Being a bit of a political junkie and living in the Washington, D.C., area is never a good combination. It leads to sleepless nights, endless discussions in one’s own mind of “what if” and “what is going to happen, now that Bob is chairman,” “now that Jim is president” and “now that Sally is in charge of Y?” I’m not picking sides. Really. However, change is clearly here.
The change in the political tides also refreshed speculation of a T-Mobile USA and Sprint merger. For the first time in many years, it looks as though the winds are favorable. T-Mo and Sprint both recently stated a degree of interest. Masayoshi Son of Softbank has a significant investment in Sprint, and his being able to meet with President Donald J. Trump early in the new president’s term leads one to think a merger is more than possible. With the more hands- off, free-market approach being ushered in at the FCC, it looks as though we may see a fundamental change in what was our comfort zone: one less carrier.
They say efficiency is always good, although maybe it isn’t always, yet, efficiency is slowly improving. We recently saw the sunset of 2G technologies (the original GSM cellular technology as used by mobile network operators), and we’ll eventually see the sunset of 3G technology. Perhaps sooner rather than later, we’ll just see such a migration or ability for all consumer devices to use 4G, and that the FCC will approve a termination of the complex (and bandwidth-hogging) 3G technologies.
In my view, when the technology battles settle out, what’s left will be one technology (LTE) on whatever frequency with whatever backhaul.
The FCC incentive auctions did not meet anyone’s wildest expectations. However, they have concluded, and that means we are down to the real work of moving a lot of TV stations and touching a lot of towers. A total of 84 MHz has been made available for about $17.7 billion. This lukewarm auction outcome implies that carriers are a little less excited about 600-MHz spectrum and the better coverage it offers, compared with bigger bandwidths at higher frequencies. There are still a lot of towers to work on, and only 39 months to get all the work done. For a long time, the tall-tower folks and the broadcasters have been working on figuring out who has to move and where to move. It’s now just a question of getting it done.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, AT&T has acquired Fiber Tower for the24-GHz and 39-GHZ spectrum it holds in several markets, primarily NFL markets. It is not nearly as impressive of a footprint that Verizon picked up with its acquisition of XO’s fiber and use of the same 24-GHz and 39-GHz spectrum. The land rush and big money is clearly focused on eventual 5G networks and on dense, profitable, high-data-consumption areas.
All of the tea leaves continue to point to a deployment of many more small sites, more fiber and a lot of site modifications. I continue to see more rural projects taking place. In what seems to be kind of a doughnut of activity, the outer ring of larger markets appears to be left behind in the technology upgrades. That is all right with us, because it leaves a big list of work to be done in the future.