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The 2016 Wireless Deployment Forecast Edition!
OK, so I thought it would be nice to see where we think the deployment industry will go in 2016. So I look at this as the Wireless Deployment Forecast, WD4Cast. What is happening with small cells, DAS, the carriers, FirstNet, and the deployment industry? I give you my views here, from a high level of course and this is my perspective. Keep in mind this is an educated guess based on what I see today. I sure don’t believe much of what AT&T says after they completely killed deployment in 2015, remember that? I am sure that MasTec does because they had to lay off a slew of people and watch their training facility fill with cobwebs.
600MHz Auction. I may bring up the 600 MHz in this but if the auction is this year then the carriers won’t have much until next year. They will wait for the OEMs to have a radio head before they can do much. Each carrier will have their own specifications. So I see 600MHz happening in 2017 but they may prepare for it in 2016. However, the broadcasters will have their hands full with the changes that are to come. Will they just decommission and retire? Will they move to a new band? Will they just merge with another carrier and share the digital channels. Let’s face it, more broadcast channels didn’t need the new channels that they got when they went digital, so why not share? It makes sense to me but I really don’t know what the FCC implications would be. It sounds like a great idea if a broadcaster could lease out the other channels they have for over the air, OTA, coverage. Or they could split the maintenance and lease costs with the new partner. Just a few suggestions.
Deployment will increase this year. We all expect so much but the carriers don’t want to spend more than they have to because they want to see an increase in revenue. While AT&T says that, look at the DirecTV acquisition, they want to grow new sources of revenue, so they stopped the wireless growth for a year. They also want to come up with a better way to deploy. They originally thought that they could put a car on top of a tower, or at least the equivalent of the weight of a car, but they had to rethink that. So maybe they are trying to figure out how to deploy properly. Whereas Verizon and T-Mobile decided to build more sites over the past 2 year and it seems to be working very well. They are getting the biggest bang for each dollar they spend on spectrum, how cool is that? By building more sites they can shrink the cell coverage, alleviate the loading, and improve customer experience. What a concept! Now that they figured it out maybe the other carriers will follow suit.
Let’s talk FirstNet. If you’re on a team that responds to RFPs, then you will be busy for most of 2016 with FirstNet because they will have everyone responding to the RFP coming out very soon. Other than that we won’t see any work from that until maybe mid 2017. The site acquisition teams and the site engineering teams may see it before that. In fact, if AT&T does respond to the offer like they said they would, then it will be all the AT&T contractors that will get the work because, in my opinion, AT&T is in the best position to win it. Remember that the FirstNet build is more than deployment. They need billing systems, device distribution, and more. They got nothing and need all the systems to be in place so that they can cover all public safety entities in the USA. Not something that most companies can do but a carrier is already setup to do this.
Verizon Wireless has been building with a steady plan, and I see them ramping up a bit in 2016 just because they will have more spectrum to deploy. “They won some in the previous auction and the equipment should be ready. One thing that all of the carriers will want to do is put as much in one radio head as possible to save on the tower rent. They don’t want to overload the tower but more importantly they want to cram as much as they can into a radio head. They want to see if one antenna can handle this and 600MHz so that they can add weight but no more units to the tower. Don’t worry, if you are working for them you will be replacing what they have and they will need to do structural on the tower for the additional weight. It will be more work on the tower connecting up more fiber, maybe, and more RF cables from the radio head to the antennas. Maybe even replacing the antennas.
AT&T will finally do some more field work. What choice do they have? They need to start growing again so that they can deploy the new spectrum. Deploy, deploy, deploy! They will expand the tower sites. I do believe they will develop a small cell or CRAN plan as well. While they said it was too expensive, Verizon helped drive the costs down because of their cutting edge thinking. AT&T just wanted to take over DirecTV, they didn’t have time to be creative. However, another plus with AT&T is that they plan to deploy the Wireless Local Loop, WLL, for broadband connectivity. This is awesome if they actually do it because t will compete with the cable companies for access to homes, if they can make it work! It is a big demand to offer that much wireless broadband to a home for video. Just because T-Mobile USA offers free video streaming doesn’t mean AT&T will.
