Ever wonder why AT&T and Verizon are talking about small cells now, yet T-Mobile remains mostly quiet about its use of the tiny basestations that add network density and capacity to 4G LTE?
It all comes down to how the T-Mobile US Inc. network was originally deployed, according to recent comments from CFO Braxton Carter. T-Mobile started with mid-band spectrum -- namely the 2100/1700MHz AWS band -- rather than the 700MHz bands that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless started with.
Carter says that T-Mobile's network was "much more dense" from the buildout. "One macro [cell-site] of low band is equivalent to three mid-band sites, that's the rule of thumb," Carter said at a recent Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. conference. (See T-Mobile CFO Eyes Dish, Growth Opportunities.)
"Our ratio of megahertz [MHz] PoPs [points of presence] to subscribers is 1.7 to 1 and you look at AT&T and Verizon they have a ratio of 1 to 1, so, what that means is we have a lot more un-utilized spectrum that we can put to play," Carter said. "The reason AT&T and Verizon are having to densify to the extent that they are is that they don’t have the spectrum and the way they add capacity is by adding density."
Of course, T-Mobile, with just over 50 million subscribers, also has less than half the number of subscribers of AT&T and Verizon respectively.
Nonetheless, it is instructive to compare recent comments from the T-Mobile CFO and Verizon CFO. "The reason our capex will not decline is because in wireless you have to build out these small cells, these antenna systems and in-building coverage if you want to stay ahead of the capacity," Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said in August. [Ed note: Jeez, is it a competition to find the CFO with the most off-beat name for wireless carriers?] (See Verizon Beefing Up Network for VoLTE, Multicast Video.)
While T-Mobile's Carter said that the operator already has some distributed antennas and small cells in place and the prospects for small cells are "interesting," but it is clear that the operator is more focused on improving coverage with its freshly acquired 700MHz low-band spectrum. (See T-Mobile: Going Bananas for Low-Band .)
The carrier has started to add 700MHz sites to its network and will "seed the market" with compatible handsets in the fourth quarter. Adding low-band will allow T-Mobile to improve coverage in many suburban and rural areas in the US.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading