What we learned about Dish during the earnings call

With Dish executives leading the company’s quarterly earnings call, details of the plan to crack into the US mobile market were revealed.

The next few years are critical for the US telecoms industry but also the credibility of the FCC and the Department of Justice. Both of these authorities dismissed opposition to the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger, ignoring suggestions it would damage competition. Dish was the reason competition could be maintained, irreversibly changing the US telecoms industry, so it better succeed.

Fortunately, the is being fairly transparent about developments, or certainly more so than most telecoms executives are. But what did we learn from CEO Erik Carlson and Chairman Charlie Ergen last week?

Firstly, $10 billion should be enough to build a nationwide network.

This is a figure which has been banded around quite a lot in recent months without any in-depth explanation, but Ergen believes $10 billion should be enough to meet FCC regulatory requirements and go beyond to create a nationwide network which can compete. There might be a few unforeseen expenditures, spectrum auctions for example, but the team is standing by this estimation.

While the Boost business has not been officially closed yet, the team should have launched in one market by the end of the year, with its own independent core but leaning on the T-Mobile access network. This MVNO agreement will be running for seven years, but the team have already begun talks with tower companies to push forward to create its own network.

What is worth noting is that this work is running independent of the assets which can be purchased from the new T-Mobile company. EVP of Corporate Development Tom Cullen highlighted that deployment planning has begun but once the Boost deal closes, Dish will also have first refusal to acquire cell sites from T-Mobile which are deemed surplus to requirements thanks to the network rationalisation process between T-Mobile US and Sprint.

Although this is detail which some might not have expected, there are still quite a few questions remaining. That said, there is absolute clarity on one area in particular.

“We also took a $356 million impairment charge during the quarter, related primarily to our narrowband IoT build and our satellites D1 and T1,” said CFO Paul Orben. “Now that the T-Mobile/Sprint merger has closed and there is more clarity surrounding our revised build-out requirements. We no longer intend to finish our narrowband IoT build.”

NB-IOT has been struggling to live up to the expectation in numerous markets and this will not help matters. Dish is officially turning its back on NB-IOT, choosing to take an impairment charge on FCC commitments and turn attentions to a 5G network instead of completing the project.

While this might not be the most encouraging of signs, the embracement of OpenRAN and Mavenir as the company’s first official supplier is.

“Marc [Marc Rouanne – Chief Network Officer] continues to work on the architecture and further vendor selection,” said Ergen. “So I would anticipate more of those announcements in the third quarter. And then we’ll share our deployment plans once those are formalized likely on the next call.”

The dynamic of network suppliers is an interesting one for Dish. Ergen highlighted there was a desire to use Huawei equipment, which he described as “best in class”, though the team is being asked to find innovation in new ways. We also found out there is an active dialogue between Dish and Japan’s Rakuten to learn about OpenRAN deployments in the wild.

This is an area many will be keeping a close eye on, not only for validation of a technology which is still not the real deal, but also vendor appointments. The scale of this network, and the aggressive deployment schedule, could force OpenRAN start-ups to grow very quickly. Dish could be a major catalyst for growth for the lucky few who are selected.

It is of course early days, but there are some very interesting developments to keep an eye on here. The team might have opened the door slightly, but there is still much left to discover.

Will the team be able to deploy a network for $10 billion? How will it build its wholesale business unit? When will network slicing begun to be factored in? Which OpenRAN suppliers will be added to the roster over the next few months? Which markets will the postpaid products be launched in first?

With the next earnings call scheduled for July 30, the next three months could offer some very interesting announcements.

T-Mobile bags 452k subs as 5G starts to roll

An additional 452,000 branded postpaid subscriptions and churn of 0.86% should be enough to put a smile on the face of T-Mobile investors as share price soars 9%.

The majority of telcos might be scrapping and scraping against wider industry trends, but T-Mobile investors will be very pleased with how the business is progressing. Not only has the long-awaited merger with Sprint been formally approved, the financial spreadsheets are also proving to be a success.

“Just five weeks ago, we merged with Sprint to create the New T-Mobile, and we’re more excited today than ever before about the massive value creation opportunity and synergy potential that lies ahead,” said CEO Mike Sievert.

“We are off to the races laying the foundation for the future of the New T-Mobile as we work to execute on our business plan and harness the incredible opportunity ahead.”

