US Wireless in 1 Chart: About equal

Raymond James

The three US carriers now have more capacity than they can sell for years. Verizon and T-Mobile are now actively selling fixed wireless, something they wouldn’t do unless that had plenty of unused spectrum. Verizon “capacity margin” has been increasing for years, and mid-band will easily double capacity. (Below)

AT&T’s purchase of mid-band spectrum brought it to parity with Verizon. T-Mobile has perhaps 15% more, insignificant when very few cells are ever congested.

This useful chart from Raymond James, courtesy of Mike Dano, shows roughly equal bars. (Larger below) New Street estimates that T-Mobile has more cell sites, 85,000 compared to ~70,000 at the others. US telcos don’t regularly release cell site counts, so these are estimates.

The US has half the number of cell sites as most of Western Europe or Japan, adjusted for population. We have 70% fewer than the Chinese. Traditionally, that meant the US had some of the worst mobile networks.

T-Mobile is a year or two ahead. Neville has bragging rights, although the difference matters little to consumers

The only significant difference is the golden 2.5 GHz band, light blue in the T-Mobile bar. T-Mobile acquired that in the Sprint deal almost two years ago and Neville Ray went right to work building it out. It now covers over 210 million pops, two-thirds of the US. That’s twice what Verizon covers, and Ray is speeding up completion.

Neville is on track to cover 90% of the US with 100 Mbps in 2023. Verizon is a year behind and AT&T further. T-Mobile in the latest report offered twice Verizon’s performance.

both Verizon and AT&T may continue to play catch-up with T-Mobile upon the initial launch of 5G in the C-band, the margin of difference will be substantially reduced,

Mobile phones, unless you do massive downloads or certain games, generally pull < 25 Mbps (4K video is 15 Mbps) and usually < 10 Mbps (HD video, surfing, zoom or WeChat video).

T-Mobile and Verizon delivered > 25 Mbps ~80% of the time in Q4 2021. That percentage will climb as the mid-band buildout continues. Except for extreme rural areas and possibly congested spots like train stations, US mobile users will have all the speed needed for what they want to do.

Upload speeds and latency continue to suck

Verizon quotes 30 ms as typical 5G latency. That compares with 32 ms median latency measured on Verizon’s network in Q4 2021, mostly 4G. (Ookla)

The secret shame of 5G is that most networks run 5G upstream at 4G speeds. Even Verizon’s mmWave only delivers about 50 Mbps upstream.

That can be fixed, including with Huawei’s Super Upstream. But most carriers don’t bother.

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