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T-Mobile 5G covers 98% of U.S. population, other countries lag — Moore

The 5G Americas analyst conference held in Dallas this month brought together dozens of subject matter experts representing 17 wireless companies, including network operators, equipment manufacturers, tower and infrastructure companies and networking software providers. Also present were “92 top-tier wireless analysts from across the Americas,” per 5G Americas.

A complete list of 5G Americas member companies is here, but officials from AT&T, T-Mobile, Telefonica, Rogers, Liberty Latin America, Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Crown Castle, and Ciena were at the conference. One key insight about 5G Americas is that this is not a U.S. event. The telecom companies and telecom analysts come from all over the Americas, including companies and analysts based in or operating in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Dallas is a logical venue for the conference, as the Dallas airport is within easy reach of cities throughout the Western Hemisphere. 5G adoption is high in N. America and China, but low elsewhere

A highlight from 5G Americas was the keynote presentation by 5G Americas Chair Ulf Ewaldsson. Ewaldsson also serves as president of technology for T-Mobile. He provided good insights about the uneven progress of 5G in various countries.

He also touted T-Mobile's current talking points about the company's nationwide deployment of standalone 5G and its recent news about network slicing.

On yesterday's Q3 2023 earnings call Ewaldsson said, "We have now 70% of the payload is 5G on the network. As we continue to see more and more 5G traffic, that means we can move over frequencies that are used for LTE into 5G." He added, "We have this enormous spectrum asset in mid-band, which is where the home Internet products are residing that we can continue to leverage. We have more spectrum than anyone else has on mid-band as a potential. By the end of the year, we are approaching 200 megahertz that we will have dedicated for 5G products." Ewaldsson also talked yesterday about T-Mobile's great cache of spectrum. He noted that T-Mobile still has C-band spectrum to deploy as well as 3.45 GHz. "Those will need capital next year, and we're looking into a precise deployment of those. But we also have more LTE spectrum, as we said earlier, to put at work, more 600 with a current or a newly announced lease with Comcast that we are putting to work as well. But those actually don't need capital because we have smartly built this network in a way that we can just with commands upgrade the network to make use of those into next year."

International 5G

To me, the most interesting aspect of the conference was its international perspective. My firm, Wave7 Research, thoroughly covers wireless competition, but only in the U.S. For many reasons, the telecom market is vastly different in other countries. One slide in particular caused my eyebrows to rise. The U.S./Canada region leads the world in terms of 5G subscription penetration at 41%, compared to only 1% for Latin America and <1% for Africa. China also has high 5G subscription penetration of 33%, while Europe is only at 13%. Penetration is 3% in the Middle East and 13% in Northeast Asia. Ewaldsson also stated that while 33% of devices in the U.S. use 5G, 51% of data traffic is 5G. I had not realized that 5G penetration was only 13% in Europe, 1% in Latin America, and <1% in Africa. This provides perspective, as T-Mobile now covers 98% of the U.S. population with 5G and has 70% of its traffic now moving via 5G. Verizon and AT&T may be behind T-Mobile on 5G, but both are miles ahead of most carriers around the world. This is good for competition and convergence. It was a pleasure to spend two days in Dallas with the companies who are making this happen and to gain international insights about the 5G state of the union. Carrier panel: AI likely to improve network performance

Another highlight from the event was the carrier panel, which was moderated by 5G Americas President Chris Pearson. It featured executives Rob Soni of AT&T, Ron McKenzie of Rogers, Ana Valero of Telefonica and Karri Kuoppamaki of T-Mobile. Challenges and opportunities have many similarities from country to country, but there are also many differences, particularly with regard to regulatory issues and spectrum allocations.

The panel had a lightning round, with Pearson asking questions and getting rapid answers. The most interesting question was whether AI would play a major role in improving network performance. The answer was a fast and affirmative "yes" from all four carrier executives. Carriers update their 5G coverage numbers.

T-Mobile this week announced that it now has 5G coverage of 330 million people in the U.S., which amounts to 98% of the population. Also, T-Mobile now has Ultra Capacity 5G coverage of 300 million people. Ultra Capacity 5G is a reference to mid-band spectrum. The carrier has a dragon’s hoard of mid-band spectrum, which makes for very high download speeds. Verizon, meanwhile, is planning to cover 250 million people with 5G Ultra Wideband by the end of 2024, having covered 200 million people during Q1 2023. 5G Ultra Wideband is mostly a reference to 5G via Verizon’s mid-band spectrum, although the term is also inclusive of Verizon’s mmWave coverage. AT&T CEO John Stankey, during the company’s Q3 2023 earnings call, said: “We’ve expanded our nationwide 5G network and are on track to reach 200 million people or more with mid-band 5G spectrum by the end of the year.” Why does 5G matter? Use cases for 5G are still being debated, but I think the killer app for 5G is internet access for homes and businesses. Via their fixed wireless offerings, T-Mobile and Verizon combined for 893,000 broadband additions in Q2 2023 and 941,000 broadband additions in Q3 2023. For Q2 2023, this was more than 100% of U.S. broadband additions, based on information from the Leichtman Research Group.

