One shared network, separate companies in other ways. Building four networks when one will do the job is an unnatural act, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler reminded CTIA. He pointed to the effective joint build of Cingular & T-Mobile more than a decade ago. For 5G high-band, he sees little choice. Highband has short reach so needs many cells - easily a million to cover most of the U.S., compared to the 50,000-70,000 cells AT&T and Verizon now have. The 4-7 networks necessary for competition to work well are not going to happen. Vectored DSL also is unlikely to be shared; that means the end of network "unbundling" in Germany, Italy, England, much of Poland and some of the U.S.
Competition can survive a monopoly in the home connection if it is strengthened in other parts of the network. Wheeler is on target with, "We ought to explore creative options on how best to build that infrastructure. ... We have to learn from experience and get in front of this challenge."
There are choices other than strong regulation of a monopoly or duopoly.
We all know that regulation has problems. The last link to the customer's home is less important than other parts of the network. Poor customer service puts cable at the top of lists of hated companies, with the telcos racing to join them. Sonic.net and Verizon for its FIOS product have proven support doesn't have to suck.
Almost all large networks in developed countries have plenty of backhaul to avoid congestion, but some smaller networks don't deliver. Australia's NBN says it has been unfairly criticized for problems that really were in the independent ISP's backhaul. There are dozens of other ways to innovate that don't involve the last mile.
John Cioffi has proposed "software unbundling" for G.fast and 35b DSL. Each company would have their own terminals, with the ability to modify customer encoding setting and a dozen other parameters that can customize service. That goes beyond "bitstream unbundling," which Deutsche Telekom is offering now that Homann is giving them a monopoly.
However the new unbundling plays out, consumers suffer if regulators don't stick to the traditional rule of pricing the shared network at cost + a measured profit (TELRIC.) That allows competitors to offer the highest speed possible. Xavier Niel in France and Masayoshi Son in Japan did that and changed the industry. Monopolists want to discriminate, charging much more for higher speeds, far beyond the cost difference. If you believe a faster Internet is good for your country, you won't support a large difference in unbundling price.
There is almost no difference in direct cost on DSL or fiber whether the customer receives 3 megabits, 10 megabits, or 100 megabits. It's the same phone line and same DSLAM, which is shared at $10-15/month. DSLAMs for the last decade or more have been designed to handle everything the line can carry.
5G highband will not be as easy to price but will probably be similar. The equipment and backhaul won't have unlimited capacity but probably will come close. Having more than enough capacity will be the standard on fiber backhaul. Higher backhaul speeds don't cost that much more; the incumbent will probably make sure to avoid congestion.
Competition is a tool, not a religion.
Wheeler's comments. The whole speech is at https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-chairman-wheeler-ctia-super-mobility-show-2016-las-vegas
We also need to think creatively about smart solutions to the deployment of the antennas necessary for 5G to benefit the public. In that regard, how do we learn from experience and get in front of this challenge?
Here’s one example of what you did before.
Back in 2001, Cingular and T-Mobile undertook a joint venture called Empire. The carriers agreed to share each other’s spectrum and infrastructure in three states, enabling each to quickly fill coverage needs while avoiding the costs of building out redundant infrastructure. The deal was dissolved when Cingular purchased AT&T wireless, but it was considered a success.
To be clear, I’m not endorsing shared infrastructure in every and all circumstances, and certainly not opening a door to consolidation. But I am saying that if we’re talking about thousands of antennas in a city, and you’ve got four carriers, and we are serious about leading the world in 5G deployment in our very large and spread-out country, we ought to explore creative options on how best to build that infrastructure.