Telecom Transitions, Competition Good News for End Users

Carl Weinschenk

Three postings during the past week look at the progress made by the top carriers, mostly on the wireless side. Together, they make interesting reading. Indeed, even before looking at each carrier's profile, it's worth noting that T-Mobile didn't even rate a serious assessment in two of the lists.


At ZDNet, Ricardo Bilton and Gloria Sin take a look at the progress the big three are making on LTE. Verizon is the furthest along, they wrote. The carrier now has LTE in 230 markets covering two-thirds of the nation's population. That will increase to 260 million people in 400 markets by year's end. All of its phones released this year will offer 4G. AT&T has 4G coverage in 32 markets. By the end of next year, its 4G and 3G networks will have similar coverage. The writers reference a PCWorld story that suggests that its network is faster than Verizon's.


The piece reports that Sprint is in the process of transitioning from WiMax - a type of 4G service that has fallen out of favor - to LTE. It has committed to having six cities running by midyear, and rumors exist that say it could add New York City, Chicago and others to the list in that time frame. It plans to have an LTE footprint of 123 million by the end of the year and 250 million by the end of next.


The other overview was written by Melodie Warner for Dow Jones Newswires and posted at Total Telcom. It's an odd piece. Besides not including T-Mobile - except for a brief mention in the introduction - she throws in Century Link and Motorola Mobility. Nonetheless, it is worth a read. Warner draws her picture through the lens of what the key issues are for each company. She wrote that Verizon Wireless added 38 percent more subscribers in the fourth quarter than the year-ago quarter - which increased revenues 7.7 percent - but that suffered because of the cost of providing discounted devices. Its wireline business also shrunk, she wrote.


Warner reported that Sprint doesn't expect to turn a profit on its iPhones until 2015 and may announce vendors for its LTE network in June. AT&T is shifting attention from wireless to wireline, which is typical of all operators today. The company divested itself of its Yellow Pages business and so far has avoided a strike by 40,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America.


PC World chimes in with an exhaustive look at how the four networks - the site included T-Mobile - performed in both the 3G and 4G realms. The downstream 4G winner in the 13-city test was AT&T, which averaged 9.12 Megabits per second (Mbps), with Verizon clocking in second at 7.35 Mbps. On the upstream side, Verizon was tops at 5.86 Mbps, with AT&T taking silver at 4.91 Mbps.


The bottom line is that 4G will be available to a large portion of the country within a year. In a higher level, the pieces are reflective of the reality that the telecommunications sector is undergoing two parallel transitions, both of which are drastic: from wireline to wireless and from 3G to 4G. The good news is that such chaos usually ends up benefiting end users, since companies focus on locking up as many customers as possible until the dust settles and a more clearly delineated path forward emerges. The fun will continue into the future, with savvy enterprise, small business and consumers reaping the benefits.

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