T-Mobile financial results for period ending March 31 (USD ($), millions)
Total Year-on-year
Revenues 11,113 0.3%
Service revenues 8,713 5.3%
Net income 951 4.7%
Free cash 732 18.4%

Source: T-Mobile US Investor Relations

And while these are encouraging figures, the real fun is about to being. Sievert has the pleasure of integrating T-Mobile’s operations with Sprint’s.

Having been formally kicked-off on April 1, the two organisations will become one. This means scaled deployments, rationalising the retail footprint and pushing forward with 5G. The latter is perhaps the most interesting element, and the one which will give the best opportunity to close the gap on AT&T and Verizon.

In terms of a 5G offering, T-Mobile now looks to have the most complete proposition. It has access to mmWave spectrum for high-speed downloads, 600 MHz bands for coverage and, thanks to the Sprint merger, 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum to blend together speed and coverage. This is a 5G assault which ticks all the boxes which is currently in play in Philadelphia with New York next on the roadmap.

T-Mobile still lags behind AT&T and Verizon, but a carefully crafted and aggressive drive towards 5G could shift market dynamics very quickly.

Subscribers for US mobile network operators
Total subscribers 5G subscribers***
AT&T 176,510232 14,416,872
Verizon 182,554,002 16,560,150
T-Mobile and Sprint 114,359,944 18,560,447

*** Forecast by Omdia over the next twelve months

T-Mobile gets 5G boost thanks to Sprint’s mid-band spectrum

It might only be a baby step when you consider the daunting task of integrating two multi-billion-dollar corporations, but T-Mobile has opened its network up to Sprint customers.

Across the US, Sprint customers will be able to benefit from the expansive T-Mobile 4G network, while the 5G proposition has been bolstered thanks to the incorporation of mid-band spectrum.

“Connectivity is more important than ever today, and the challenging time we’re all facing shows just how critical 5G for All is,” said Neville Ray, T-Mobile President of Technology.

“While our amazing team safely works to keep people across the country connected to work, school and family, we aren’t slowing down on building out the broad and deep network that only this combined company can deliver. We won’t stop because this network can do so much good across the country.”

T-Mobile has never been shy about patting itself on the back, though it has been very successful over the last decade. One area which did look to be a weakness was the 5G offering, as its plethora of 600 MHz spectrum was never going to live up to the promise, despite being able to offer the 5G symbol on devices in a larger coverage area. One of the advantages of the Sprint merger was access to valuable spectrum.

Much has been made of the importance of mmWave spectrum, licences which made use of the higher-frequency airwaves, though the reality of experience is very different. Those using the high-band to power 5G offerings were disappointing customers with incredibly patchy coverage thanks to shorter ranges, but Sprint had access to valuable mid-band spectrum.

With 2.5 GHz frequencies available, a more palatable compromise between higher download speeds and increased coverage can be realised. These are the frequencies which have been powering 5G launches in Europe and Asia, though thanks to legacy allocations for radar systems in the US Navy, US telcos have not been able to access the 3.5-3.7 GHz frequencies, know as the innovation band.

Thanks to the merger of the two companies, T-Mobile now has access to these valuable assets and have launched services over these airwaves in parts of Philadelphia, with New York next on the deployment roadmap. 5G is still of course in the embryonic days of development, but access to mid-band spectrum ahead of its rivals give T-Mobile a significant advantage.

New T-Mobile company has already opened itself up to a lawsuit

The newly merged T-Mobile company has barely seen daylight, but it has already irritated one regulator enough that the risk of a lawsuit hovers on the horizon.

As T-Mobile proclaimed the beginning of a new era, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) issued an order to the management team. The order stated T-Mobile and Sprint could not merge their operations until the CPUC had officially greenlit the transaction on April 16. This would appear to be little more than a bureaucratic tick-box exercise, as a local judge recently recommended the CPUC approve the deal.

However, in announcing the completion of the deal and beginning the integration process under new CEO Mike Sievert, the new T-Mobile team seemingly believes this procedure is not worth waiting for. Or, it implies the approval is not necessary.

The order from the CPUS states:

Public Utilities Code Section 854(a) states in relevant part that “[n]o person or corporation, whether or not organized under the laws of this state, shall merge, acquire, or control … either directly or indirectly, any public utility organized and doing business in this state without first securing authorization to do so from the commission.” Both Joint Applicants, T-Mobile and Sprint, have California subsidiaries that are public utility telephone corporations under state law, and subject to the jurisdiction of this agency. The merger of the companies’ operations in California is therefore subject to CPUC approval. Accordingly, Joint Applicants shall not begin merger of their California operations until after the CPUC issues a final decision on the pending applications.

