Controlled by Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile USA said it added 1 million postpaid phone customers in the December quarter, accelerating its holiday period gains from 891,000 new subscribers a year ago. For fiscal 2019, T-Mobile said it expects to add 2.6 million to 3.6 million subscribers.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere sounded very optimistic on Thursday’s earnings call:
“We had the highest total customer net additions ever in Q4 and we followed that up with record breaking financials, which is a winning formula for our shareholders. T-Mobile led the industry in postpaid phone net adds for the fifth year in a row and we posted a Q4 record low branded postpaid phone churn. Both service and total revenues hit record highs in this quarter while adjusted EBITDA was our best Q4 ever. Our 2019 guidance shows our confidence for the standalone outlook for T-Mobile. We continue to meet the needs of wireless customers and translate that into incredible results. I feel good about the state of our business going into 2019.
I want to reiterate unequivocally that prices will go down and customers will get more for less. We’re entering the final stages of our regulatory review process and it’s an important time to document the commitments that we’ve made from day one. This is another example of T-Mobile putting its money where its mouth is and backing up what we said in our public interest statement.
In summary, I am very, very pleased with the progress we’ve made on our merger and the process so far and I continue to expect regulatory approval in the first half of this year. Okay, to wrap it up I also couldn’t be more excited about the performance in 2018 and our guidance shows continued momentum in 2019. The combination with Sprint means that we will be able to create a future that is even more exciting for American consumers.”
Legere also said that he expects the acquisition of Sprint to be approved in the first half of this year.
“We continue to work through the regulatory review process with humility and respect for all parties involved. A number of major milestones have been completed and we remain optimistic and confident that once regulators review all the facts they will recognize the significant pro consumer and pro competitive benefits of this combination. We continue to have a productive dialogue with both federal and state regulatory authorities.”
On Monday, T-Mobile told U.S. Federal Communications Commission it would not increase prices for three years, with few exceptions, if it gets approval to buy Sprint for $26 billion.
In sharp contrast, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said in a report published on Thursday: “A series of developments over the past few weeks have forced investors to consider the possibility that T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint may be in more trouble than previously appreciated,”
T-Mobile has just a 10 percent market share of business customers, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert during the call, giving the carrier opportunity for more growth. “Now that the network is there … we’re starting to see these kinds of customers come in, in historic numbers,” Sievert said. T-Mobile added network capacity in rural areas of the United States during the 4th quarter of 2018.
Legere summarized the wireless carrier’s progress and 5G and how the competition (mostly AT&T) responded:
“Our engineering team is hard at work furiously building out our 600 MHz and setting the stage for America’s first real nationwide 5G network next year. Our aggressive build out is on 5G ready equipment and we have made rapid progress in just one year since getting our hands on the spectrum. 2700 cities and towns in 43 states and Puerto Rico are live on 600 MHz and we already have 29 600 MHz capable devices in our lineup today including the new iPhones.
We have standards based 5G equipment deployed to six of the top 10 markets including New York and Los Angeles. We believe the 5G revolution should be for everyone, everywhere, and not just the few intense areas. While the other guys hyped 5G we continue to focus on real 5G using global standards based equipment, 5G NR that will light up and deliver for customers across the U.S.
How has the competition responded to our plans? Well, AT&T responded by trying to rebrand 4G as 5GE and we know the customers see right through their bullshit and Verizon by the way, their current standard pups, pre-standard 5G footprint covers what they even themselves call limited areas in four cities, while our 5G capable 600 MHz network already covers hundreds of thousands of square miles. Also we continue to expand our 4G LTE coverage and deliver industry leading network performance.
Our network now covers more than 325 million Americans with 4G LTE effectively matching Verizon’s population coverage. We now have 600 and 700 MHz low band spectrum deployed to 301 million people across the country and we continue to lead the industry in 4G LTE speeds. In Q4 our average download 4G LTE speed was 33.4 Mb per second once again ahead of all the competitors. We remain very confident in our outlook for 2019 and this is reflected in our guidance.”
T-Mo CTO Neville Ray, bragging about T-Mobile’s adding 600 MHz spectrum for both 5G NR and LTE, said that the uncarrier’s 600 MHz spectrum is deployed in more than 2,700 cities and is supported by 29 devices. It is “going to be the biggest and largest and most transformative piece as we move through ’19 and into ’20. We do not take our eye off the ball at all on capacity and performance…The 600 LTE rollout has been going incredibly strong. As we get our software matured and ready for primetime, we will light up 5G services on those same radios. The 5G story is coming on super strong.” If that wasn’t enough, Ray said:
“You can see an aggressive competitive response against 5G NR victory lap on the fastest LTE. AT&T especially trying to figure out how to not be second or third in that race for the coming couple of years. We’re going to be adding 600 MHz spectrum to the fight, both with LTE and with 5G NR and speeds and performance are going to continue to increase on this network into 2019 and materially more so in 2020 when we can reach our nationwide ambition on the 600 MHz 5G deployment……
Biggest focus right now is, as we’ve reference multiple times here is the 600 MHz build, that’s going to be the biggest and largest and most transformative piece as we move through ’19 and into ’20. I mean thousands upon thousands of new sites with 600 MHz capability coming on air, but we do not take our eye off the ball at all on capacity and performance. We’re at the best capacity performance in our company’s history right now, lowest congestion figures we’ve ever seen. We love to be that way.
The proxy for that in the marketplace is our fastest speed performance. And as I mentioned earlier, we continue to win on that front and look to maintain that lead. On the small cell piece, we are starting to see and introduce license assisted access, so LTE in the 5 gig space we’re seeing very positive results and returns from those investments and so a lot of opportunity to grow capacity in the urban calls. We’re not taking our eye off that ball, but big, big most major improvements coming on the 600 MHz side this year.”
On small cells: “(we have) just over 21,000 small cells in play today. We plan on continuing our march on small cells another 20,000 or so plan to come off as we exit ’19 and into ’20. And we continue to densify this network to prepare for obviously a tremendous capacity and performance future.”
T-Mo President Mike Sievert on incremental revenues and pricing:
“So, on pricing, the short answer would be, we have big aspirations for incremental revenues and growth from 5G, but not through pricing, through our current smartphone plans. So the incremental revenues come from more and more users picking wireless technologies instead of other technologies for their conductivity.
There is a big broadband business that we expect to build, there are big enterprise opportunities, there are IoT opportunities, there more devices per users, there are new capabilities being developed, all of which we can monetize with revenue growth. But we don’t have plans for the smartphone plans that you see today to charge differently for 5G enablement versus 4G LTE.”
Legere concluded his bragging about T-Mo’s (not yet deployed with paying customers) 5G network:
“Yes, so again, as I said from the very first day back in April going into the first week of May, I’ve been down here in Washington with the very same story that the 5G Network that’s going to be built with the $40 billion worth of investment and the breadth and the depth is going to be something that the country needs and has yet to see, it’s going to be super charging the uncarrier, capacity will go up precipitously and prices will go down and jobs will increase. And that’s been a dialogue that has gone from sound bite to tremendous modeling and conversation and depositions and hearings.”
References on T-Mo’s 5G at 600MHz: