If anyone is following the battle for #3 you see that T-Mobile got the position. Can they hold it? Who is going to make the long-term difference? Let me tell you what I see from a deployment stance.
Don’t get me wrong, the marketing plays a big part. I think that Marcelo Claure of Sprint and John Legere of T-Mobile are geniuses at marketing, although I think Legere has the edge. They both see to be able to build marketing programs that reach out to the smartphone user. The difference I see is that Sprint’s message is “we are cheap and will give you a cheap plan” versus T-Mobile who says “We have a reasonable plan with free video and our LTE coverage is great”. I think we all see the difference but in the end the customer wants a working system for a reasonable price.
Business wise T-Mobile seems stronger at this moment in time. T-Mobile wins here if we just look at the stock price, When I wrote this, Sunday December 6, 2015, T-Mobile came in at $35.45 versus Sprint at $3.53. It is obvious that we hear about all the problems at Sprint and all the cool stuff T-Mobile is doing that T-Mobile is moving up while Sprint seems to be standing still. Some would say Sprint is moving backwards, which, in this industry is what happens when you stand still. Let’s move on shall we?
So from a deployment stance I see that Sprint has built, ever so slowly, very little out this year. They are expanding their 2.5GHz footprint at a snail’s pace. The good news is that they have been optimizing what they have to the point that they really are improving the network coverage. From what I hear they are actually making improvements and pushing the LTE that they have built. In my opinion it is too slow.
T-Mobile on the other hand is aggressively building out with an impressive steady build plan that will improve their densification in major population areas. I am really impressed by what they are doing and the move to VoLTE. WOW! This is impressive to me and it shows that T-Mobile is not only committed to changing the industry by becoming the anti-carrier and plans but they are really improving their network. They seem to be boosting the network by leaps and bounds.
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So when I look at the 2 competitors I see T-Mobile actually making a real difference in the network and growth. Meanwhile Sprint seems to be falling farther and farther behind. I know that we all expect them to do something big in 2016, but will it be enough or will it be too little too late. I will give Sprint and Softbank for the most creative financing. That deal they pulled off to get $1.1B of cash was amazing. WOW! Then they will be cutting out $2.5B of costs by cutting the workforce, meaning huge layoffs. Then they have to deploy the network they promised in their densification plan. Then they will have Mobilitie finance most of it for them. So will Sprint become a shell where the network is owned by Mobilitie and the devices will be owned by Mobile Leasing Solutions. So Sprint is finding a way to deploy a network and sell devices with little financial outlay. Let’s hope they can stay afloat long enough to make it happen.
T-Mobile on the other hand has been making investments that really look great from a system perspective. They have all the marketing savvy but they have the network to back it up. The video offering they have now is really impressive and the fact they have the vision to go complete LTE, for data and voice, is amazing. The way they offered VoWiFi before any other carrier did was awesome. They are pushing all the other carriers into a position they weren’t ready for yet. They seem to have an impressive vision for their future.
The funny thing is that Sprint has all the 2.5GHz spectrum that any other carrier would love to have, but they are moving so slowly because they apparently don’t’ have the money to do anything with it. They have a plan to densify, but they have been putting all of their vendors through the ringer and trying to cut the prices down to the point where most deployment teams wont’ want to work with them. I know that I have talked to many people who have participated in several RFPs that it is hard to take Sprint seriously any more. They have personally made so many vendors back down and say “don’t call us until you’re serious”. Do you remember when the rumor was that they were going to deploy over 70,000 small cells, then it was mini macros, for the densification program. What has been done since then? Not much. They seem to be slowly adding 2.5GHz to the towers, which really is an extension of the Network Vision plan. Sprint has such potential but they can’t seem to get out of their own way. All the money seems to be going somewhere, but where? I mean, I don’t see it going into the network, do you? They are cutting an already overworked workforce. They just don’t seem to be a company that the vendors I have talked to really want to work with anymore. The best thing they could do it allow the vendors to deploy the small cells and DAS systems for them. “Free the Indoor Small Cells”. They could allow them to deploy the system for them. It would just take building a process then they could get out-of-the-way, just wishful thinking on my part.
From what I see, T-Mobile is making all the right moves to win this war. I think that they are positioning themselves to push AT&T and Verizon. They might not win on coverage but they can give them a run for their money. While coverage is an issue, they have a good overall plan and they are sending a consistent message. Meanwhile, Sprint seems to be sending a message that they are the cheap guy and the margins are bleeding for it. But hey, what do I know, I just want to see all the deployment teams busy again.
I am reading “Lessons in Life and Business” by Elon Musk and he has a quote that I think would apply here. “Focus on signal over noise. A lot of companies get confused. They spend money on things that don’t actually make the product better.”
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