T-Mobile taking 5G network buildout slower than tower companies expected

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One of the major reasons that T-Mobile wanted to acquire Sprint was spectrum that it could use to bolster its 5G network. However, according to one tower company, T-Mo is going a bit slower than expected with its post-merger 5G buildout.

During an earnings call this week, American Tower said that it had expected more new business from T-Mobile because of increased tower activity. There’s only been a small increase in new business from T-Mo, though, which has caused American Tower to revise its organic tenant billings growth outlook for the rest of the year.

The company does feel that T-Mobile will ramp up its spending on towers later, with American Tower CEO Tom Bartlett saying that T-Mo is “working through all their plans” following the Sprint merger. “So, we believe it clearly is timing, and are looking forward to really supporting [T-Mobile] as they continue to build out their network even further.”

Analyst firm MoffettNathanson echoed the sentiment that T-Mobile will eventually get its 5G buildout going. “T-Mobile has a long track record of accomplishing a great deal of network-related work quickly and efficiently, so it would be inappropriate to draw too many conclusions so early in the process,” said MoffettNathanson analyst Nick Del Rio.

Meanwhile, another major tower company also appears to have called out T-Mobile. During its own earnings call this week, Crown Castle CFO Dan Schlanger said that “the full rebound in activity on towers is ocurring a bit slower than we previously expected,” which Light Reading points out is a reference to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile pledged to make a huge effort to expand its 5G network when it was working to get its merger with Sprint complete. It said it would cover 97% of the US population with low-band 5G and 75% with mid-band 5G within three years of the merger’s close and that it would spend nearly $40 billion over three years to expand its network and business.

Since the merger closed, T-Mo has expanded its low-band 5G coverage to some more areas and brought mid-band 5G to parts of 5 cities. Some analysts are optimistic that can get its buildout going quickly, so we could see quite a few more 5G network improvements later this year following the T-Mobile-Sprint unification that’s happening on August 2.

Sources: Fierce Wireless, Light Reading

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  • Glenn Gore

    In areas where T-Mobile and Sprint have site duplication, this delay and slowdown makes sense while T-Mobile decides which sites to keep, which to sell, and which to deactivate. Several years ago, T-Mobile and Sprint had nearly identical coverage, small though it was, but T-Mobile expanded their own native coverage far and wide in the ensuing years till the present, while Sprint did not. In those areas where there is no duplication, one would think construction and upgrades would be continuing as normal, but evidently they have gone into a pause mode nationwide. Hopefully they will make all these decisions soon and get back to work, and put American Tower, SBA Communications, and the other tower site employees back to work.

    • Mike

      I agree, but they also have to turn over towers to Dish, and they could have it good, because all they need to put up is 5g, so Dish will become a contender soon.

      • marque2

        Good point. Except for borrowing TMobile service for awhile Dish will have a clean slate. No legacy stuff to worry about.

      • Shaun Michalak

        I would say that Dish only halfway has it good.. True, they have no legacy network for fall back on.. But that has its downfalls too.. That means, they can “only” install SA 5G.. They can not install anything that relies on the 4G core, for 4G use.. Second problem is, if they only do 5G, that means that all their customers have to have a 5G phone.. 4G phones will not work on their network.. Also, starting from scratch, they have to figure out coverage from scratch too.. The last downfall of Dish is the fact that they are in last place for the amount of spectrum that they can use on the towers.. I would guess that they are going to be “very” interested in the 3ghz auctions later this year to boost up their spectrum profile to have more, and be more competitive with the other carriers.

  • mikeZo6

    So all this time Tmo was BS us saying all they need to do is Flip a switch when merge is complete to light up 5G ! Thank you Tower Companies for the TRUTH

    • marque2

      I think you are missing that right at the start of the merger the USA went full covids. And we are still at that state. Companies are pulling back a bit until that risk is gone. You don’t want to blow all your money when customers might have to abandon you in droves because of unemployment issues caused by covids

      • JG

        There are probably other covid related factors…

        1) The global pandemic has caused supply chain issues. It is possible TMo has been unable to acquire the hardware they need (much like I haven’t been able to find a Nintendo Switch in stock).

