T-Mobile's Threats to Cable Are All Bark & No Bite, Says New Street

Although T-Mobile has framed its plans to launch in-home broadband Internet services as a major threat to the cable industry, some Wall Street analysts aren't buying it.

"Home broadband is one of the most un-competitive industries in existence. The New T-Mobile & 5G can and will change all that," T-Mobile CEO John Legere boasted last month of the company's plans to launch fixed wireless services across the country.

But the analysts at New Street Research don't believe cable companies need to be worried. "The impact of T-Mobile capturing home broadband share is immaterial to fixed broadband companies generally, and cable companies in particular," they wrote in a recent report to investors.

At the heart of the issue are T-Mobile's efforts to consummate its proposed merger with Sprint. The company has argued that, if it is able to acquire Sprint's extensive 2.5GHz spectrum holdings, it will not only challenge AT&T and Verizon in the mobile 5G market but will also use the spectrum to launch a 5G in-home Internet service that will directly compete against services from wired Internet providers like Comcast and Charter.

"The New T-Mobile is coming for you, Cableopoly," T-Mobile's Legere bragged of the company, dubbed "New T-Mobile," that would be formed through the combination of Sprint and T-Mobile. "You've been warned!"

But the New Street Research analysts said that they crunched the numbers -- in terms of customers' in-home Internet demands, wireless network capacity and market pricing and dynamics -- and found T-Mobile's threats to be mostly bravado with little substance. "Our analysis demonstrates that, while T-Mobile's merger with Sprint will create significant capacity for pro forma T-Mobile that will make them a formidable competitor in the wireless market, the opportunity for them in home broadband is small, and the threat they pose to existing broadband providers is smaller," they wrote.

Specifically, the New Street analysts concluded that the combination of Sprint and T-Mobile would only have enough network capacity to support 7.6 million total in-home Internet subscribers -- the firm said T-Mobile estimates the average household will consume around 500GB per month in 2024, but the New Street analysts believe it will be more than double that figure based on the growth of streaming video. Further, the analysts predict that T-Mobile will only be able to sign up around 5.3 million subscribers -- roughly 4% of the market -- to its home Internet service by 2024.

You're invited to attend Light Reading’s Big 5G Event! Formerly the Big Communications Event and 5G North America, Big 5G is where telecom's brightest minds deliver the critical insight needed to piece together the 5G puzzle. We'll see you May 6-8 in Denver -- communications service providers get in free!

Those figures are far below T-Mobile's own expectations of creating capacity for 13.6 million customers and actually signing up 9.5 customers in 2024.

Interestingly, the New Street analysts pointed out that it would be much more profitable for T-Mobile to simply use its excess network capacity to chase mobile customers, not in-home Internet customers. "Carriers generate ~37x the revenue on a GB sold in the mobile market than on a GB sold in the home broadband market. As such, they would never use wireless network capacity to attract home broadband customers, unless they had considerable excess capacity," the analysts wrote. "T-Mobile would be far better off using that capacity to add more wireless customers rather than home broadband customers. The same capacity would support 13MM wireless subs, which would generate $6.3BN in revenue and $4.4BN in EBITDA. For T-Mobile shareholders, the 11MM wireless subs would be worth 2x what 5.3MM broadband subs would be worth."

That said, the analysts don't completely discount the competitive threat posed by T-Mobile. The firm said that T-Mobile could cut out roughly $4.3 billion -- or 1% of the total -- in revenues collectively from wired broadband providers' balance sheets.

T-Mobile, for its part, is using its fixed wireless Internet plans in part to convince regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice to approve the company's proposed merger with Sprint. Essentially, the company's argument is that the transaction would increase competition across the telecom market -- opponents to the deal though argue the merger would reduce competition in the space. Although analysts in general initially believed T-Mobile would likely be successful in its attempts to merge with Sprint, some have recently lowered those expectations based on increased opposition to the transaction. For example, Bloomberg reported recently that a number of states are gearing up to potentially file a lawsuit against the merger.

Nonetheless, T-Mobile is moving ahead with its plans to merge with Sprint and launch a fixed wireless Internet service. Indeed, the company recently disclosed plans to offer LTE-based fixed wireless services to up to 50,000 US households by the end of this year, a plan that sits outside of its merger efforts but that T-Mobile said will help set the stage for a broader rollout of the service using Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum and 5G.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

Cloud 4G 4/11/2019 | 7:04:20 PM
Re: The T-Mobile 5G Home Broadband Strategy: Evolve Capacity to Higher Bands "Traditionally, the FCC has been tasked with holding these auctions but has also prevented new companies from bidding/buying licenses in favor for the Big 4." 

That has not been the case.  The FCC did allow the four major operators to dominate the 700 MHz spectrum auction because they needed that in order to deploy 4G.  Sprint could not have effectively participated because it was already in debt with a low junk bond credit rating.  Moody's had its debt pegged just above the level where it was threatened with default.  In fact, Softbank became the lender of last resort, loaning $12 billion that is secured by spectrum, deployed network infrastructure and device receivables under lease programs.  Sprint was a no-show for all auctions starting with the 700 MHz and continuing now with the ongoing mmWave auctions. Sprint has been choking on the Band 41 2.5-2.6 GHz over the past decade... a one trick pony ride in the age of the aggregation of multiple-frequency bands. 

