US LTE 230The growth of LTE networks continues to astonish even those of us who meekly predicted near-ubiquity as far back as 2009, US Telecom's Pat Brogan estimates LTE coverage at 99.5% of the population, based on company data reported to the FCC. Both Verizon and AT&T claim 98% coverage and T-Mobile almost as high. They have different unserved areas, so 99.5% amongst them is plausible. 

The real figure may be as low as 95-96% because coverage data is notoriously unreliable, with companies having incentives to inflate claims. I remember AT&T telling the FCC a while back the FCC didn;t need to test wireless availability because the companies could provide accurate maps. I checked AT&T's map of Manhattan and saw it claimed as 100% covered. I live here, and at the time was hearing numerous complaints of deadspots.

It's much better now. I've never failed to find a signal on T-Mobile or Verizon in Manhattan in the last two years.

The maps are made based on computer models of cells and terrain. They aren't perfect. When I worked on an LTE project in Vermont in 2011, both Alcatel & Ericsson sent in top analysts. They were frank about the limits: accurate on average, but not in particular details. 

In the diagram, US Telecom's 99% estimate is to the left, then Verizon's 98%. It's nearly impossible to see the yellow representing those not covered. The uncovered bar remains minimal even at 96% served, which assumes serious lying by the reporting telcos. 

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. 


 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.