With the earnings call well and truly behind us I’ve had some time to think and ponder on some of the talking points. It’s easy when looking at numbers and figures to get bogged down by statistics and financials. I find it takes time, and a purposeful step back sometimes to get the big picture. And perhaps see what’s next. Thanks to a review I’m working on for PhoneDog and LG’s launch event, I was kept busy on other things post-earnings. This coincidentally gave me the space I needed to try and see a recurring message in the earnings call which was: We still have plenty of room to improve. And this is an important message when seeing T-Mobile constantly hit record figures. It’s easy to think this is as good as it’s going to get. But what if it isn’t? What if this is still just the beginning of something even greater?
Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of the call was T-Mobile’s record churn of 1.3%. This means customers are staying with T-Mo longer than they have in the past. Back before the Uncarrier moves started, the company’s churn was at a pretty shocking 2.5%. And the carrier had set a target of reaching an ambitious low of 1.6% by 2017. We’re now just halfway to that time frame, and T-Mobile has beaten its goal comfortably. And it can still get better.
People aren’t only getting a better deal with better benefits on T-Mobile, they’re also getting better customer service and a better network experience than they would have 2 years ago.
Of course, we can’t see specifically in to the future. There’s no magic crystal ball and all kinds of things can change market performance. But, presuming T-Mobile keeps up its competitive nature, it will continue to attract new customers. It will also continue to aggressively deploy LTE in new markets, as well as building out its faster Wideband LTE and deploying its low-band 700MHz network.
By the end of this year, it will have LTE covering 300 million people. In fact, John Legere even stated that “the day is coming” when T-Mobile will have a better network than Verizon. Further reaching, faster and stronger.
With the assumption that T-Mobile’s customers will keep getting a better network to rely on, a faster network and better perks like no overages, unlimited data, free music streaming and upgrading whenever they like, it’s hard to see that churn rate of 1.3% not dropping further. What’s more, churn tends to get better as customers “mature”. Given the fact that some 8.5 million customers are still classed as being “young” (added in 2014), once they mature, it’s feasible that T-Mobile’s churn rate will drop even lower.
T-Mobile’s future success isn’t just about improving churn rates. It’s also that it seems to be one of the few carriers which knows what the future of telecommunications looks like. It’s a stand-out in that it has ditched the old-school carrier mentality held on to by the duopoly, referred to many times during the call as “Dumb and Dumber”. A prime example of this is T-Mo joining forces with Google on its new “Project Fi” which could see the two companies sharing various wireless technologies for each others’ benefit. And – although T-Mo refused to out specifics on the deal – it stated that it will “be great for us financially.”
We also have Uncarrier 10 to look forward to, as well as an – as yet unannounced – new messaging service or SMS replacement. And this could be something to be excited about. During the Q&A session towards the end, one phone-in question asked whether or not T-Mobile was going to seek to replace SMS messaging, since it was such an outdated technology. The carrier’s response: Yes we are, we can’t tell you when. But it’s sooner than you’d think.
T-Mobile’s future isn’t without its challenges. It may be the fastest growing carrier in the U.S., but that success brings with it some potential hurdles. Chief of those is network congestion. When you don’t own the majority of spectrum – like the duopoly – you have to be clever about how you roll out your LTE. Especially when you’re one of the few carriers to offer unlimited data plans. While Verizon sees unlimited data as a challenge it doesn’t want to deal with, T-Mobile sees it as an opportunity for innovation. It’s why we have technologies like carrier aggregation, 4×2 MiMo and Wideband 15+15/20+20 LTE networks being deployed.
Perhaps its biggest challenge will be next year’s major spectrum auction. It gives all carriers the opportunity to acquire more low-band spectrum. The kind which makes building penetration even more effective. And we know T-Mobile needs more of that. Although its current portfolio of 700MHz A-block airwaves is a great start, it doesn’t cover nearly enough people. The added 600MHz spectrum from the incentive auction in 2016 could be a major boost to T-Mo. But only if it gets enough of it. And although the terms of the auction were changed last year to better support the smaller carriers, T-Mobile wants even better terms to make it an even playing field. It also needs to come up with enough cash to fund its auction bidding. And that won’t be easy with Deutsche Telekom unwilling to invest above and beyond its current rate.
Still, going back to an even bigger picture outlook, let’s not forget where T-Mobile was just over two years ago. It had just over 30 million subscribers, no LTE and no iPhone. It had a failed bid attempt from AT&T, and its future didn’t look at all bright. Now it has nationwide LTE, with the fastest data speeds in the major metro areas. It’s closing in on 57 million subscribers and has more customers coming in from other carriers than are going the other way. What’s more, its customers are staying longer than they ever have before, and its network is improving at an incredible rate.
The future – I believe – is looking even brighter than it was 6 months ago. What do you think? Has T-Mobile hit its peak, or am I right, is the future going to be even better? Sound off in the comments or shoot me a tweet: @PhoneDog_Cam.