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U.S. Wireless Industry Is Finally Competitive, FCC Says (wsj.com)
47 points by JumpCrisscross 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

The part that's both sad and extremely enlightening is the ONLY reason it's competitive is the FCC blocking AT&Ts attempt to acquire T-Mobile. As a result they were forced to give up a ton of spectrum which T-Mobile used to become extremely competitive. Without that action, T-Mobile would still be the red-headed stepchild of the wireless industry.

The "lesson learned" should be that the FCC should force any bidder on an auction to use-it or lose-it on spectrum within 18 months. Additionally they should require companies to provide FACTUAL DATA on their spectrum shortages before even allowing them to participate in an auction. This spectrum hoarding was on the verge of destroying any competition in the US.

I couldn't agree more. A guy that's been sitting on a grandfathered 3.5Ghz license approached us to lease it from him or partner with him to use it. He hasn't used it himself in over 7+ years.

To be fair, AT&T has been losing subscribers for a while, and Verizon has finally started experiencing some net losses as well, while TMobile gained enough to surpass Sprint as the number three carrier. TMobile has shaken up the market with being transparent with phone pricing and payments, eliminating contracts, pushing new plans and aggressive pricing. Sprint suffered from that (and their own horrible service) and then AT&T and Verizon got nervous and started competing too. It's still an oligopoly but I think it IS legitimately arguable that it's more competitive than it was 6 years ago.

I recall Janet Yellen mentioning in a speech earlier this year that shrinking cell phone bills were applying noticeable deflationary pressure on the economy. After I read her remarks I logged in to Verizon and poked around - I was grandfathered in on some older (more expensive) plan, and in about 2 minutes had switched to a better plan for about $500 less per year.

There's a graph out there showing the contributors to CPI and you'll see wireless plans as one of the two negative contributors to inflation.

My impression was most of the cell towers were owned by either AT&T or Verizon - how can TMobile and others be competitive? I had assumed they were buying to use the networks of the existing 2? I know I'm uninformed, I'm asking for more info on territory.

T-Mobile and Sprint are independent networks. Other smaller carriers, known as MVNOs (eg. MetroPCS, Cricket, Google Fi, etc), do rent the networks of the major 4 carriers, but T-Mobile and Sprint do not, which is part of why their coverage is a little worse in less populated areas. I'm not sure if T-Mobile can roam on AT&T towers (since they're both GSM, but are probably using different bands for 3G). I do know that when I'm in Yosemite with T-Mobile I don't get any reception, but I've heard that Verizon and possibly AT&T do.

My T-Mobile phone roams to AT&T towers, but with no data connection. Fancier plans may not have this limitation.

Side note for those who don't know the term, MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Netwok Operator.

T-Mobile does have roaming agreements with regional carriers such as Union Wireless, so in spots where they don't have coverage, there is occasionally roaming coverage as well, but they have basically every major metropolitan area covered.

I believe a lot of the carriers lease their towers from companies like crown castle.


Carriers can own towers but more commonly Sites and towers are leased to the Carriers who install their equipment.

This is especially true in urban areas where land is at a premium and it's easier to put some transceivers on another structure like a building or water tower.

As mentioned, TMo and Sprint also own/lease towers. The big 4 are all real full network operators. They all have roaming agreements with other smaller carriers in areas they don't serve, but TMo and Sprint are not MVNOs, however they both OWN MVNOs.

At Stanford, the strongest towers (on the hill) are/were AT&T (via Cingular). There are/were whole buildings with zero Verizon coverage.

Source: an enterprise Cingular sales rep whom later worked for Motion Computing.

There also used to be a spot on I-80 between SF and Sacramento where AT&T phones routinely dropped calls.

Cricket Wireless uses AT&Ts network but capped. They are owned by AT&T now so it doesnt make much difference.

that's like saying snails are fast by comparing them to a tree.

the wireless industry has large "natural" barriers to entry (like capital costs) on top of some regulatory and legal ones, which makes it tend toward oligopoly/monopoly. the government has done nothing to create a free and open market here. we shouldn't be patting them on their back, however lightly, for forking over shovel-fulls of cash to their cronies in the industry.

No, it's like saying the snail got significantly faster over the past several years. I granted that gov't hasn't done much to foster change, I simply pointed out that the original article isn't really wrong.

Um, sure. Shall I translate?

"U.S. Wireless Industry is finally going to be unregulated so they can do whatever they want", FCC says.

I agree. This follows the standard practices of the Republican party: Reduce regulations and lawful protections for the public in order to enrich the already rich.

Look to major mergers occurring now. Look forward to increased cellular bills. Look forward to less reliable wireless. Look forward to more throttling. Look forward to more bandwidth caps.

You will receive no benefit from FCC's position unless you own large shares of the wireless companies.

If they are unregulated you would end up with AT&T or Verizon hoarding spectrum and not cooperating with other carriers. If you had experienced pricing and service outside of US, you can clearly understand how ridiculous it looks from the outside.

I just bought 2gb/day of 4g data for 2 months for $10 in India. I get 2gb/month in the US.

I pay something like $65 a month for unlimited data with AT&T. India isn't a fair comparison, my colleague recently went to visit a team there and was able to get a free SIM card. Like literally a free SIM card with a decent amount of data from an up and coming provider.

How much is $10 a month for someone on an Indian salary?

I read that the same way.

There's still no technical reason why costs are so high, speeds are so slow, and caps exist at all. Some blame can be put on the FCC, tower owners, cities regulating towers, but the carriers themselves have very little incentive to make any radical cost reductions or service upgrades.

Competition is certainly part of it. Up until T-Mobile got aggressive it seemed like services kept getting worse and prices kept getting higher. Now, even Verizon seems to be lowering prices. Hooray for T-Mobile!

Edit: just realize you said technical reasons. Yes I agree there is no technical reason. :)

There's a very technical reason why caps exist: using more data requires more spectrum, and there's a limited amount of spectrum, so it doesn't make any sense to charge every user the same amount regardless of how much data they use. There's no carrier in the world that can sell you truly unlimited access without applying traffic shaping at some point.

Wrong. I mean, you're right, but you're ignoring various other aspects that affect the connection of a single device to a single base station... directional antennas, channel use, channel spread spectrum, tower height, noise floor, obstructions, etc... The point is, they want you to believe that it is spectrum, but really it is tower owners and tower licensing. And even that I don't think justifies caps. How does limiting speed affect the spectrum when your phone has already negotiated with the towers the amount of channels in use? There is a lot of FUD spread around on this topic.

And the last time it was "competitive"? 2009, with commissioners appointed by the last Republican president.

The wireless industry is significantly more competitive than it would have been and this can exactly be traced to TMobile being independent and providing more unique plans which can be directly traced to the 2014/2015? Decision to prevent the AT&T acquisition of Tmobile.

The course of events here are very straightforward and clear in a way that's extremely rare where corporate actions are concerned. There's very little doubt that the FCC's actions preventing AT&T from acquiring TMobile has led to a significantly better wireless environment for US customers and Republican appointees, especially Ajit Pai, were on the wrong side of that decision.

Right, but the natural fear is that the FCC's next move is going to be "Hey because wireless is finally competitive and things are great, we should let AT&T acquire T-Mobile!"

It's even right there in the article, Some say the finding could spur merger activity

>It's even right there in the article, Some say the finding could spur merger activity

"The U.S. wireless industry is finally competitive. Time to fix that!"

I want to get off Mr. Capitalism's Wild Wealth Concentration Ride...

Let's also remember Google's open access shenanigans during that spectrum auction. Those contributed as well.

For those who can't read the link in the OP: http://archive.is/FBbny

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