T-Mobile will dip its toes into unlicensed LTE in 2015, it has been widely reported. The move is not altogether surprising in that it was the first carrier to embrace making cell phone calls over public Wi-Fi networks and home networks with its Personal CellSpot.
“Unlicensed LTE is emerging as a promising technology, and it is complimentary to Wi-Fi and compatible with VoLTE. This new form of LTE, once matured, will enable utilization of the 5-GHz unlicensed bands. As CTO Neville Ray has said previously, we are always looking at different technologies to bring additional benefits to our customers and this is more of the same,” said Lindsay Morio, T-Mobile spokesperson.
Jan, 8, 2015 — Unlicensed wireless systems in the near future will be much more than hotspot-only Wi-Fi as Wi-Fi and LTE converge. Wi-Fi nodes become an integral part of the tapestry of licensed networks. And that convergence may aid the deployment of municipal Wi-Fi networks, according to Ted Abrams, chief technology officer, Wi-Fi Wireless.
“The view many have of Wi-Fi is that it should be a stand-alone best-effort, incidental and opportunistic hotspot solution,” he said. “Our design approach is much more comprehensive. The Wi-Fi network will be integrated hand in glove with the cellular network.”
Wi-Fi Wireless is designing public Wi-Fi networks for several municipalities, which may come online in the next year or two. Wi-Fi integration with the cellular network increases coverage and capacity of licensed networks because of Wi-Fi’s ability to provide offload services. The seamless integration of Wi-Fi and LTE is important to making muni Wi-Fi networks sustainable, according to Abrams.
“With VoLTE, the demand for carrier offload becomes a voice service, not just data. That demand, combined with all the other benefits of Wi-Fi, including fast Web access, voice and data services like Skype, location-based services and sponsorships can propel a municipality into a profitable cyber future when combined with the right business model,” he said. “Those factors define a very positive future for public spectrum.”
Technically, for Wi-Fi to integrate with LTE, several things will need to happen, such as the deployment of 802.11ac Wave 2 equipment. Additionally, handsets will need to be VoLTE-capable, and every carrier will need to have LTE available to its subscribers.
“When a large percentage of the North American handsets are VoLTE capable that’s when the wave of change will become visible to even the casual observer,” Abrams said.
With the new technology in place, voice over LTE (VoLTE) will move seamlessly from the cellular network over to a carrier-grade Wi-Fi system, which will handle the call just like another sector on a macrosite.
“The seamless crossover between VoLTE and VoIP [voice over Internet protocol] may be desirable to maximize the users’ experience if they are talking while surfing the Internet and they hit the limit of LTE coverage or capacity,” Abrams said.
Wi-Fi and cellular remain separate networks today because the old hotspot design approach does not take into account the way Wi-Fi can work with LTE. Abrams asserts that a convergence between the two will be a boon for wireless carriers, as well as municipalities.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of the AGL Link and AGL Small Cell Link newsletters.
While all eyes have been focused on the AWS-3 spectrum auctions (nearing bids of $40 billion!), one carrier had its sights on the Northwest for additional spectrum. In a filing with the FCC, T-Mobile has requested the assignment of spectrum in large swaths of Washington state and Oregon.
On November 25, 2014, T-Mobile agreed to acquire 700 MHz A-Block spectrum holdings from Vulcan Wireless in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton and Portland-Salem metro areas and filed an application with the FCC to transfer the related spectrum license assignments.
“These assignments involve only the transfer of spectrum and do not involve any transfer of network or other assets or customers,” a T-Mobile spokesman said in a prepared statement.
Before the transaction, T-Mobile had only PCS and AWS spectrum in those regions, totaling between 60 megahertz and 90 megahertz in each area. The Vulcan buy adds 12 megahertz of 700-MHz spectrum to the carrier’s cache. The low-band spectrum features enhanced building-penetration characteristics. Now, T-Mobile will have 102 megahertz in Bellingham, Washington, 92 megahertz in the Seattle-Everett area and 82 megahertz in the Portland area, among other service areas.
“The assignments will augment T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings and will benefit consumers by expanding capacity enabling better in-building coverage in urban areas and greater breadth of network in suburban and rural areas,” according to T-Mobile.
No financial details on the deal were made available.
October 29, 2014 — In the third quarter 2014, T-Mobile spent $1.1 billion on capital expenditures, up from $0.9 billion in the second quarter of 2014 and up from $1 billion in the third quarter of 2013. Capex for the year is expected to be in the range of $4.3 to $4.6 billion, unchanged from prior guidance. T-Mobile’s increased capex reflects further investment in network modernization, according to company officials.
T-Mobile’s LTE network now covers 250 million POPs and is expected to reach 260 million by yearend 2014, 280 million by mid-2015 and 300 million by yearend 2015, according to Jennifer Fritzsche, senior analyst, Wells Fargo. Ten-by-ten megahertz LTE deployments have occurred in 43 of its top 50 markets.
“The roll out of the 700 MHz A-Block spectrum is progressing well with first sites already on air and handsets in the market, and we’re getting to hit our stride there,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said during the third quarter earnings call. “We are also converting our 1900 spectrum from 2G to 4G LTE to add coverage, speed and depth to our network.”
T-Mobile continues to introduce wideband LTE in at least 15×15 megahertz configurations to new markets and is currently operational in 19 markets with at least 26 scheduled to be go online by year end.
T-Mobile has integrated with its merger partner MetroPCS in 55 markets with 78 percent of the MetroPCS customer base migrating onto the T-Mobile network, and 63 percent of the MetroPCS spectrum re-farmed and integrated into the T-Mobile network.
The CDMA portions of the MetroPCS networks have been shut down in Boston, Hartford, Las Vegas and Philadelphia, which is expected to cost between $250 million and $300 million for the year and $97 million in the third quarter. The network shutdowns will facilitate the realization of the network synergies made possible by combination of T-Mobile and MetroPCS.
J. Sharpe Smith is the editor of AGL Link and Small Cell Link.
September 18, 2014 — LTE has moved from the operator deployment to the subscriber adoption phase with 320 commercial 4G LTE networks operating in 111 countries and LTE users projected to grow from 127 million to nearly 200 million by year-end 2016, according to Berge Ayvazian, UBM analyst, who spoke at the 4G World/Tower and Small Cell Summit opening plenary session last week.
“Carriers today face the challenge of keeping up with data traffic growth and with the demands of consumers and subscribers, while also getting a return on their investment into 4G,” he said. “The paradigm is to build, operate, monetize and then evolve the networks for the future.”
From Deployment to Operations
U.S. carriers are in various stages of completing their initial 4G LTE rollouts, with Verizon (308 mm LTE pops) and AT&T (300 mm LTE pops) leading the way. Sprint is coming to the end of its rip-and-replace Network Vision deployment at year-end, with 254 million LTE pops. T-Mobile has plans to cover 280 million pops by mid-2015. Tower companies report a gradual increase in collocations and new towers versus modifications of existing towers as carriers complete LTE rollouts and seek to densify certain areas.
“We are moving from the infrastructure deployment phase to the subscriber adoption phase,” Ayvazian said. “Why do we care about the transition from deployment to adoption? It is about the change in behavior. LTE users use considerably more data than their 3G counterparts – not just in America but around the world.”
Monetizing LTE Takes Many Shapes
Carriers are monetizing their mobile networks through a number of avenues, including advertising, premium content/apps, consumer and business cloud services and location services. A Maravedis-Rethink operator survey projects that business cloud services will grow the most at more than 20 percent of additional revenue by 2018.
“Users are moving toward app-centric and content-centric activity data traffic, fueling unbridled growth that the carriers are having to address,” Ayvazian said.
To date, the focus has been on advertising and location awareness, but by 2018, context-aware business services will be leading, according to Caroline Gabriel, research director, Maravedis-Rethink, who spoke at 4G World. Ayvazian noted that the 30 percent adoption rate of 4G LTE has triggered the service providers’ drive to develop new revenue streams from subscribers, but not without some difficulty.
“With the current 4G price wars, operators cannot generate incremental revenues from data usage,” Ayvazian told AGL Link.
Service providers need more information on the data consumption across their networks pertaining to content [such as music, video, messaging, social media and VoLTE services] in order to properly monetize their digital service offering and gauge the popularity of various data packages, according to Ayvazian.
“I think the OTTs are the only ones currently making money on 4G LTE, such as Google via advertising, Amazon via shopping, Netflix via video downloading. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon,” he said.
Evolution – the Network Never Rests
Concerning network evolution, 4G networks will evolve in the future with respect to managing traffic growth, optimizing video content, improving indoor coverage and deploying virtualization, Ayvazian said.
“All the elements are now being implemented for LTE Advanced, including MIMO, SON, carrier aggregation and COMP,” he said. “The deployment of small cells, Wi-Fi offload and cloud RAN will all drive network densification and RAN virtualization –– [all of which will increase the need for backhaul].”
Core network virtualization and the cloud will be key components of future networks, according to Ayvazian, including the use of content delivery networks at the network edge to serve end-users with high availability and high performance.