        2) with most of the nation stuck in lockdown, dependent on their home internet connection for not just entertainment, but for work and access to potentially critical life saving news… It may not be the best time to go around the country changing radios as quickly as possible. There’s probably little chance of network issues, but still…

      • Mike

        People are addicted to there phones. Most would go hungry before giving up a phone.

        • dcmanryan

          Very true story. I can’t tell you how many “homeless” I see begging with a nice phone sitting next to them.

        • marque2

          Well they get free phones and free service. It is the updated lifeline program brought about by Bush Jr.

        • Shaun Michalak

          What are you talking about.. Didn’t Obama do that?? After all, they are what people are calling “Obama phones” .. lol

          I think that the lifeline program has been around for something like 40 years though..

        • marque2

          Lifeline has been around most if not all my life (some 50 years), but it was designed for landlines, or POTS. It was “W” that extended Lifeline so it could be used to get poorer people Obamaphones instead of an older hardwired POTS line.

        • Shaun Michalak

          I know that.. It was a joke at the idiocy of all the people that gave full credit to Obama like he was the one that did it.. I heard that they were talking about expanding that service to internet plans too.. But I do not know if it ever went though.. I just knew that they were talking about it.. Either way, all it did was give people something like $10 or $15 off of their phone bill every month..

        • marque2

          You can switch to a low cost prepaid card plan. I have done that in the past when times were tough. Also drop the kids lines.

          And finally – TMobile was giving service away for free to those who lost their jobs. They really were getting less money.

    • Remember that they must merge their network cores, ensure nobody gets stuck without service, and deploy the 5G Standalone core. They currently use 5G Non-Standalone, which relies on their existing 4G LTE core. They are doing a merge AND a generational upgrade at the same time. This work happens before they even touch the towers. And that’s not even accounting for COVID-19 related delays.

      • Mike

        It will be a while before 5g standalone happens. I’d guess 3 years, because that’s the time it will take for all the towers to be swapped.. Dish is suppose to get 20,000 sites. I think Dish will stand alone 5g before the others because they have to build out, since they fell in at the right time.

        • Shaun Michalak

          Actually, I read an article about a week ago stating that T-Mobile was going to start installing SA 5G in the third quarter of this year..

    • Shaun Michalak

      I am not sure where you got that info from, because I never saw it anywhere.. They did say all they had to do was flip a switch to turn on “band 71” 5G.. But band 71 and band 41 are 2 completely different things.. I think I did see them say that they “flipped the switch” to turn on 5G on band 41 in select areas.. But I never saw anything describing state or country wide use..

      In fact, what I did read was T-Mobile saying it was going to take 3 years to convert everything over to one network, and to get “most” people access to band 41 5G..

      • Mike

        Well 5 cities currently is a slow motion for sure. But I think the problem is they have to move the equipment from one tower to the next, and if they have to move antennas then that will take a while. 3 years sounds about right, but if fast tracked maybe it could be sooner. The Sprint towers have all been upgraded here, while the Tmobile towers have wires hanging down. They have some logistics to figure out. 20,000 sites need to go over the Dish.

    • Mike

      Well the proof here has been the continued poor download speeds. No upgrade here since they put up band 12. The area has grown with people yet no improvements to sites.

  • Interesting but it isnt even that many 5G phones out

  • Shaun Michalak

    There is not enough info to judge.. First, what is their supply chain like? Are they able to get all the equipment that they need?? Will the antenna’s that they have up work with the new frequency, or will they have to get new ones?? Do they have what towers that they are keeping, which ones to give up, set in stone yet?? What about coverage for the new frequencies?

    Then you have to ask what their financial standing is like?? They have given a LOT of discounts to people on their current phone plans.. To people like the ones effected with COVID, that have normal plans.. Has this lack of income effected them in some way? Since every state is different in how they handle COVID, and the rules to go with it.. Is there restrictions in different states stopping them from doing the work?

