Wireless Operator Strategies

Wireless Operator Strategies provides both a deep and broad perspective of the operator market, combining granular operator-level and market-level data with ecosystem-wide understanding of wireless operator challenges and opportunities.

December 14, 2011 06:06 suerudd

It has been a busy few weeks for AT&T.

Date

Event

Nov 25th/28th

  • AT&T-deep in talks with Leap Wireless, a second-tier but growing wireless player, to sell it a big piece of T-Mobile’s customer accounts and some of its wireless spectrum…..  AT&T hopes such a deal would placate the Justice Department …… or at least to strengthen AT&T’s hand if it goes to trial.

Nov.29th

Dec. 9th

  • US Department of Justice (DoJ) argued before U.S. District Judge Huvelle that since AT&T has pulled its merger application from the FCC, the issue is no longer pressing and there is no need to rush to trial. DoJ asked the judge to delay the trial to an unspecified date in the future.

Dec 12th

  • AT&T has until Jan 12th. to file a report with the court explaining whether it still plans to try to buy T-Mobile.
  • AT&T said that it is considering "whether and how" to proceed with the proposed merger, which needs both FCC and DoJ approval to move forward. If it presents a plan to proceed on Jan. 12th. the pre-trial process will restart on January 18th.

Dec.13th

  • U.S. District Court Judge Huvelle puts hold on Sprint, C Spire Suits and any court proceedings until Jan. 18, while AT&T weighs the future of the deal.

While many are saying the AT&T T-Mobile “deal is dead”, and AT&T has clearly irritated the FCC staff, AT&T is now finally taking a much more conciliatory attitude.

Our recent report ‘It's all about Spectrum - AT&T T-Mobile Bandwidth matched by Verizon and Sprint’ describes how Verizon and Sprint are both buying control of significant extra spectrum. However, the Verizon AWS spectrum purchase from SpectrumCo. requires FCC approval; and once it approves that deal the FCC will find it difficult to argue that a merged AT&T T-Mobile would have an excessively ‘dominant spectrum position’.

Once the FCC allows Verizon’s spectrum acquisition - and after Sprint’s takes ‘virtual control’ of Clearwire’s spectrum - AT&T will have a very strong case that its ability to compete will be diminished if it is not allowed to acquire T-Mobile.

A complete reversal of the original case.

AT&T is working hard to complete the deal and is thought to have two teams pursuing two parallel options.

Option 1. AT&T is negotiating to divest sufficient spectrum and assets to satisfy the regulators. See:

AT&T and T-Mobile: Will there be a Spectrum Fire Sale to Escape Department of Justice and Close the Deal?

See Blog: Could AT&T Settlement Catapult Leap and MetroPCS to Top National Status?

Option 2. AT&T is still preparing to fight in court.

  • Verizon’s recent actions may have significantly helped AT&T’s case.
  • If AT&T makes a new proposal on January 12th DoJ may demand that AT&T refile that proposal with FCC before it goes to trial. [Note: AT&T correctly noted that it is normal to resolve DoJ issues before getting FCC approval. We also noted that in April in: ‘AT&T T-Mobile Acquisition: How long will it take to close?’]

AT&T really…really….really… wants the T-Mobile spectrum for capacity growth and is not likely to give up easily.

But, if AT&T loses at trial there are two other likely options:

Option A. “A network-sharing deal between AT&T and T-Mobile could be established, but this would probably not allow AT&T to reuse T-Mobile's AWS spectrum for LTE. A major blow for AT&T.

Option B. Deutsche Telekom is still anxious to complete the sale as it has major European investment plans for the $39 Billion. It might decide to spin out T-Mobile to a Private Equity partnership pending a later sale to a new player like. Google. [Several options for T-Mobile’s future are summarized in AT&T and T-Mobile: Will there be a Spectrum Fire Sale to Escape Department of Justice and Close the Deal?

We should know by January 12th. 2012, if AT&T can come back with a modified proposal that may be acceptable to DoJ, and then the FCC.

