5G and Beyond

T-Mobile surpasses 2021 home broadband subscriber goal

T-Mobile has reached – and surpassed – a stated goal to end 2021 with 500,000 home fixed wireless access (FWA) subscribers, company CEO Mike Sievert said this week at the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference.

Sievert said his product team is firing on all cylinders and the team is seeing "big jumps" in Net Promoter Scores compared to cable broadband. T-Mobile beat the year-end goal in the middle of Q4, he said.

T-Mobile cut the price of its home Internet product by $10 – to $50 per month – in October.  
(Image source: T-Mobile)
T-Mobile cut the price of its home Internet product by $10 – to $50 per month – in October.
(Image source: T-Mobile)

T-Mobile's traction in that market is "not all just greenfield stuff," Sievert said. Given the anticipated uptake of the product, he also reiterated a plan to grow that base to 7 million to 8 million subs by 2025. T-Mobile's home broadband efforts will evolve to become a "multi-billion-dollar business for us when we get there," he predicted.

And consider that a conservative goal, as it represents "only single-digit penetration," Sievert explained. He said the capacity for the product is "totally funded by the mobile business."

Sievert didn't take the bait when asked to offer figures on expected quarterly run-rates or future peak run-rates for T-Mobile Home Internet. But he sees 2022 being a "a lot bigger year" on the 5G Home Broadband product, which launched in April following a beta period. The uncapped service delivers speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s (with typical downloads in the range of 35 Mbit/s to 115 Mbit/s) for $50 per month with the AutoPay option, or $55 per month without it.

Sievert said usage for T-Mobile's home broadband service is about as expected, with customers chewing through "several hundred Gigs a month" and a sliver of the base (a single-digit percentage) consuming more than 1 terabyte per month. "It's roughly 10x a mobile user" for T-Mobile Home Internet, he said.

He also tossed in a dash of humility with the company's bullish view on home broadband. "I'm not saying we've got it all figured out. We're new in this industry. We're going to make mistakes," Sievert said. "We're going to learn how to care for customers and how to put them in the right neighborhoods with the right service and so on. But for a new business that we're learning, so far, the first year out of beta is looking really good."

Sievert acknowledged that T-Mobile can only support a certain number of households on any given sector of the network, but didn't specify a number or a range. He did note, though, that T-Mobile had a nationwide average of less than 80MHz of 5G lit up in midband, and will end the year with about 100MHz, with a path to reach 300 million people with 200MHz.

As for determining customer approvals for the product, T-Mobile analyzes the network based on capacity and whether or not it can comfortably say that no normal amount of mobile usage can soak up all of the capacity on a given sector of the network. T-Mobile's mobile usage averages out at about 80 gigabytes per month, he said.

"We're getting better at all those activation processes. They're not as smooth as they should be yet," he said.

Other FWA action

T-Mobile is using the fixed wireless access product to help expand revenue opportunities for its 5G network. Verizon, which ended Q3 2021 with 150,000 FWA subs, is also in the game with its 4G network and the use of 5G with millimeter wave spectrum, with plans to add support for midband C-band spectrum.

AT&T has been much less aggressive with FWA, but does view it as an alternative to DSL in areas that are unlikely to be upgraded to fiber.

Craig Moffett, analyst at MoffettNathanson, isn't surprised that certain mobile carriers have shifted their focus to fixed wireless broadband to drive a new use case and more value out of their 5G networks. But he warns that higher usage among FWA subs compared to mobile runs the risk of network degradation for only "slightly higher revenue."

"While this may be prudent from a revenue generation perspective, it poses real challenges to network planning," Moffett explained in a mobile industry report (registration required) issued this week. "Early data suggests that 5G mobile users consume as much as three times as much data as do their 4G predecessors (just as one would expect). And consumption continues to gallop forward for all users, doubling roughly every two years."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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