In short, do not complete the merger without our approval.

As with all corporate announcements, the new release proclaiming the completion of the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger came with fine print detailing the risks which might cause plans to alter. The below extract is an interesting one:

…the risk of litigation or regulatory actions, including litigation or actions that may arise from T-Mobile’s consummation of the business combination during the pendency of the California Public Utility Commission’s review of the business combination

T-Mobile is effectively admitting to investors and analysts there is a risk it will be taken to court by the State of California and its regulatory authorities.

Ultimately, this is another version of the State versus Central Government saga which has plagued US bureaucracy for centuries. The State Governments retain the right to create localised legislation and regulation, though how this position overlaps with Federal Government rules has always been a point of contention.

In a separate filing made by T-Mobile, its lawyers believe the CPUC is overstepping its jurisdiction.

…The PD [proposed deal] erroneously asserts that the Commission has the authority to “approve the Merger” and impose conditions as a prerequisite to granting such approval. Both assertions conflict with federal law and the Commission’s own precedent.

In other words, the regulator does not have the power to submit additional requirements on T-Mobile in order to gain approval. This could have a significant impact on the way T-Mobile operates over the coming years.

One of the reasons the merger took so long to be greenlit was opposition from State Attorney Generals. Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, a joint lawsuit was filed opposing the deal. To appease these objections, T-Mobile and Sprint made numerous commitments to the States, though this latest filing might be considered a way for T-Mobile to back out of these promises.

The ‘Proposed Deal’, as it is referred to in the legal document, includes almost 50 commitments which T-Mobile has made to the State of California ranging from data tariffs, 5G deployments and broadband. However, the lawyers are requesting the courts offer them grounds to change the ‘Proposed Deal’ which could have an impact on the commitments made to the court.

If it is accepted that the CPUC does not have the jurisdiction to make demands in exchange for the deal being approved, considering Federal approval has already been granted, it could offer an opportunity for T-Mobile to reshape the commitments it has made across the country. In the legal world, precedent is everything.

The two-year wait for the T-Mobile/Sprint merger is finally over

653 days ago, T-Mobile US and Sprint formally submitted the paperwork to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a $26 billion merger, and today it is officially complete.

As of April 1, 2020, the merged business unit will now trade on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol ‘TMUS’, officially bringing an end to Sprint as a corporation. This has been a drawn-out and very expensive period for the two firms, but the management teams can finally relax.

And for the energetic, erratic and eccentric John Legere, the days over leading the Magenta Army into battle have also drawn to a close.

Mike Sievert, the new CEO of the combined company, might not have the energy or flair Legere possesses, but perhaps that is a good thing for the next few months. Over the last few years, T-Mobile US perhaps needed a flamboyant CEO to mount a challenge to the leadership position of AT&T and Verizon, but the immediate future for this firm requires a different type of manager.

Now the legal and regulatory hurdles have been negotiated, the new business will need a logical, pragmatic and steady hand to lead integration efforts. Perhaps this is what Sievert is? Having been Legere’s first hire, maybe he was the yin to yang, the balance to the madness which the wild-eyed John brought to the firm.

“During this extraordinary time, it has become abundantly clear how vital a strong and reliable network is to the world we live in,” said Sievert. “The New T-Mobile’s commitment to delivering a transformative broad and deep nationwide 5G network is more important and more needed than ever and what we are building is mission-critical for consumers.

“With this powerful network, the New T-Mobile will deliver real choice and value to wireless and home broadband customers and double down on all the things customers have always loved about the Un-carrier. T-Mobile has been changing wireless for good — and now we are going to do it on a whole new level.”

With today (April 1) being the first day of operations under the new cloud of expectation, T-Mobile has to deliver on the promises it has been making. This is the challenge which Sievert will face.

Firstly, the integration of the two businesses is no small feat. Secondly, the aggressive 5G rollout has to continue. And finally, the promises made to the various different regulators and Attorney Generals will have to be honoured. And perhaps above all else, business value will have to be demonstrated to investors otherwise heads will roll.