Rethinking US Market Structure and Competition in an IP world.

In a recent policy paper Strategy Analytics suggested that the nature of US Mobile Broadband competition has changed and that ‘All-IP’ networks dramatically change both ‘economies of scope and scale’ and the ‘Relevant Geographic Areas’ that determine Competitive Concentration for Anti-Trust purposes.

See: Policy Insight: New Mobile Industry Structure and 'All-IP' Services change AT&T T-Mobile's 'Spectrum Dominance' and Create new 'Challengers'

There may not however, be sufficient time in the current AT&T case to make such a profound change to the traditional 1980s/90s market analysis. Nor to establish rules for the new digital ‘All-IP’ Mobile Broadband Industry.


September 23, 2011 08:22 suerudd

We noted in the Blog of September 19th. that AT&T has begun to explore possible spectrum sales to other operators to gain approval of its acquisition of T-Mobile USA. Two operators were mentioned as AT&T’s first targets – Leap Wireless and MetroPCS.

Is it possible that AT&T could satisfy the Department of Justice (DoJ) by divesting spectrum to just these two companies? To answer this we looked at whether MetroPCS and Leap have current presence or operations in the right target ‘divestiture markets’ to expand cost effectively by adding spectrum and subscribers from AT&T. 

The amended DoJ complaint of September 16th 2011 states that the “…97 CMAs, identified in Appendix B, effectively represent….area(s)  in which the (merger with T-Mobile US) likely would substantially lessen competition for mobile wireless telecommunications services… each constitutes a relevant geographic market under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 18.”

The 97 CMAs identified are those where the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) is increased by more than 200 points by the AT&T T-Mobile Deal. HHI is calculated by squaring the market share of each firm competing in the market and then summing the resulting numbers. For example, for a market consisting of four firms with shares of 30, 30, 20, and 20 percent, the HHI is 2,600 – Calculated as follows: 302 + 302 + 202 + 202 = 2,600.

Only three CMAs in the Top 100 are not identified by DoJ as an HHI ‘problem’ - Grand Rapids and Flint, MI and Shreveport, LA. Many on the DoJ list however are in the 200+ to 400 HHI increase range that could potentially be diminished significantly by the sale of Spectrum to the third or fourth largest player in each market. 

To see what role MetroPCS and Leap could play we then conducted an analysis of these 97 ‘problem’ Cellular Market Areas (CMAs). In AT&T’s April 21st.2011 filing it listed in Appendices B and C the competitors in all the cities where it operates. The chart below shows that in the 97 CMAs listed by DoJ either Leap or Metro PCS has a presence in all except two - Honolulu, HI and Johnson City-Kingsport-Bristol, TN-VA.

MetroPCS and Leap Wireless presence in the 97 problem CMAs

MetroPCS and Leap are present together in a few CMA’s which might create some competitive bidding in: Philadelphia, PA, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany-Schenectady-Troy NY, Toledo, OH-MI, Lansing-East Lansing and the Upper Peninsula MI, as well as Las Vegas, NV and Tacoma, WA

DoJ’s amended complaint also noted that in “more than half of the (97) CMAs…. AT&T and T-Mobile together would have a greater than 40 percent share. In at least 15 of the CMAs, including major metropolitan markets such as Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Honolulu, and Seattle, the combined firm would have a greater than 50 percent share - i.e., more customers than all the other firms combined.” These are clearly the markets where DoJ is most concerned that the merged entity should have a lower share.

In the 15 markets shown in the chart below the DoJ Post-Merger share estimate is over 50%.

MetroPCS and Leap Presence in 14 of 15 ‘Problem’ markets

Either MetroPCS or Leap is in each of the 14 markets. The only exception is Honolulu, HI where neither is currently present.

AT&T needs to sell significant spectrum, and could potentially accomplish most of the required divestitures with sales to MetroPCS and Leap alone. Provided these two operators can raise sufficient financing – potentially even guaranteed by AT&T - this could catapult these two operators to National Status overnight.