The FCC has made half-hearted efforts to provide minority participation in auctions including AWS-3, 600 MHz and the mmWave auctions.  The problem has become that is has become daunting to take on the Big 2 Duopolists and the two little shrimp.

 Marketing bravado aside, AT&T and Verizon hold more marketshare than they did ten years ago.

While the Duopolists consumer marketshare has moved up and down and back up.  VZ and T held 65% subscriber share in 2011 and now hold 68%.  Yet for some reason, many fellow idiots think the little guys are killing the BORG Empire. Do the research.  Stop believing the hype machine.


Sprint and T-Mobile like to publicize their efforts in IoT, automotive, medical, smart cities, security, AI, apps development, etc.  These are segments of the diversified wireless market that are often considered to be "5G", right?


The PR looks very warm and fuzzy.  However, T-Mobile and Sprint combined have less than 8% share.  Verizon and AT&T have a near stranglehold on the future of 5G marketshare.  If the merger is approved, at least they will have a fighting chance to gain a respectable share.

Fixed 5G makes only isolated business case sense.  The 5G platform has become more adaptable to be used for several extremes of service: 5G can be used for ultra-low power embedded sensor monitoring in which the sensor and wireless transmitter are woken up from a sleep state for just as long as it's needed and then sips nanoamps. Or it can be used mmWave spectra in which the signals travel just a few hundred feet despite being powered to high levels.  5G allows stand-alone networks and private/enterprise or government sub-networks that can be used in conjunction with the nationwide networks.  Operators can build the network so that the hardware and software provide virtualization and service slicing based on service profile agreements. 

Fixed wireless makes little sense for wide deployments because the market has long moved past that being acceptable.  It can be used as part of the agile system deployment that is used to extend cell edge, shadow zone, and rural coverage scenarios.  However, in most cases that 'fixed' service box will not be fixed in the conventional sense: the eNB box will connect to one or more nodes of the mobile network using one or up to several aggregated or alternative bands of spectra.  From the box, the user will usually connect at a lower frequency because that travels over long distances and through walls better to mobile devices, smart TVs, and connected homes/offices.  Many of those connections will be (remain) WiFi, at least over the next few years because that is what the devices people currently own can use.

Fixed 5G will be a small niche.  Multiple-band eNB home routers will become increasingly common.  The box will be 'fixed' in one location and plugged into the wall socket but the connections it makes to the network and users will be quickly evolving. 
Clifton K Morris 4/8/2019 | 10:36:07 PM
Re: The T-Mobile 5G Home Broadband Strategy: Evolve Capacity to Higher Bands I agree with a good deal of what your saying; however in the past 5 years more spectrum on a MHz basis has been made available for commercial telecommunications use than the preceding last three decades. Normally, there would be MORE competition, not less. Now is not a time to consider combining companies, even those who have a failed business model based on handset sales (like Sprint). Service delivery has to be at the forefront of a company’s mind.

Traditionally, the FCC has been tasked with holding these auctions but has also prevented new companies from bidding/buying licenses in favor for the Big 4.

I was speaking with an executive of a rural ISP (delivers service using unlicensed bands) who was excluded from millimeter wave auctions by the FCC. The license they wanted sold at auction for $45. Point is, the Big 4 have dedicated lobbyists like CTIA, that can effectively prevent new competition from entering the marketplace. Added to this, LTE and NLOS standards are championed on a worldwide basis through GSMA/3GPP, with barriers to obtain technical knowledge and skills; much less the definition of what a “5G” standard is.

Indeed, The 700Mhz “beachfront” auctions turned spectrum for TV licenses into data services which benefit telecom companies; while service (in terms of Gigabytes) increased, the overall billed (price paid) of a line of service has gone up. Today, $19.99 rateplans cease to exist, and consequently, the of the amount of revenue collected from the 700Mhz auctions went to pay for HDTV converter boxes. FCC green-lit the destruction of ad-subsidized TV in favor for paid-for data services. Point is, if internet is sold on a consumer-demand basis, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes conceivable for more TV and even FM band spectrum be placed through future incentive auctions led by Europe’s telecommunication monopoly. Fixed wireless has a place, and that place is in countries where it’s not feasible (cost prohibitive) to mine copper for last-mile networks. With a European telecom champion an effort like this is not entrepreneurial on many levels.

Sprint surely could have taken part in the 700Mhz auction (and avoided the spectrum screen) if Clearwire was in a position to accept DishNetwork’s tender offer (search for it online) before the company sold itself to Sprint. Sprint dug themselves into their own hole.
Cloud 4G 4/8/2019 | 3:23:41 PM
Re: The T-Mobile 5G Home Broadband Strategy: Evolve Capacity to Higher Bands I don't understand how you can say that if these markets looked viable then other providers would have plucked them as low-hanging fruit.  The problem with that analogy is that just before 4G was available for deployment the FCC had licensed the 700 MHz 'Beachfront Property' spectrum which AT&T and Verizon had taken the lions share at a combined price tag of over $17 billion.  Prior to the auction, the two had acquired nearby sub 1  GHz spectra.  That was used to launch the first 4G as it provided wide-area coverage using the existing base station sites.  


