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AT&T’s takeover of Leap Wireless (Cricket), approved last week by the FCC and the carriers, leaves U.S. Cellular and other regional carriers with an uncertain future, says Fierce Wireless.

T-Mobile’s 2013 purchase of MetroPCS (9 million subscribers) and the AT&T purchase of Leap/Cricket Wireless this week (5.2 million subscribers), has taken out the 4th and 5th largest mobile carriers in the United States.

U.S. Cellular is now a much smaller 5th competitor in relation to the big four carriers.

According to Investors.com, T-Mobile, the No. 4 player, had 46.68 million total customers, compared to U.S. Cellular’s 4.77 million. Even smaller providers include C-Spire, nTelos, Appalachian Wireless, Alaska Communications and Cellcom, all with less than a million subs.

In the past 18 months, U.S. Cellular has sold spectrum and key markets to both Sprint and T-Mobile, notes Fierce Wireless.

As part of a $480 million Sprint deal, U.S. Cellular sold PCS spectrum and its Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois and three other Midwest markets to Sprint. T-Mobile bought 10 MHz of AWS spectrum from U.S. Cellular for $308 million covering a total of 32 million POPs in 29 markets in the Mississippi Valley region, including Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and St. Louis.

Duplicating 60,000 cell sites nationwide doesn’t seem cost/effective — but are four (or three) nationwide carriers inevitable? Perhaps not. If new (non-virtual) carriers aren’t effectively precluded from leasing tower space, competition may flourish.

Dish is ready to roll, with 55 MHz of spectrum in its pocket. Then there’s Sprint which has barely tapped into its potential of 120+ MHz in the 2.6 GHz band.

Next year the 600 MHz auction could bring in new players, perhaps with backing by Google and Facebook who make more money with cheaper broadband. And don’t forget 5 GHz Wi-Fi, the new 3.5 GHz band, and White Spaces. AT&T, Verizon and Google met with the FCC’s staff this week to discuss the FCC’s proposal to open the 3550-3700 MHz band.

ZTE has already deployed its Cloud Radio Solution over existing 4G networks in cities including Guangzhou, Tianjin, Quanzhou, Dalian and Hong Kong. ZTE used common Intel architecture to build their system. With basestations in the cloud and fiber to the hotspot, small cells will multiply.

Google Fiber could be the enabler.

With Dish’s 55 MHz of spectrum and another 40 MHz of 2.6 GHz, how hard would it be to deliver “wireless cable” with an effective 25 Mbps (unlimited) direct from basestations in the cloud? For what …$19.95/mo or $49 with 100 TV channels?

The wireless duopoly (and the cable monopoly) may have had their day.

Related Dailywireless articles include; AT&T Buying Leap Wireless (Cricket), MetroPCS Merges with T-Mobile USA, T-Mobile & Leap Wireless Do Spectrum Swap, MetroPCS Merges with T-Mobile USA, Leap Wireless Announces LTE, Leap Wireless Sale? T-Mobile to Pay More for MetroPCS, T-Mobile/MetroPCS Merger Okayed by FCC, T-Mobile/MetroPCS Merger: Okay By DOJ, MetroPCS Merges with T-Mobile USA,

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