AT&T and T-Mobile’s latest subscriber market shares – as well as those for Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS and Leap Wireless - can be seen at ‘Wireless Operator Performance Benchmarking Q2 2011’.


September 19, 2011 21:23 suerudd

According to two sources speaking to Bloomberg “AT&T is approaching smaller rivals including MetroPCS Communications Inc. (PCS) and Leap Wireless International Inc. (LEAP) to sell spectrum and subscribers” and find a way to gain approval for its acquisition of T-Mobile USA. Sources also said that AT&T “has … reached out to CenturyLink Inc. (CTL), Dish Network Corp. (DISH) and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) to gauge their interest in buying assets.”

This is the type of strong positive response we predicted in the recent Insight ‘AT&T and T-Mobile: Will there be a Spectrum Fire Sale to Escape Department of Justice and Close the Deal?’ and the earlier blog ‘AT&T Opponents Shift Focus to Challenge Excessive Spectrum Consolidation’. It is likely that AT&T is also reacting to the proposed six month Department of Justice (DoJ) pre-trial schedule and the co-filing by seven states who joined the DoJ lawsuit last week.

Proposed Department of Justice Schedule would go ‘down to the wire.

On September 16, 2011 Department of Justice filed a schedule proposing Monday, March 19 2012 for all steps to be completed in order to be ready for trial. AT&T is anxious to accelerate the process and suggests a completion date of Monday, January 16 2012. This is probably not because AT&T is anxious for a trial but because it still hopes to find a negotiated resolution with both DoJ and FCC as well as the states prior to its March 20, 2012 deadline for enforcing the deal with Deutsche Telekom.

The details of the two proposed Schedules are as follows.

AT&T and DoJ Proposed Schedules

The two parties will meet with US District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle on September 21, 2011 to finalize the schedule. AT&T’s proposed schedule is extremely tight for this extensive case.

And the other Parties are Piling on.

Also on September 16 Attorneys General in seven states filed as co-plaintiffs in the DoJ lawsuit. The seven states are led variously by Democrats and Republicans: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, and Ohio. DoJ has had an excellent working relationship with several states in building its case and welcomed their participation.

On the same day Sprint’s attorneys filed motions in Federal Court asking the judge to integrate its case against AT&T in a coordinated proceeding as part of the DOJ complaint.

Summary

These opponents’ actions appear to have stimulated AT&T to initiate aggressive bargaining. AT&T and T-Mobile’s latest subscriber market shares – as well as those for Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS and Leap Wireless - can be seen at ‘Wireless Operator Performance Benchmarking Q2 2011’. User shares are available on request to srudd@stratregyanalytics.com or Pkendall@strategyanalytics.com.


May 3, 2011 20:14 suerudd

On April 27th.several competing operators - Cincinnati Bell Wireless, MetroPCS, NTELOS, the Rural Cellular Association (RCA), the Rural Telecommunications Group, and Sprint Nextel Corporation all requested the FCC to consolidate into a single proceeding the upcoming review of the T-Mobile acquisition (11-65) and the earlier Qualcomm MediaFLO Spectrum acquisition filing (11-18).

“In the proposed Qualcomm transaction, AT&T seeks to acquire Qualcomm's six Lower 700 MHz D Block (6 MHz) licenses, which collectively have a nationwide footprint, and five Lower 700 MHz E Block (6 MHz) licenses in five large markets. The T-Mobile transaction includes the acquisition of an additional 50 MHz on average in the same geographic areas covered by the proposed Qualcomm transaction. Obviously, with such an overlap, these two transactions should be examined together, rather than separately.”

In Appendix B. Competitor Chart of AT&T’s April 21st. Filing there are 567 pages of Competitor Charts for 700 MHz, Cellular, and SMR Licensees that show the Qualcomm D & E Block Spectrum alongside the AT&T Consolidated Spectrum. A Selected example for San Francisco, San Mateo and Washington DC is shown below.

