Marty Cooper

Lowell was more polite, of course. Verizon didn't buy any spectrum in the last auction despite prices that were down by 50-60%. "We simply don’t need it," explains Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer. Lowell McAdam told Morgan, "When you look at the spectrum and the cost of small cells versus the cost of spectrum in the old AWS auction sort of environment, it was clear to us that building the fiber infrastructure to densify via small cells was better than the alternative of a buying spectrum." CFO Matt Ellis explained to Craig Moffett, "Spectrum is one way that we can add that capacity, but it's not the only way," 

Technology allows adding relatively inexpensive capacity within existing spectrum faster than demand is growing. Verizon estimates the cost per bit is going down 40%/year; Telus estimates 55%. Verizon's capex has been flat to down but they now are offering new unlimited plans. McAdam expects capex to stay flat for the next decade, despite one of the largest 5G mmWave builds in the world.

If spectrum were short, he would have to plan to raise capex. 

Marty Cooper built the world's first cellphone at Motorola and won the Marconi Prize in 2013. He says, "We've never had a spectrum shortage and we never will." I've heard similar from Henry Samueli, Ted Rappaport, AJ Paulraj, Vint Cerf, Stagg Newman, and many others.  (Google any of them.)

Spectrum is but one requirement for wireless networks, very rarely the effective limiting factor. Improved technology, required financial returns, and competitive intensity almost always will have more impact on wireless network builds. The growth in consumer demand - which is rapidly dropping - is the typical short-term driver. 

Marty's comment "There's never been a spectrum shortage and never will be," needs to be put into context. Having more spectrum does reduce the cost of building most networks by reducing the number of cells you need for capacity. It's not required - you can add antennas, cells, and improved technology instead. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo calculated building out small cells, etc, was 60-70% below the price in the previous spectrum sale. At some price, adding spectrum is cheaper, but at that point the total cost is modest. (1-2% of the customer price. That's a small fraction of the marketing budget and not enough to change the economics of wireless.) 

Verizon, AT&T, Telstra, and Reliance Infocomm have backed away from buying spectrum at current prices. Reliance even is looking to surrender some of the spectrum they now control, to reduce payments to the government. (Note: Reliance Infocomm, owned by Anil Ambani, is not the same company as Reliance Jio, owned by his brother Mukesh.)
There are rare cases where spectrum shortages drive up costs modestly. In the short run, sometimes it is impractical to upgrade networks as needed, although with low cost small cells that's uncommon. Also, I believe that Indian telcos, until the 2016 auction, did suffer from inadequate spectrum because the government severely limited availability. 
There is a point with any given level of technology where limited spectrum does drive up costs. Today's tech allows most telcos to deliver one gigabit across a cell, as promised for 2017 by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Massive MIMO will probably double or triple that in the next two or three years. My best guess today is that you probably need more spectrum these days if your target speed is between 3 and 10 gigabits per cell.
The only carrier in the world who currently believes they need more than 1-3 gigabits is Verizon. Lowell McAdam wants ~5 gigabits to completely replace all cable to the neighborhood. Verizon is spending $billions on 5G millimeter wave. The Europeans think he's crazy, that there isn't enough demand for that much capacity to pay the cost of the many needed mmWave small cells. (The CJK Asians are in a prestige race, but Lowell thinks he will have a good business. Unproven.)

Every senior network engineer knows the above, but some people in policy still don't get it.  

dave ask

Newsfeed

The 3.3-4.2 spectrum should be shared, not exclusively used by one company, concludes an important U.S. Defense Innovation Board report. If more wireless broadband is important, sharing is of course right because shared networks can yield far more

It does work! Verizon's mmWave tests over a gigabit in the real world. 
The $669 OnePlus 7 Pro outclasses the best Apples and probably the new Galaxy 10 or Huawei P30 Pro. Optical zoom, three cameras, liquid cooling, Qualcomm 855 and more.
Korea at 400,000 5G May 15. Chinese "pre-commercial" signing customers, 60,000-120,000 base stations in 2019, million+ remarkable soon. 
5G phones Huawei Mate 20, Samsung Galaxy 10, ZTE Nubia, LG V50, and OPPO are all on sale at China Unicom. All cost US$1,000 to 1,500 before subsidy. Xiaomi promises US$600.
Natural monopoly? Vodafone & Telecom Italia to share 5G, invite all other companies to join.
Huawei predicts 5G phones for US$200 in 2021, $300 even earlier
NY Times says "5G is dangerous" is a Russian plot. Really.
Althiostar raised US$114 million for a virtual RAN system in the cloud. Rakuten, Japan's new #4, is using it and invested.
Ireland is proposing a US$3 billion subsidy for rural fibre that will be much too expensive. Politics.
Telefonica Brazil has 9M FTTH homes passed and will add 6M more within two years. Adjusted for population, that's more than the U.S. The CEO publicly urged other carriers to raise prices together.
CableLabs and Cisco have developed Low Latency XHaul (LLX) with 5-15 ms latency for 5G backhaul,  U.S. cable is soon to come in very strong in wireless. Details 
Korea Telecom won 100,000 5G customers in the first month. SK & LG added 150,000 more. KT has 37,500 cells. planning 90% of the country by yearend. 
The Chinese giants expect 60,000 to 90,000 5G cells by the end of 2019.
China Telecom's Yang Xin warns, "Real large-scale deployment of operators' edge computing may be after 2021." Customers are hard to find.
Reliance Jio registered 97.5% 4G availability across India in Open Signal testing. Best in world.

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Welcome On Oct 1, 2019 Verizon turned on the first $20B 5G mmWave network with extraordinary hopes. The actual early results have been dismal. Good engineers tell me that will change. Meanwhile, the hype is unreal. Time for reporting closer to the truth.

The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while reducing capex. Deutsche Telekom and Orange/France Telecom also confirm they won't raise capex.

Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 3X to 7X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Carrier Aggregation, 256 QAM, and other tools double and triple that. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year.

Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less.  I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

Believe it or not, 80% of 5G (mid-band) for several years will be slower than good 4G, which is more developed.