T-Mobile is still growing and seeing the rewards of more customers, they well deserve them because they have been adding more sites and more spectrum! Way to go T-Mobile! I appreciate all the work you’re doing and I see you doing more, maybe 20% more in 2016. I hope so anyway because you have the opportunity to compete with the big boys and leave Sprint in the dust. This is great that you are deploying. T-Mobile USA has done some great things in 2015, with the growth of the system and the distribution of small cells to the home, the femto cells, and the marketing that they have in place to really propel their growth by leaps and bounds. I really have to give a lot of credit to Legere for all that he has done to grow and put his foot on Sprint. I would say that AT&T and Verizon see a real competitor in T-Mobile, a real threat.
Sprint may actually start the densification that they talked about for years. We all know Sprint. They will find the most cost-effective, (cheapest), way to do it. They went through a learning process, a bunch of RFPs to vendors, to eliminate any normal way of doing it and then they threw it in the lap of Mobilitie to make it happen. Good luck Sprint, the deployment teams will be happy for the work as long as they make money and don’t do it for free or at a loss. Remember, they want to earn a living, not work for nothing. Now, to be fair, Sprint isn’t actually doing the deployment management, it is actually Mobilitie who is making this happen. From what I hear Mobilitie is already moving ahead and laying out the plan for densification. They are working to deploy the mini macro, which is really a single sector cell site. That single sector will probably be an Omni antenna. It appears as though Sprint will deploy in-band backhaul where possible so they don’t have to run fiber anywhere or mount a panel, so this will maintain a low profile site, in theory. I am curious to see how that goes and if that 2.5GHz spectrum is more valuable as backhaul than fronthaul. If you were an investor and saw that spectrum as backhaul like 5.8GHz, how would you feel about it? Mobilitie is making a move and should have a lot of work for deployment teams this year. It appears their plan is innovative, or cheap depending on your perspective, by deploying on non tower company owned sites and using as much existing equipment taken from inventory and macro sites. Again, this is merely an observation, not sure if they will actually deploy this way.
LTE small cells, CRAN, and DAS. I love the HetNet! I will start with the outdoor deployments. I really think that this year, if the carriers deploy they will rely on deploying small cells and oDAS around town because, as Verizon has shown, this is the best way to utilize the spectrum that you already have. I think that T-Mobile will follow suit because they are smart and they intend to densify the heavily populated areas. I know that we all talk about the Sprint densification plan but all the carriers are doing this, they just call it a Het Net system, (Heterogeneous Network). The Het Net is where you deploy multiple Macro, small cell, and DAS. I would also include Wi-Fi and LTE-U in this network. Throw it all in there and you have a Het Net system. I am really excited about the 3.5GHz spectrum that the FCC will open up to LTE because of the new opportunities. If the FCC opens this up and gives out the spectrum it will be a beautiful thing when we can deploy on the lightly licensed spectrum for fronthaul and backhaul. WOW, it is really going to help smaller businesses deploy small cell as a service, (SCAAS), and I can’t wait!
Let’s look inside, indoor coverage. If you look around you will see that most people rely on Wi-Fi for most everything but voice. Am I right? There are still issues with handing off the call to Wi-Fi. I know we expected carrier Wi-Fi to pick up the slack but the only company I saw to make inroads on this was T-Mobile who did a great job with Wi-Fi calling, but it still doesn’t hand off to LTE very well, at least that is what I am told. So how will we improve indoor coverage? I know we will rely on DAS and Wi-Fi, but the carriers don’t want to pay for any more indoor coverage that doesn’t have a payback, I get it. What we need is to put small cells and Wi-Fi and LTE-U in as many buildings as we can. Who will pay? The landlords and the businesses in the buildings. Who will deploy? The deployment teams doing small cell and DAS
That’s all for this week, be smart, be safe, and pay attention.
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