As seen in the above example AT&T’s own Appendix B strongly supports the case for examining the joint impact of the two acquisitions.
AT&T may now regret not having waited to settle the Qualcomm acquisition before seeking to acquire T-Mobile. [Note: Appendix A shows the Spectrum to be consolidated between AT&T and T-Mobile.]

So now the FCC may need to review the competitive and market impact of AT&T's aggregation of spectrum in both proposed transactions on nationwide mobile telephony and broadband services.

AT&T may have trouble establishing that it really needs all the additional Spectrum.

RCA President and CEO Steven K. Berry has called AT&T’s acquisitions a ‘spectrum grab’ and said, “It is clear that AT&T is doing everything possible to gain market dominance by making not one but two major spectrum grabs in the proposed Qualcomm and T-Mobile transactions.”

AT&T is now getting increasingly unfavorable publicity – as Broadband DSL Reports notes “Press (Are) Not Buying AT&T Spectrum Claims”. The chart below is being used in multiple publications to exemplify AT&T’s overreach. It is easy visually to add together either the green 3G columns or the blue 4G columns to estimate the consolidated spectrum of AT&T and T-Mobile. It is apparent they both far outstrip Verizon.

Delay may cause problems for AT&T unless it divests properties rapidly.

The clock is running on the AT&T T-Mobile merger since the FCC established the Pleading Cycle for the AT&T T-Mobile Acquisition (WT Docket 11-65) as follows:

Filings                        Due

Petitions To Deny     May 31, 201

Oppositions                June 10, 2011

Replies                        June 20, 2011

 Despite this aggressive FCC timetable, it is increasingly likely that extensive negotiations will be required – both nationally and state by state. AT&T will probably have to divest sufficient properties to ensure competition in each market on a case by case basis to create even stronger competitors than shown on its website.

The agreement with Deutsche Telekom (DT) however, states that AT&T does not have to agree to divestitures and other regulatory conditions that would have an adverse effect greater than USD 7.8 Billion; only half of subscriber or spectrum sales value is counted towards that sum. AT&T has stated that it is prepared to divest up to 40 percent of the number of T-Mobile subscribers or approximately 13.149 million subscribers - based on the stated value of USD 578 per subscriber. But the likely buyers are AT&Ts competitors who have no incentive to move quickly or to pay full price .

But AT&T’s acquisition agreement with DT for T-Mobile USA has a ‘drop dead’ date of March 20, 2012 after which either AT&T or DT can chose to terminate the deal.

If the deal terminates because of a failure to obtain regulatory clearance there is a provision that A&T must pay DT up to USD3 Billion in cash; enter into a roaming agreement; and “transfer to Deutsche Telekom certain wireless AWS spectrum that [AT&T] does not need for its initial LTE roll-out.”

The growing opposition to AT&T may well push the deal to the fall of 2012 as we predicted in an earlier Insight AT&T T-Mobile Acquisition: How long will it take to close?