    A good example of this is here in Pennsylvania.. They are taking months to get back to people just to tell them that they will not fill “right to know” requests that are fulfilled by the state government.. Heck, we can not even go down to city hall to pay the taxes for the house because of the shut downs in it.. With that being said, could they be having problems getting approvals to do the work with government agencies, local and state level, all being shut down?

    • Mike

      I believe they have alot to work on, first they need to figure what antennas and equipment go to Dish network, whether it be Sprint towers or Tmobile towers. After that’s figured out, they will need to revise there cap x spending for tower upgrades. My guess is they are taking time to study which towers to keep for best coverage of 2.5gig band.
      Secondly, they have no reason to rush faster, they only have so many engineers to work the upgrades.

      • Shaun Michalak

        I doubt that Dish would be able to use much of anything on the current towers, other then “maybe” the antenna’s, or the lines run to the tower for service.. So the equipment is not really a factor for either party.. Especially when you consider that Sprint does not have antenna’s, or equipment that will work on 5G or band 71.. They “might” be able to use the antenna’s for mid band, but that is about it.. Other then that, it is nothing but location.

        Other then that, it is like you said.. They have calculating to do..

        • Mike

          Well most sites here have generators for back up, so that will be some of the equipment Dish will get. Now, far as a network, all Dish will have to do is set up 5g, so in a way they will have it nice. Just not sure what towers Tmobile will hand over to them. I’ll be ready to see what they do.

        • Shaun Michalak

          I know not all sites have power for backups.. Most do, but not all.. Also, there is different type of power for backups.. Some run generators, and some have battery power stored for backup.. Generators are better on the aspect that all you need to do is add fuel, and you are good to go.. Battery versions, once they drain, they have to have some time to charge back up.. This can be a full day.. Also, batteries have to be replaced when they go bad, etc.. This is probably something that they only use in places that they have to watch noise levels though, as over time, the generators would be more cost efficient, and can run longer and not have to worry about recharge times..

          personally, I was thinking about everything but the power backup.. But knowing how companies are, and wanting to make sure there is enough power, etc.. Who knows if the Sprint ones would fit T-Mobiles needs since T-Mobile would probably be using more equipment, antennas, and may need a more powerful generator?? Just a guess..

  • Shaun Michalak

    Expanded?? I am not sure where you are at, but here, I have not seen any “expanded” coverage with AT&T.. All they did was put up some new frequency (for faster speeds, not more coverage) on their existing towers, changed some priority levels, and called it a day.. There are still places in Pennsylvania that still do not even have 4G service on their towers yet.. Those towers still rely fully on band 5 3G service..

    • Sharti24

      Yes expanded. At&t is building firstnet coverage on Indian reservations. Does it do you any good? Probably not but their coverage trumps t-mobiles.

      • weidnerj

        And? Firstnet is for first responders only.

        • Omar Boyer

          Hmm no its not us regular people are able to use band 14 ,from firstnet without a problem . And i am deff not a first responder, neither are my friends. And I cannot tell u how many times here in LA i seen my s20 ultra 5G use band 14 . And so have my friends seen there phones use band 14. And they are also not first responders.

        • Mike

          ATT had some 700mhz prior to first net, so you probably were using there regular spectrum, which would be band 14 as well.

        • Shaun Michalak

          Actually, AT&T bid on, and won a contract for the first net service.. That was band 14, or 700mhz range.. According to the use of it, if a first responders needs the bandwidth on that tower, they get first priority.. but if the first responders are not using it, then they can use that extra frequency for all regular customers. So while its main intention was for first responders, regular people like me and you can use it too.

        • Mike

          How much 700 mhz did they get for first net? ATT already had other 700 mhz nation wide coverage before that.