And what do we have to look forward to over the next couple of years:

  • The promise of a network which will have 14X more capacity than T-Mobile could deliver alone. The new company has set a six-year timeline to meet this milestone
  • Within six years, the team promises download speeds which are 15X faster than what can be delivered today
  • Also within the six-year window, 100 Mbps 5G download speeds will be available to 90% of the US population, while 5G will be available to 99% of the population
  • $40 billion will be invested into the network
  • The deal has promised to unlock at least $43 billion in synergies for all shareholders
  • Create 1,000 jobs in a customer service centre in Kingsburg, California
  • Create 1,000 jobs in Rochester, New York
  • Open 600 new retail stores across the country

Some of these commitments will have been made to ensure the lawyers stop being a nuisance blocking the completion of the transaction, but now it is over to Sievert who has the unenviable job of delivering on promises made by wild-eyed Legere.

California gives up opposition to T-Mobile US and Sprint merger

The final hurdle the long and arduous merger proceedings for T-Mobile US and Sprint has finally been overcome, 1 year, 8 months, 3 weeks and 3 days after it was first announced.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced a settlement with the two firms, and also said the legal fees of all the States would be covered by T-Mobile US. Alongside Becerra, a California judge has also recommended the state’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approve the deal. California has only been delaying the inevitable over the last few weeks, but the stubborn stance from the Attorney General has at least ensured at least some benefits for the State of California.

“Our coalition vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint telecom merger over concerns that it would thwart competition and leave consumers with higher prices,” Becerra said.

“We took our case to court to ensure that, no matter its outcome, we’d protect innovation and fair prices. Though the district court approved the merger, its decision also made clear to companies that local markets matter in assessing the competitive impact of a merger and that no one should underestimate the role of state enforcers.

“Most importantly, today’s settlement locks in new jobs and protections for vulnerable consumers, and it extends access to telecom services for our most underserved and rural communities.”

As part of the deal, the new T-Mobile company will:

  • Offer guaranteed data tariffs for a period of at least five years. 2 GB a month deals can be bought for $15, while 5 GB will be $25
  • Any deal which was bought prior to February 2019 will also be guaranteed for an additional two-year period
  • Certain low-income homes, nationwide, will be offered 100 GB of no-cost broadband internet service per year for five years or a free mobile wifi hotspot device
  • Create 1,000 jobs in a customer service centre in Kingsburg
  • Guarantee the number of jobs in California for the newly merged company will be the same in three years as is it today

California does certainly benefit from the Becerra opposition, but the Attorney General has also negotiated a $15 million purse which will be split between the coalition of State Attorney General’s who opposed the deal to pay for legal costs.

After all the legal battles, the T-Mobile US and Sprint merger can now be completed, though it does remain to be seen whether this ultimately is of benefit to the consumer. Critics have suggested the US courts have favoured competition to AT&T and Verizon from T-Mobile US over increased wireless competition for the consumer, though this is under the assumption that the Dish proposition will fail.

With Dish entering the fray as the fourth nationwide player, there is a beacon of hope for sustained competition, though it will certainly face an uphill battle. The service will run as a MVNO on the T-Mobile network for a seven-year period, though whether this is enough time remains to be seen. Its competition has been fine-tuning network deployment for decades, and still hasn’t perfected the art or blanketed the US in its entirety.

We are still trying to figure out the logic of how Dish can be an appropriate substitute for Sprint. Either, the courts have immense faith in the business, zero confidence in Sprint or simply believes three stronger players is better than four.

FCC proposes $200 million fine for location snooping telcos

The four major MNOs each face the threat of a weighty fine, collectively totalling more than $200 million, for helping third parties stalk customers.

Thanks to all four of the national US telcos selling customer location data to third parties over a sustained period of time, the FCC has proposed fines supposedly proportionate to the impact. While there are justified and responsible means for third party companies to use telco location data, this was certainly not one of them and the telcos have been found guilty of not protecting the data privacy rights of customers.

“American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive.

“The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers’ personal information. And since 2007, these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don’t. Today, we do just that.”

The proposed fines are as follows: AT&T is potentially liable for $57,265,625, Verizon $48,318,750, T-Mobile US $91,630,000 and Sprint $12,240,000. What is worth noting is that it appears the investment community has been buoyed by the figures presented by Pai.

