RootMetric's recent report on wireless in the US confirmed that T-Mobile was strong in the metro markets, while it struggled in the surrounding rural markets, areas where Verizon and Sprint had strong showings. In case you needed more details on why that is, Mosaik Solutions has released new maps Wednesday that illustrate the problem: low-band spectrum. (See RootMetrics Crowns Verizon Top-Performing LTE Again.)
That Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have hoards of low-band or sub 1 GHz spectrum, while T-Mobile US Inc. has little is not surprising. T-Mobile has been bemoaning this fact for months now, trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reserve more of the 600Mhz spectrum for it and other small carriers in an upcoming 600 Mhz Incentive Auction. (See T-Mobile Puts Low-Band to Work , T-Mobile Takes Spectrum Fight to the People and T-Mobile: Going Bananas for Low-Band .)
T-Mobile, for its part, says it currently has 141 low-band markets deployed, and CTO Neville Ray says the carrier aims to bring compatible handsets to 50% of its customer base before the end of the year as it accelerates its market roll-out plans. It also recently signed on to the Competitive Carrier Association (CCA) Data Services Hub to reach rural America through roaming agreements with smaller operators as well. (See T-Mobile Joins CCA's Rural Roaming Hub.)
The low-band spectrum picture is interesting in light of the upcoming auction and operators' past statements about their spectrum, but Mosaik also points out that the LTE picture in whole in the US isn't as pretty as the big four like to make it seem.
While 82% of Americans have four or more LTE providers to choose from, those areas with four options represent only 14.8% of the US landmass. Another 8.7% of the US population has two or fewer LTE options, and 30% of the US land area has no LTE service available at all, although the majority of that is in Alaska (so don't bother trying to call President Obama this week).
The battle for wireless customers is still very much a market-by-market fight. You can be wowed by T-Mobile's pricing and all its uncarrier moves, but if its network isn't strong where you live and work, it's probably not going to be an option. The same goes for every wireless operator, and it's a fight that's taking place indoors as well as outside.
Market dynamics are always in flux as operators invest in certain regions, acquire new spectrum and deploy network technologies to improve their service. Some haven't made the rural markets a priority, but it's clear that -- if they do -- more and better low-band spectrum will go a long way in helping operators finish coloring in their incomplete pictures.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading