet, general counsel, Rural Wireless Association. She also called Legere’s pledge to freeze prices for three years “cold comfort.”
Legere repeated with relish his mantra that competition will increase, and the number of jobs will rise, saying he would add 600 new retail stores and five new customer experience centers.
“The capacity and scale and the power of the network that this merger will give us will really let me take it to the [AT&T and Verizon] and bring competition in a way that it has not been seen before,” Legere said. “I’m salivating to take it to the cable carriers, as well. This is about creating scale and capacity to super-charge the uncarrier to bring the duopolists kicking and screaming to what they should be doing in 5G.”
The New T-Mobile will need 3,600 additional employees in its first year and more than 11,000 more employees by 2024 than the standalone companies, Legere said.
“This merger will be a tremendous jobs creator at New T-Mobile and across the country,” Legere said. “Our merger will be jobs positive from day one – and going forward. The build-out of our 5G network, investment in new customer care centers, and expansion into new businesses like video distribution, broadband, and enterprise services means thousands more jobs than the two standalone companies would have needed.”
Legere denied claims that synergies from the merger would come from job losses, saying that “a significant amount of the synergy” would come through the decommissioning of 35,000 cell sites. “Together, we will have 110,000 macro nodes. We will pick 75,000 of them, build 10,000 more and the decommissioning of 35,000 cell sites,” he said.
Marcelo Claure, executive chairman, Sprint, said, considering that his company lost $25 billion during the last decade and currently has $40 billion in total debt, the merger is necessary for Sprint to continue to be competitive.
The post-merger T-Mobile will continue to be innovative, because its share of the market will continue to be small compared with AT&T and Verizon.
California Representative Anna Eshoo, who has signed a letter in support of the merger, asserted that the four-carrier market is not currently competitive, because AT&T and Verizon control roughly two thirds of the market and have had the same market share for the last 15 or so years. Creating a strong third carrier could change that, she said.
“This is hardly a dynamic, competitive market. For all intents and purposes, we have a duopoly. Americans pay some of the highest prices for wireless services in the developed world, have the least choice, especially in the rural areas,” she said.
Both companies are missing ingredients to become serious competitors in the market, according to Eshoo.
“T-Mobile has a strong record as competitor. I think we can all agree to that, but it lacks critical mid-band spectrum to compete,” she said. “That is where Sprint comes in. Spectrum is gold and Sprint has it. But Sprint has a $40 billion debt and cannot make the investment needed to compete with AT&T and Verizon.”
Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, spoke in favor of the merger, taking issue with those that want to preserve the four-carrier marketplace.
“The four-to-three lens ignores the rapidly differentiating business models in and adjacent to wireless services,” Brake said. “Raw connectivity is increasing commodified and wireless companies are looking to new revenue streams.”
The Sprint/T-Mobile merger had appeared to be sailing through judicial and FCC review. Now, however, with the Democrats taking over the House, Congress is exercising its oversight role. Energy and Commerce and Judiciary Committees plan to hold a joint hearing on the merger on Feb. 13 to exam the merger’s potential impacts on consumers, workers and the wireless industry.
“A merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would combine two of the four largest wireless carriers and the carriers with the largest numbers of low-income customers,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
While the complete list of hearing participants is still being confirmed, T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure have both agreed to testify.
This will be the first merger review hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee in more than eight years—the last time Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives.
“As the committees with oversight of the FCC and Department of Justice, we must hold this hearing to examine the effects on important issues like jobs, costs to consumers, innovation and competition,” Pallone said. “We look forward to examining this merger from the perspective of what is in the best interest of consumers and hardworking people.”
The merger was expected to close at the end of the second quarter of this year with the completion of reviews by U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC. There certainly may be conditions placed not the merger by those two agencies, if they approve it.
“Regarding the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, one sticking point was Deutsche Telekom [owner of T-Mobile] punting on Huawei as a condition. Softbank is already replacing them in Japan. Not sure how real this issue was. If this is a must have and DT won’t play, then the deal may be shot down,” said Earl Lum, analyst, EJL Research. “Any hearing is never good if it goes south so will need to wait and see what they say or DON’T say. I have to assume some spectrum will be given back as part of the deal.”
Calls for Merger Hearing Echoed in the Senate
Hearings may also be held on the Senate side. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R- Miss.) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) were urged schedule a hearing on the proposed merger in a letter by Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), all members of the committee.
“The merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would reduce the number of nationwide wireless carriers from four to three,” according to the letter. “This reduction in competition raises a number of important questions that the committee should address.” The letter went on to note the possibility of harmful repercussions, such as “higher prices, fewer choices and less flexibility in switching carriers.”
The Senators went on to demand scrutiny of the 5G claims of T-Mobile and Sprint. “T-Mobile and Sprint have argued that their merger is necessary for successful deployment of a robust nationwide 5G network, despite previous individual assertions by each company made prior to the merger boasting of their own progress building towards 5G.”
T-Mobile, Sprint, if Joined, to Build 5 ‘Customer Experience Centers’
In what will certainly be a talking point during the hearings, T-Mobile and Sprint have announced that, upon the merger, they plan to build five new “Customer Experience Centers” around the United States, averaging 1,000 new jobs each.
The new centers will give customers more personalized support. Additionally, the companies plan to expand two existing T-Mobile Centers, cumulatively creating up to 5,600 additional American customer care jobs by 2021.
Overland Park, Kansas, will be the first of the five new locations. The Overland Park facility will be a new addition to the existing Sprint campus, which was previously announced as the New T-Mobile’s secondary headquarters.
T-Mobile and Nokia have achieved their first 5G data transmission on 600 MHz spectrum, a band on which T-Mobile plans to build out a nationwide next generation network in 2020. T-Mobile and Nokia engineers completed the downlink transmission tests using global 5G standards in Spokane, Washington. The successful tests prove that low-band airwaves will provide 5G coverage across hundreds of square miles from a single tower.
“Low-band spectrum is essential for wide-area reach and reliable coverage that travels over distance, into buildings, and isn’t limited to line of sight,” according to a T-Mobile spokesman. “That broad coverage will be critical for bringing 5G to rural areas and powering mobile 5G applications, including IoT.”
T-Mobile has deployed 5G-ready Extended Range LTE equipment in the 600 MHz band in more than 1,500 cities and towns in 37 states and Puerto Rico.
Six weeks ago, few people knew there even was a Mobile Infrastructure Hall of Fame. But as WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein took the stage for the first induction ceremony in a crowded room of 500 of the industry’s leaders, it felt like there has always been one. Or at least there was a pent-up demand for one.
“Today, these five honorees come from companies with a combined market cap of around $200 billion. They employ nearly 100,000 people and growing. And they’re driving the innovation economy with wireless broadband few dreamed possible in the flip phone era,” Adelstein said. “These five leaders are inducted tonight because of their foresight, their vision, and their tenacity. Each faced down challenges — and overcame them all.”
Gathering the top wireless CEOs and others at a ballroom in Washington D.C. on a Wednesday night in mid-November to honor its best had another altruistic goal. It raised $500 thousand for the WIA Foundation in support of training, education and apprenticeships.
“Tonight, the [inductees] lend us their presence because each believes — with us — that another challenge lies ahead for the wireless industry. To build world-class 5G networks — we need a world-class 5G workforce. Together, we’re taking steps to meet that challenge — building a workforce that’s worthy of this great industry,” Adelstein said.
The evening was attended by such notables as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, and other guests from the FCC, Congress and the Administration.
The inaugural class of Hall of Fame inductees included: Neville Ray, CTO, T-Mobile; Steven Bernstein, founder, former CEO and current board member of SBA Communications; Steven Dodge, founder, former CEO, American Tower; John Kelly, former CEO, Crown Castle; and Jose Mas, CEO, MasTec Network Solutions.
John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile, lent his star power and sense of humor in a heartfelt tribute to Ray, who has 25 years of wireless experience and has led the carrier through the LTE roll out, from the zero POPs in 2012 to 324 million POPs today. The first 200 million POPs were built in six months. He also pushed new technology into the field, including Wi-Fi calling, VoLTE, License Assisted Access and 4X4 MIMO and 256 QAM.
“Neville Ray is truly a genius,” Legere said. “This is a guy that gets things done. You give him the goal and the resources, and you just know that it will be done. You get out of the way.” He joked that Ray’s budget of $50 billion also played a key role in the success. “Give the guy some cash and he makes it happen.” Ray later clarified that he only got $40 billion.
Jeffrey Stoops, president and CEO, SBA Communications, praised Bernstein’s decision-making ability and leadership qualities.
“He can quickly and incisively distill complex issues down to straightforward decisions has been a critical part of our success,” Stoops said. “More importantly, it’s his entrepreneurial spirit and his values, including honestly, integrity, fair play, quality, customer service and hard work, that Steve instilled in SBA that remains a driver of our continued growth and success.”
Jim Taiclet, chairman, president and CEO, American Tower, said Dodge has been a “true trailblazer” for the tower industry, and has served as innovator throughout his 40-year career, which included banking, media and telecom.
“He founded and took public three pioneering companies. The first was American Cable Systems, which he grew into an industry leading position and sold to Continental Cable. Then he went on to American Radio Systems, which was sold to CBS, and then American Tower Corporation. The only flaw in Steve’s plan was an apparent lack of creativity with company names.”
Ben Moreland, former CEO of Crown Castle, introduced Kelly as the “most wonderful person” he has ever known. Kelly served as a mentor to Moreland and “set a high bar as a humble leader and a really nice guy,” Moreland said. Kelly was CEO of Crown from 2001 to 2008 and remained on the board for a number of years afterward.
“He inspires people to be the best they can be,” Moreland said. “He instilled a very customer-centric focus that required us to always think about a win-win situation with the carriers.”
After Mas became CEO of MasTec, the company grew to 22,000 professionals nationwide, quadrupled its revenues, increased earnings six-fold, and reached a ranking of 428 in the Fortune 500, O’Rielly said in his introduction.
Additionally, Mas diversified MasTec beyond telecom construction into renewable energy, oil & gas and electric transmission, among others.
“Mr. Mas is not just as successful businessman. He is a long-time leader in the Miami-Dade United Way’s Toqueville Society, which donated $15 million to improve lives last year. Most recently Mas and his brother Jorge joined a consortium with David Beckham to raise $25 million to bring a new Major League Soccer team to Miami,” O’Reilly said.