It may be an open question whether Sprint and T-Mobile will move forward with their merger plans, but that hasn’t stopped speculation on what the future mega-operator would look like if they somehow do succeed. Wall Street has poured over the financial and business implications of the deal while the tech media has latched onto the consumer and competitive repercussions of losing the U.S.’s fourth mobile service option. But what impact would the merger have on the two operator’s network plans? How would SprinT-Mo affect the evolution of mobile broadband technology in the U.S.?
Those are the questions OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill answers in a guest column published in Light Reading on Monday. By merging, Sprint and T-Mobile would have a fascinating set of networks, technologies and spectrum, which it could combine to create a one heck of a 4G network. In his column Brendan explains how, starting with the potential fate of Sprint’s CDMA network:
“First off, Sprint’s CDMA network will almost certainly land on the scrap heap. CDMA is a dying technology, and operators worldwide have now traded in their CDMA infrastructure for UMTS/HSPA networks to conform to what has become the de facto standard for 3G. When the time comes for Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc. to unify their 2G and 3G services under a single technology, T-Mobile’s GSM and HSPA system will win out.
You need only look at the history of the US telecom industry to see this same scenario played out. When AT&T bought Leap Wireless in 2014 and T-Mobile acquired MetroPCS in 2013, both acquirers shut down the CDMA networks of the operators they bought, re-farming their spectrum for new 4G services.”
Brendan then describes how SprinT-Mo could repurpose all of that 2G and 3G spectrum for 4G, and — with the help of LTE-Advanced technologies — combine it with their existing LTE networks to create an extremely powerful 4G service rivaling those we see in Europe and East Asia:
“The result would be a network that could support theoretical peak speeds of 300 Mbit/s across the country, reaching 450 Mbit/s in certain cities. …. these kinds of network upgrades would definitely have an impact on customer experience. T-Mobile’s average LTE connection speed could easily double, while Sprint’s could more than triple.”
But SprinT-Mo wouldn’t necessarily be the only beneficiary of its own merger. As Brendan points out, the merger’s impact could be far reaching across the U.S. mobile industry:
“Even though the current US administration seems friendlier to telecom consolidation than its predecessor, the Sprint and T-Mobile tie-up will trigger regulatory and antitrust reviews from the Federal Communications Commission and the US Department of Justice. And those agencies will inevitably demand that Sprint and T-Mobile divest some of their spectrum holdings.
Potential buyers of that divested spectrum could include Verizon and AT&T. By merging, Sprint and T-Mobile would put themselves in much stronger competitive and network positions. But their deal could benefit their biggest rivals too.”