Telco Price at close Friday 28 February Price at time or writing (pre-market trading)
AT&T 35.22 (-1.43%) 35.66 (1.25%)
Verizon 54.16 (-1.63%) 54.52 (0.66%)
T-Mobile US 90.16 (-1.18%) 91.05 (0.99%)
Sprint 9.19 (-1.08%) 9.35 (1.74%)

The final hours of trading for the telcos were hardly the most profitable for the industry, though as the proposed fines emerged over the weekend there has been recovery. There may well of course be other factors, but it does appear the investment community believed these fines could have been larger.

Privacy red flags were raised here following an article in the New York Times which claimed a Missouri Sheriff named Cory Hutcheson was making use of location finding services from Securus without the appropriate legal authority. Instead of uploading documents such as a search warrant, irrelevant documents were uploaded such as health insurance policies and pages from Sheriff training manuals. What soon emerged from the eventual investigation was a slurry of abuse and the development of a nefarious industry.

“This investigation is a day late and a dollar short,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

“Our real-time location information is some of the most sensitive data there is about us, and it deserves the highest level of privacy protection. It did not get that here – not from our nationwide wireless carriers and not from the Federal Communications Commission. For this reason, I dissent.”

While it is hardly unusual for Democrat Rosenworcel to oppose the actions of a Republican controlled FCC, there is a valid point being made, despite it being somewhat lost in the immaturity of US politics. Firstly, the fines probably do not match the profits made or negligence from the telcos. Secondly, Pai elected to ignore action for far too long. And finally, the amount of redacted information in the documents blur the picture, protecting the reputations of the guilty telcos.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, another Democrat, has painted another very similar gloomy picture, also choosing to dissent to large swathes of the FCC process. The condemning tone is hardly surprising, but the FCC does not look the most competent coming out of this saga.

When the initial suspicions were raised, nothing was done. When it appeared the practice was still largely continuing, actions were meek. The investigation took too long and the fine does not necessarily look proportionate. Not only did these telcos mislead the regulator, they broke the law, lied to customers and profited for at least five years from the practice.

Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, the FCC has taken a much more hands-off approach to regulation of the telco industry, allowing business to be business. But there are more and more examples of private industry, not just the telcos, demonstrating they are not responsible enough to act independently within the parameters of responsibility.

New York ends resistance to T-Mobile/Sprint merger

New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced her office will not pursue an appeal against the courts decision to approve the $26 billion T-Mobile US and Sprint merger.

While the other states involved in the lawsuit to prevent the combination of the two telcos are yet to formally make their position public, James was the primary driving force behind the legal opposition. Others might try to step up, but without one of the US’ fastest growing political forces at the helm, responses look relatively pitiful.

“After a thorough analysis, New York has decided not to move forward with an appeal in this case. Instead, we hope to work with all the parties to ensure that consumers get the best pricing and service possible, that networks are built out throughout our state, and that good-paying jobs are created here in New York.

“We are gratified that this process has yielded commitments from T-Mobile to create jobs in Rochester and engage in robust national diversity initiatives that will connect our communities with good jobs and technology. We are committed to continuing to fight for affordability and access for all of New York’s mobile customers.”

James’ opposition to the $26 billion merger first emerged in June 2019 when, alongside California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, support was raised for a multi-state lawsuit against the corporate transaction. James managed to convince 12 State Attorney Generals to oppose the deal, questioning whether it would be beneficial for the consumer and attempting to disprove that Dish would not be adequate as a fourth mobile operator.

In a 173-page opinion, Judge Victor Marrero effectively said the merger was a good idea as Sprint was not worthy of being called competition. The combined entity would be a much better representative, while Marrero believed Dish plans to scale rapidly were viable, even if few others do. His ruling effectively killed the resistance to the merger.

Although some will be disappointed the lawyers are giving up the fight, it might simply be a case of looking at the bigger picture. James has pointed to job creation promises in her state, though now the attention will turn to ensure these jobs are actually created. Back in October, Colorado and Mississippi both did the same; the legal opposition was dropped as agreements were forged with T-Mobile US and Dish to offer benefits to the states.

While there will be some benefits to the transaction, it is impossible to avoid the negatives. T-Mobile US and Sprint will be able to realise efficiencies to better compete with AT&T and Verizon, while Dish will offer more jobs. However, there will be a rationalisation project after the transaction leading to job losses in shared business functions (finance, legal etc.) and also in areas where the retail footprint overlaps. Redundancies are unavoidable.