August 11, 2010 16:08 suerudd
August 11th 2010 Doing the FCC’s job? On Monday August 9th. Verizon and Google issued a joint ‘suggested policy framework for lawmakers’ which reads as if it had come from the FCC, leading to an appropriate response from FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps that it is “time to reassert (FCC’s) authority”. The framework endorses all the good ‘motherhood’ concepts - openness for legal content, nondiscrimination that does not block or degrade the Internet, and transparency for both wireline and wireless. And it addresses some of the traffic and network management concerns raised in my blog of May 27th . But the sting is in the tail. The fifth and sixth points posted in the expository blog carve out two major markets. The ‘Carve Out’.Two key markets are carved out for minimal FCC oversight and therefore would not be subject to many ‘net neutrality’ and access requirements. First area is ‘differentiated online services’ that integrate application services with bandwidth – “healthcare monitoring, the smart grid’ etc. i.e. vertical markets where performance and security must be guaranteed. The proposed Verizon and Google approach allows each application to be ‘nailed-up’ to a specific network - rather than the Virtual Private Networks VPNs) with Service Level Agreements(SLAs) that operate today. This could lead to significant innovation – if only it were not based on exclusive bi-lateral transport and applications vendor deals. Haven’t we been here before? Didn’t this lead to the original Enhanced vs. Basic Services split of Computer Enquiry II.  And it recreates the comparatively unsuccessful ‘Walled Garden’ approach to applications. Second ‘carve out’ is wireless broadband which is claimed to have “unique technical and operational characteristics” and to be “more competitive and changing rapidly”, so “in recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace” Verizon and Google recommend against applying any of the “wireline principles” except transparency. Broadband is Broadband is Broadband….Although wireless has historically had special treatment, mobile broadband is rapidly reaching parity with wireline speeds and quality. Over the next two years applications will operate seamlessly across wireless and wireline networks and many users may not even be aware which network they are on. To users Broadband is Broadband. All applications require an appropriate class of service at a competitive price. Special value added networks and mobile broadband cannot and should not be carved out from the general area of FCC broadband service oversight. Reactions and Furor on both sides of the ‘pond’ In the US, Wall Street Journal welcomes this ‘Traffic Plan’ and TIA notes that the “Verizon and Google…rightly addressed important issues such as the need for network management welcoming it as a “step in the right direction … and a possible solution to the uncertainty created by the Comcast decision.” But bloggers and the New York Times Opinion page started discussing carrier/search engine business alliances and making jokes about ‘VerGoogle’ that have now prompted a strong tweet denial from Google “We've not had any convos with VZN about paying for carriage of our traffic. We remain committed to an open internet.” Wired magazine however, describes the ‘differentiated online services network’ as a “left-field proposal to anticipate an entirely new information highway for ‘fast lanes’” and believes that “Google and Verizon have proposed creating a second, paid-access-only internet” “over an unspecified global network”. Could that be Verizon’s new Packet Optical Transport Platform (P-OTP) network? Across the pond reactions are still evolving. Financial Times subtly points out that “industry insiders on Capitol Hill and at the FCC are questioning Google’s motives for an apparent about-face on its position as one of the most powerful advocates of net neutrality.” Others reflect the stronger view that the EU is taking on Net neutrality.with one blogger warning that “An obvious outcome … is that when Google is dragged backwards through an antitrust investigation by the EC or DoJ, it will find no favours from civil society after this betrayal…..Good luck, Google - you thought China was sticky in terms of political support, you'll find that was a storm in a delicate teacup.”

May 27, 2010 20:05 suerudd
Throttle or Choke.‘Net Neutrality’ proponents argue that there should be no restrictions by service providers on any type of end-user access to content, equipment or modes of communication but in April a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority when it told Comcast not to ‘throttle’ BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer video exchange and related applications - even though BitTorrent was ‘choking’ performance for other Comcast users. FCC is now proposing additional regulation and Congress is getting in on the act. Lurking behind the partisan rhetoric of ‘Net neutrality’ are serious issues. It is time to deal with them. Issue 1. Harm to the Network. Ironically Comcast was trying to protect its customers from ‘harm to the network’ as the Communications Act requires. Many service providers - including many mobile operators - are struggling to manage the disproportionate traffic demands of a few heavy duty users whose peer-to-peer or high bandwidth applications slow down performance for everyone else. Solution: Some equitable form of network management is not only reasonable but essential for the broadband networks to function. Issue 2. Service Quality at a Fair Price. Insistence by ‘Net Neutrality’ advocates that everyone get the same access with the same ‘class of service’ leads rapidly to a lowest common denominator for all. When video ‘bandwidth hogs’ block more time sensitive or more valuable, low bandwidth applications there is a good case for throughput guarantees. Solution: In both fixed and mobile broadband markets, tiered classes of service for different user applications with different bandwidth requirements and different priorities at different prices will enable operators to balance broadband traffic demand with new capacity expansion. Issue 3. Exclusive Walled Gardens. The owners of broadband access have been tempted recently to consider exclusive deals with preferred application and content providers – like Google and YouTube. Often there are only one or two access providers, so small new or innovative vendors are concerned they will be relegated to a lower class of service. This is not just a US issue. In April European Union telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes suggested that “users should be able to access and distribute the content, services and applications they want”…”Nor should telecommunications providers be allowed to block services provided by direct competitors.” Solution: Toll highway operators should not choose the customers’ automobiles. Nor should the automobile companies pay the user tolls in advance for the fastest highways. A primary reason for communications regulation is to prevent access providers from extending their power to control access to limit content choice or overcharge for services. Networks need a clear and neutral boundary between transport and applications so that choices are separate and made by end users. Let’s deal with the real challenges to delivering broadband for all - instead of firing political rhetoric at one another