The FCC has guidelines which generally say that no single operator can acquire licenses for more than 1/3 of the spectra in the low, mid or high bands.  As T and VZ had exceeded that, they were almost excluded from participation in the 600 MHz auction.  Sprint had no funding flexibility to pursue that auction, leaving T-Mobile as the only mobile operator capable of acquiring and then quickly monetizing the use of the 600 MHz band.


This is not a situation in which AT&T and Verizon have exhausted the possibility of using additional low-band for whatever next generation of wireless came down the pike.  T-Mobile gobbled up the bulk of the 600 MHz and is now in a position to exploit 5G as a multiple-band play starting, as VZ and T before them, had done during the 4G phase of network exploitation. 


Besides that, 5G takes among the many concepts started with 3G-4G including network and mobile device virtualization, network application environment virtualization, service virtualization/slicing, and combines that to encompass a more adaptive and robust means to aggregate use across the low, mid and high bands.  The Low band 'beachfront property' is, as it was for Verizon and AT&T, just the entry point that can be used to build marketshare subscriber unit area density and then, as usage demands increase, make use of the higher bands.  The AWS-3 auction netted double the expected revenue to the FCC because 4G use in the low-band was a smashing success.  New T-Mobile would have that expansion headroom already in their pocket at a juncture at which 5G modem chips are available to make use of 2.3-6 GHz mid-band including Sprint's Band 41 2.5 GHz, and mmWave for anyhaul. 




Editor32643 4/8/2019 | 2:16:38 PM
Re: The T-Mobile 5G Home Broadband Strategy: Evolve Capacity to Higher Bands If these rural markets were such low-hanging fruit, they would have been plucked long ago by other providers. AT&T even has a 4G LTE fixed wireless offering that frankly isn't going anywhere without government subsidies or a mandate as part of a merger or regulatory matter. Many of these areas lack adequate cell coverage and the return on investment for installing more towers to serve a relatively small number of customers obviously isn't good enough or it would be done already. 

T-Mobile's offer is yet more smoke and mirrors from another company promising a Christmas tree loaded with ornaments... which you will get only if you approve our awful merger deal. AT&T promised these same things in its effort to acquire T-Mobile several years ago. Nobody bought it. Let's not be suckered this time. 

What will get these areas served is not another blockbuster, beneficial to no one, merger further consolidating the wireless industry. It will take government subsidies to wireline and cable providers that already have infrastructure on the ground, a co-op or municipal approach, or some deep-pocketed entrepreneur with ties to the community. AT&T might do it on their dime if FirstNet requires them bolster their rural coverage in some areas.

But T-Sprint suddenly installing cell towers all over West Virginia to offer rural broadband? Not a chance.
open4g 4/5/2019 | 12:54:01 PM
The T-Mobile 5G Home Broadband Strategy: Evolve Capacity to Higher Bands The First Street analysis fails to capture the dynamics of the network evolution planned by T-Mobile: T-Mobile's strategy targets the use of the 20-50 MHz of Greenfield 600 MHz band to target a sweet spot of rural markets that have only one or two broadband alternatives. In many locations that can be served at up to seven miles away using the low-band tower or smallcell base station connected to a 4x MIMO 5G home router box (eNB), the only alternative is either low-speed DSL or satellite service.  That low hanging fruit is small, only about 35 million POPs nationwide, but it is a market that is eager for an alternative.  The prize is not just the sale of a home broadband service but taking them as a new mobile household as well.

As market density grows, first through the merger and then share gains, use of the higher bands to deploy dense primary access and overlay grid backhaul/anyhaul networks needed to support the high bandwidth needs is planned.

Is this a big threat to hybrid fiber-cable? I think it is without a doubt.  However, this will be a network-market evolutionary process.

What will drive this process forward?
  1.   Lower cost than wired/fiber infrastructure. Even though much of the needed HFC infrastructure is already in place and paid down, wireless has lower deployment and maintenance costs.  It also is much more flexible to meet the variety of use cases including the much (over) touted 5G services such as IoT, AI.
  2.  The shift of the market to cut wires: the incumbent cable-fiber market has inherent resistance to change, however, the broad market has shifted to wireless-only.  Younger people and those who change residences are prone to give up their wired connections.  If the price is right, more incumbent cable users are likely to opt out.
  3.  The high, "always on" multiple user home broadband demands can be met by the evolution of the market.  An advantage of wireless networks is that it is designed to serve all markets.  That improves with each generation, the current push being 4G-Advanced and 5G.  The coming push is to overlay the traditional mobile networks with higher bands, starting at about 3.4 GHz to over 80 GHz. The auctions now underway will open up over 1.5 GHz of additional spectra to use primarily as that network overlay grid that will be capable, over the next 5-10 years, to supply about 10 GHz of capacity to the local sub-network for a combination of fixed-mobile usage.  It makes little sense to pursue either a mobile-only or a fixed only strategy.  The end game is already approachable on a scale-to-market basis.
Sign In