        • Shaun Michalak

          “Band 14 represents 20 MHz of highly desirable spectrum in the 700 MHz band”

          Yes, before they they actually had band 12, which was blocks A, B, and C in the 700mhz range.. But because of interference from TV stations, and them being too close to block A, they only used blocks B and C.. That made it band 17 since they only used block’s B and C.. That is where T-Mobile got most of their 700mhz from.. AT&T (and some other companies) at the time thought block A was useless, so they sold it to T-Mobile, which then found a way to make it work..

          AT&T realized that block A is not useless, and are now using it, and finding ways to get more of it to up their 700mhz standings.. They started buying it up from other companies, where they could, a few years ago.. Still, T-Mobile got most of it when they bought it from other companies when they could, about 6 (plus or minus a little) years ago..

      • Shaun Michalak

        Is if first net, or is it government kick backs?? The government has kick backs for companies to build towers, and put coverage in areas that there was no coverage in, or really poor coverage, in the past.. This has nothing to do with firstnet, but all about getting the coverage paid for by the government.. ALL companies can apply and use this, not just AT&T with their first net service.. Also, AT&T is under no obligation to install any more service then they currently have.. Fact is, AT&T still has not upgraded all their 3G towers to 4G, or better.. If it was about firstnet coverage, then they would have been obligated to have firstnet service on all of their existing towers.. Including the band 5 3G only towers..

        Fact is, AT&T was awarded the firstnet contract in 2017, but they never did any “major” expansions of coverage until 2019.. While I will agree that they did expand more then I knew, it does not change the fact that they waited 2 years before they really started adding much more in coverage.. This tells me one of 2 things.. Either they are doing it because of the government kick backs.. Or T-Mobile has expanded so much, that AT&T is loosing its edge and bragging rights, and they are doing these expansions to try keep up / ahead of T-mobile..

  • Mike

    Wasn’t that the old Cingular network they called orange used for first net?
    Of course first net is only for certain groups. What about there main network that they call blue? ATT prices compare to Verizon. Least Tmobile is offering many variables in plans.

    • Shaun Michalak

      I do not think so.. The first net frequency is on the 700mhz range.. It was bid on by the companies for first responders to get service on.. First responders get high priority on that spectrum, but AT&T can use what they are not using for the first responders for all of their customers.. The Cingular thing may be something different..

      • Mike

        That’s a sweet deal they can use some of that spectrum for all. But the first net thing really don’t make sense when all first responders already have many other modes of communication..Guess it’s another government program. Btw, how much did ATT bid? And what luck backs are they getting for having first net?

        • Shaun Michalak

          I have no idea what they bid.. but in kick backs.. Well, they essentially get double the 700mhz spectrum, so that is a big kick back.. The contract for firstnet is for 25 years if I remember right, so they will have it for a while..

          As for other modes of communication.. Well, those other modes do not always work.. Some of those rely on transmission towers, antenna’s, etc.. and if they go down for some reason, or if they need video for some reason, some of those other ways of communication may not be sufficient.. Especially in some very rural areas where you may have cell service, but not relay towers for emergencies..

  • marque2

    Well they must be doing something. Was off from work for a week in the LA, CA area, just got back and I get 1 more bar at my desk, and several spots at my work with formerly no signal now have a small useable signal. 5g speed has doubled from 4mb/s to 8mb/s at my desk (this is inside a concrete building surrounded by concrete buildings, so I find this impressive.

    • Shaun Michalak

      Do you know how funny that sounds.. I get one more bar.. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but when people talk about the good on signal, it is usually from no bars to 3 bars, or one bar to 4 bars.. It just sounds funny saying, I got one more bar..

      • marque2

        You have a point I occasionally get 5 bars but no useful service. I used it as a comparison for the same place as an indication that things are better in that particular place with an extra “bar” as a comparison.

        • Shaun Michalak

          I hope that extra “bar” has some good drinks.. lol

  • mingkee

    5G seems to be working fine with Moto Edge, but it still has to pair with LTE for some reason
    If I set to NR only, I got no reception