US pop July 22 2017All telcos fudge these figures. The U.S. population on July 22, 2017 is 325,491,181 on the census bureau clock. Population will be less than 327M yearend. John Legere of T-Mobile says his LTE network covers 315M. That's 98%. They will cover 321M in six months. AT&T and Verizon both claim 98% today. Overlap is nearly total, but not exactly.

The U.S. has ~99% LTE coverage unless T-Mobile CEO Legere, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, and AT&T CFO John Stephens are lying in the Wall Street presentations. As soon as I saw Pai's proposal for $4.8B in LTE subsidies, I knew something was wrong.

I wrote FCC Plan May Reduce 4G Deployment (Not Satire)Since ~2010, telcos have been slashing spending on landlines even where they would be profitable. They aren't stupid and preferred to wait for the government to pay for everything. With the FCC now paying for wireless, they are cutting wireless spending.

The telcos know that the FCC usually will come to them no matter how much they are demanding. Almost no one can profitably serve extreme rural areas except telcos who have local offices and backhaul in place. Even $7B in stimulus funds was not enough to persuade new entrants to reach the unserved. The remaining unserved are extremely scattered; it's hard to find a town of 200 homes without service. Most unserved are in smaller clusters, often a handful or even a single home.  

~80% of those not covered lived in AT&T, Verizon, or Century/Qwest territory. Verizon refused to expand their network even if the government paid for all of it in the stimulus. Verizon, like AT&T, decided several years ago to go wireless only to about 25% of their homes. That is not because rural lines are necessarily unprofitable. It's just that the single wireless network is so much cheaper than maintaining both that Verizon makes more money shutting the copper. Most of the remaining homes with landline will switch to Verizon wireless.

Politician's plans for the unserved are questionable as the truths politicians tell.

From T-Mobile:  

In typical T-Mobile passion, we are not wasting any time and we plan to light up the first 600 megahertz site in August. We expect spectrum covering more than 1.2 million square miles to be clear in 2017, with actual deployments in many areas by year end. We expect to have several compatible devices by the holiday season, so our customers can take advantage of this right away ...  We continue to grow our 4G LTE network, which covers 315 million people today and we have 321 million in our sites by year end 2017. We remain the fastest network in America. We have been the fastest network in America for 14 quarters in a row and the gap is getting even wider.

But don't believe Legere's hype

"We will use a portion of our 600 megahertz spectrum holdings to deploy America’s first nationwide 5G network in the 2019/2020 timeframe." It's really 4G, a software tweak, and misleading PR.

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 

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 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.