Shortly after filing comments last month on the State of Mobile Wireless Competition documenting U.S. wireless providers’ global lead in wireless competition, I was struck by an article that reaffirmed this lead and underscored the true benefits being delivered to U.S. consumers. The CNET U.K. headline says it all: “No 4G network for Britain until 2015, Ofcom warns,” explaining the anticipated delays in the launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE) network deployment. Likewise, a prominent European mobile operator observed that “[m]ost European mobile network operators will start to roll out LTE networks not before 2014.”
While most British and European consumers will have to wait until 2014 or 2015 for meaningful LTE offerings, U.S. wireless consumers are being flooded with providers’ competing ads for 4G LTE services that are available today. To be clear: these are not mere commitments or trials, but actual deployments that continue to expand throughout the U.S. These aggressive network buildouts point to why the U.S. is the global leader in mobile broadband. Even though the U.S. comprises less than 5% of the global population and has less than 6% of the world’s mobile wireless subscribers, it boasts about 87% of global LTE subscribers as of 3Q 2011.
Thanks to U.S. providers’ leadership in wireless investment and mobile broadband deployment and adoption, Americans are among the highest users of wireless services, paying some of the lowest prices for voice and data services in the world. While Britain and most Europeans will be waiting for LTE for the next 2-3 years, U.S. wireless consumers have had LTE available since 2010, with carriers pressing major deployments in 2011 and 2012. For example, Verizon Wireless’ LTE service is already available in 190 cities and 118 major airports, covering more than 200 million Americans. The company plans to cover more than two thirds of the U.S. population by mid-year 2012. AT&T’s LTE offerings cover more than 74 million consumers, and the company expects its LTE network expansion to be completed by 2013. Sprint recently announced that it will offer a mix of LTE and WiMAX services by the end of 2012 to about 176 million potential customers and 250 million pops by the end of 2013. The 2012 estimates include 123 million pops with access to LTE. T-Mobile, for its part, has been aggressively deploying enhanced HSPA+ technology, offering faster HSPA+ 42 to nearly 180 million Americans in 163 markets while also expanding its nationwide HSPA+ 21 to cover more than 200 million people in 208 markets across the country. T-Mobile announced plans to rapidly upgrade its network to HSPA+ 84 in 2012.
And 4G wireless broadband is not being limited to major markets or the largest providers. Regional and rural operators are enthusiastically embracing LTE networks as they evolve their mobile broadband service offerings to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and attract more customers.
Regional providers including U.S. Cellular, Cricket Communications and Clearwire all announced LTE deployment plans, with U.S. Cellular and Cricket rolling out LTE in numerous markets in 2011, and all three certain to accelerate deployment efforts in 2012. In 2011, 12 rural carriers announced their participation in the “LTE in Rural America” program with Verizon Wireless and have leased spectrum to build and operate a 4G LTE network covering 2.6 million Americans in rural communities over nearly 82,000 square miles. Participating providers include Appalachian Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Carolina West Wireless, Cellcom, Chariton Valley, Convergence Technologies, Inc., Cross Wireless, Custer Telephone, Pioneer Cellular, S and R Communications, Strata Networks and Thumb Cellular. Cellcom President and CEO Pat Riordan summed up rural carrier goals perfectly when he stated:
Our aggressive 4G strategy will allow us to provide the same technology that is offered in major metropolitan areas … We pride ourselves in being a creative, forward-thinking rural carrier. Our latest investment in bringing LTE technology to our customers demonstrates this commitment.
With U.S. carriers’ cumulative capital expenditures at more than $322 billion by mid-2011 (up more than $27 billion over the preceding 12 months), U.S. wireless carriers are ushering in the next evolution of enhanced wireless broadband networks, delivering faster speeds and better quality through their determined rollout of LTE technologies. Most importantly, those getting the biggest returns on these investments are American consumers.
4G LTE networks are proving to be the high powered engines that will drive the mobile economy. Now all we need is more spectrum for wireless providers, giving them the fuel they need to power the dynamic wireless ecosystem.