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.  

Newsletter

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Latest issue

 Gig LTE & Massive MIMO ushering in the Age of Wireless Abundance

Wireless Abundance is here: What the new tech means http://bit.ly/Wirelessabundance
Sprint & T-Mobile Charge to be 1st in U.S. to Gig LTE bit.ly/STMOgig  AT&T bit.ly/ATTGIG2016
Kitahara of Softbank “I am crazy about Massive MIMO” http://bit.ly/MMIMOCrazy
20 Gig mmWave, Massive MIMO & Gig LTE at the Huawei MBBF http://bit.ly/Huawei20
LTE gets to the gigabit explained for non-engineers http://bit.ly/GigLteexplained
Massive MIMO explained. http://bit.ly/WHMassiveMIMO
2017's Big Gigabit story: Qualcomm 835 is ready http://bit.ly/BigGigLTE
Doubling speed with 4x4 MIMO & 256 QAM at T-Mobile http://bit.ly/2k1gEOQ
Netgear Nighthawk M1, Telstra do "gigabit class" LTE http://bit.ly/2k1s5Gq
Spectrum price down by half http://bit.ly/Spectrumhalfoff
Dish and the telcos see big asset cut http://bit.ly/auctionlosers
Shorts on 3GPP,  NYU research, Ralph de la Vega, 5G new radio

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5GW News

dave right5G? 4G? Whatever the name, wireless is going to a gigabit, soon.  I've reported broadband since 1999 and now is the time for gigabit wireless. Catch a mistake or have news? Email me please. Dave Burstein

 

Stories worth writing

Starry may match Verizon 5G at half the cost
OFCOM in UK: Share all spectrum, even licensed
OFCOM's Boccardi: 26 GHz worldwide: U.S. goes 28 
Verizon 5G fixed tests will be only 100's of homes
Massive MIMO FD at China Uni, Tele, Huawei, ZTE

 

 

 

Datapoints

Verizon and AT&T burying price increases in fees. 

Huawei's Richard Yu intends to pass both Apple & Samsung in smartphones in five years. 

The 3,000,000,000 transistor Qualcomm 835 is a revolution. Gig LTE, incredible cameras, better VR & AR, & ... State of the art CPU, DSL, GPU, ISP tightly integrated

1,000 T-Mobile small cells 2016, 6,000 more coming. Tech Life

New $84 Reliance Lyf Wind 7S has a 5" screen, a quad-core Snapdragon, an 8 megapixel camera, and some extras. Not state of the art, perhaps, but completely usable at a modest price. 

Orange/FT 4G covers 97% of Poland, 96% of Moldova, but only 84% in France, Q3 2016. They have 113.5 mobile customers in Africa compared to 25.5M in Europe.

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