There are two main technical factors behind the massive success of fixed wireless broadband from T-Mobile and Verizon. One is the rising speeds due to 5G. The other is spectrum. In buying Sprint, T-Mobile gained access to a massive amount of mid-band spectrum. Verizon and AT&T in 2023 also gained access to a large amount of mid-band spectrum, but this was done via a major auction of C-band spectrum. In December, I wrote that 2022 was the year of telecom convergence. With more than 100% share of broadband additions in Q2 2023, T-Mobile and Verizon are clearly taking a large amount of broadband share. Meanwhile, Charter and Comcast had nearly a million postpaid wireless additions in Q2 2023, gaining significant wireless share. Finally, there is inter-sector competition, and it gets even better, as wireless carriers and cable cos are now both offering robust wireless/wireline bundles. Without 5G and increased spectrum, the cable cos would just be poaching customers from Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, without the wireless carriers being able to respond in an adequate way. Spontaneous reunion of analysts

A pleasant surprise at the even was a reunion of 13 veteran analysts from Current Analysis/GlobalData. Current Analysis was acquired by London-based GlobalData and now operates as part of GlobalData, which is a data analytics and consulting company. I tweeted a picture of this reunion before leaving Dallas, as seen here, joking about a “herd” of Current Analysis veterans “roaming the plains of Texas.” The number of veteran analysts from the firm was actually 14, but Kagan analyst Lynnette Luna was not in the picture. 5G is bringing a new era of innovation and possibilities to the telco industry. This report takes an important look at the promise of this technology, and how CSPs must modernize infrastructures to fully realize 5G benefits and keep pace with an increasingly data-centric world.

In today's digital world, radio access networks (RANs) play a critical role in delivering innovative telecom services. This resource explores how service providers can transform networks to optimize operations, improve scalability, and increase flexibility. When Verizon launched its LTE network, few people foresaw how many use cases ultimately emerged. Joe Russo said he believes the same exact thing will happen with 5G. (Verizon) Verizon has been a pioneer in millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, but it’s also taken its share of hits for doing so because of its propagation characteristics. It’s one reason T-Mobile continues to harp on about how its multi-band 5G strategy is the right one, while “other U.S. operators went all in on millimeter wave at the beginning of the 5G era.” That was a line in a press release Tuesday announcing how T-Mobile now covers 300 million people with Ultra Capacity, or mostly mid-band, spectrum. During a podcast published this week, Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner called Verizon’s mmWave deployment of about 40,000 mmWave nodes a “staggering number.” He asked his guest, Joe Russo, EVP and president of Global Networks & Technology at Verizon, if the plan is to supplement or increase the mmWave coverage going forward. Russo acknowledged the carrier has a lot of mmWave holdings. Verizon’s first mmWave deployments have focused on dense urban areas, at stadiums and along beaches where they see a high concentration of people, he said. This week, Verizon announced it has deployed mmWave in all 30 NFL stadiums.

“It’s been a super tool for us,” Russo said, noting they deploy “several thousand new millimeter wave nodes every year … It’s been a great complement to the C-band spectrum.” The “ah-ha” moment for him was a couple years ago when he was in some of the NFL stadiums where thousands of fans are trying to upload and share experiences during big events. Prior to mmWave, it wasn’t possible to communicate with people outside the venues with the volumes of streaming content that’s being done today. (Taylor Swift, anyone?) “We really solved that problem with millimeter wave. We’re now allowing customers to both stream down and up in those kinds of venues,” and it’s not just about speed but capacity to enable those kinds of things, he said.

The mmWave complements Verizon’s C-band, or 3.7 GHz, spectrum. Verizon has largely completed the buildout of its C-band spectrum in the first 46 Partial Economic Areas (PEAs) metro areas where it won licenses and it’s now deploying C-band in 406 PEAs across the country. Over the next year or two, it will continue to turn on C-band in more suburban and rural areas, he said.

Is 5G really all it’s cracked up to be?

Russo said he gets the question quite often around the relevancy of 5G, both in terms of what it means for consumers and for the enterprise. “I’m very optimistic – bullish, as a matter of fact, around the capabilities we’re putting into the network,” he said.

When Verizon launched its LTE network, few people foresaw how many use cases ultimately emerged. “I’m a firm believer the same exact thing will happen with 5G” as developers find new ways to use the technology, he said.

Russo also was asked about his comments at MWC 2023 Las Vegas around 5G Standalone (SA), where he said it wasn’t his intention to be first in deploying nationwide 5G SA. 5G SA is “absolutely” a capability that will be another enabler to new use cases, but “the reliability and performance of Verizon’s network is what we stand for and I don’t put technology out into the network that is a step back. It has to be a step forward,” he said. All the data from both internal and external testing shows SA “needs a little bit more time,” he said.

Verizon is doing significant testing and development to make sure both the data and voice sessions in a SA world are as good or better than what’s in the LTE network today. “We see that in the next several months, we’re going to get there. But it was not my goal to be first in deploying standalone. It’s my goal to be best in deploying standalone.”

Verizon has 5G SA in trials only at this point; it is not commercially available, he said. If there were something customers couldn’t do on the Verizon network that required a 5G SA core, he probably would have pushed it out for those use cases. But for now, Verizon is working with enterprises and developers to time it appropriately. “More to come in the next several months,” he said.

Private network expectations

That stands in contrast to what T-Mobile is doing. The carrier was the first out of the gate in 2020 with a nationwide SA network, although it hasn’t been particularly vocal about what it’s doing with network slicing until recently.

In Verizon’s Q3 earnings call yesterday, CEO Hans Vestberg said when it comes to private networks, Verizon doesn’t expect to see a big impact on revenues in 2024, but the groundwork is being laid for that to happen in 2025.

Today, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert was asked during the earnings call if he has similar views on private networks in 2025. He said for some carriers with 5G SA capabilities, private networks are here now. “We just aren’t managing it through press release and vaporware,” he said. “We’re just quietly serving customers.”

President of T-Mobile Business Group Callie Field cited Boston Children’s Hospital as one example in healthcare where T-Mobile is providing a 5G hybrid network.

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