March 24, 2010 22:03 suerudd
Newton MA.USA. The size and bureaucratic tone of the FCC’ s ‘Connecting America :The National Broadband Plan’ conceal some exciting implications for broadband wireless. So here is the crib sheet.The new pro-active US Federal Communications Commission has decided to follow the example of other industrialized countries - that have been aggressively promoting Broadband - and has proposed a Broadband Availability Target (BAT) for every household and business location in America to have access to affordable broadband service with download speeds of at least 4 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps with good quality of service. 14 million people in US today do not have access to a terrestrial broadband infrastructure capable of meeting the BAT. FCC projected potential broadband revenues from these 14 million people and subtracted the required capital expenditures and ongoing costs for terrestrial fixed broadband. The difference is the Broadband Availability Gap (BAG) which has a 2010 present value of $24 Billion. “The gap is greatest in areas with low population density” where, the FCC says “service providers .. cannot earn enough revenue to cover the costs of deploying and operating broadband networks, including expected returns on capital… there is no business case to offer broadband services in these areas.” So what role does the FCC assign to broadband wireless to help fill this gap? FCC notes that as of November 2009 3G service covered only roughly 60% of U.S. land mass. And although FCC politely questions the spectral efficiency and services of current Fixed Wireless technology and timing of 4G wireless it boldly announced new plans to: Make 500 MHz newly available for broadband use in 10 years, of which 300 MHz is for mobile use within 5 years as follows:
• 20 MHz for mobile broadband use in the 2.3 GHz WCS band • 10 MHz Upper 700 MHz D Block for commercial use compatible with public safety broadband services • 60 MHz in AWS bands • 90 MHz of Mobile Satellite Spectrum (MSS) for terrestrial use • 120 MHz reallocated with compensation from the broadcast bands television (TV).
And the FCC recommends allocating funds for the plan in stages as follows:
Stage 1: 2010–2011 - FCC will establish Connect America Fund (CAF) to support the provision of affordable fixed broadband and will begin to switch up to $15.5 billion from the Universal Service Fund(USF) to CAF. CAF funding is planned to be “technology and carrier neutral”. FCC will also establish new Mobility Fund for specific locations that are lagging significantly behind in 3G wireless coverage (and to establish) the basis for the future footprint of 4G mobile broadband networks. Stage 2: 2012–2016 - FCC will assign approximately $4 billion from Inter-Carrier Compensation (ICC) reforms and CAF to Mobility Fund and related activities. FCC will also provide funding of up to $6.5 billion to support deployment of a nationwide, interoperable Public Safety mobile broadband network. Fixed wireless broadband will compete with terrestrial broadband for CAF funding.
Our recent TRS report ‘Gambling on Telco Returns - Telco CAPEX and Risk in Six Countries’ calculated that today fixed broadband capital investment cost per subscriber in the US, is approximately $250. This compares to approximately $70 per subscriber for today’s wireless networks and potentially twice that for 3G+ or 4G. Wireless broadband is likely to require significantly less FCC subsidy than terrestrial broadband to fill the FCC’s ‘Broadband Gap’, especially in the underserved low density rural areas of the US. Tariff and Revenue Strategy Service analyzes how service providers can balance their fixed and mobile broadband capital expenditures and price new broadband services to achieve profitable ubiquitous operations. Sue Rudd, Director Tariff & Revenue Strategies – srudd@strategyanalytics.com