The question which remains is who will get the best slice of the benefits?

Colorado agreed to drop the lawsuit against the merger if Dish was to create 2,000 jobs in the statey and will also keep its corporate HQ in the city of Littleton for at least seven years. The Attorney General has also negotiated an accelerated 5G deployment timeline with T-Mobile US in exchange. Over in Mississippi, former-Attorney General Jim Hood also negotiated an accelerated 5G deployment plan and also a ceiling on tariffs for consumers for a five-year period.

These were the only two states to drop out prior to the conclusion of the lawsuit, though now the lobbying for attention can begin as T-Mobile/Sprint and Dish are wooed by each of the states for their own benefit. James has said the deal offers new jobs to citizens in Rochester, New York, though with other states considering more legal action, T-Mobile US and Dish might have to hit the negotiating table elsewhere.

In California, Attorney General Becerra is considering his options, while Ken Paxton, the Attorney General for Texas, has not stated whether he will pursue an appeal to the decision. These might not be the catalyst for opposition that Letitia James is, but they will certainly be able to cause a problem. T-Mobile US, Sprint and Dish executives want this deal done, are will probably be willing to negotiate some attractive deals.

Merger of T-Mobile US and Sprint finally gets the legal green light

The New York Federal District Court has ruled T-Mobile US and Sprint can finally go ahead and merge if they can still be bothered.

“Today was a huge victory for this merger and now we are finally able to focus on the last steps to get this merger done!,” exclaimed T-Mobile CEO John Legere. “We want to thank the Court for its thorough review of the facts we presented in our case. We’ve said it all along: the New T-Mobile will be a supercharged Un-carrier that is great for consumers and great for competition.

“The broad and deep 5G network that only our combined companies will be able to bring to life is going to change wireless … and beyond. Look out Dumb and Dumber and Big Cable – we are coming for you … and you haven’t seen anything yet!”

“This is a big win and a big day for the New T-Mobile!” exclaimed Mike Sievert, COO of T-Mobile. “Now we can get to work finishing what we set out to do – bringing a new standard for value, speed, coverage, quality and customer service to U.S. consumers everywhere and truly changing wireless for good. Now we’re laser-focused on finishing the few open items that remain but our eye is on the prize: finally bringing this long-awaited merger and all the goodness it will deliver to a close as early as April 1, 2020. We are so ready to bring the New T-Mobile to life!”

“Judge Marrero’s decision validates our view that this merger is in the best interests of the U.S. economy and American consumers,” said a calmer Sprint Executive Chairman Marcelo Claure. “Today brings us a big step closer to creating a combined company that will provide nationwide 5G, lower costs, and a high-performing network that will invigorate competition to the benefit of all mobile wireless and in-home broadband consumers.

With the support of federal regulators and now this Court, we will focus on quickly completing the few remaining necessary steps to close this transaction. I am proud of my Sprint team’s dedication, passion and resilience throughout the merger review process, and we are ready to make the vision of a New T-Mobile a reality.”

Nuff said.

RootMetrics US numbers indicate TMUS/Sprint merger is a good idea

The performance metrics of the four US MNOs confirm a significant gap between the big two and the other two.

RootMetrics did a deep dive into the networks of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint over the second half of last year. In the customary way it then published top-line performance numbers and ranked the networks according to a few sub-criteria. As you can see in the first table below, Verizon comes top in nearly all categories, with AT&T close behind and the other two lagging considerably. We’re not sure why AT&T isn’t number one in any of the speed categories but it’s presumably explained somewhere in the methodology.

The report also takes a specific look at 5G and finds some pretty major variations in performance. Verizon got so excited about the finding that ‘Verizon’s 4G LTE speeds were faster than the low-band 5G median download speeds of T-Mobile in Chicago and Los Angeles and identical to AT&T’s low-band 5G median download speed in LA,’ that it published a special press release. This doesn’t come as a massive surprise since TMUS is devoting so little spectrum to its 5G right now.

The more significant issue raised by this report is how far behind TMUS and Sprint remain on most key metrics. This would seem to support the case for their merger, since the resulting economies of scale, buying power, etc, would allow greater investment in the network. Whether or not that would actually come to pass, or whether shareholders would trouser the cash instead, is hard to predict. But it seems counter-productive to insist they continue to struggle as second-tier MNOs.