T-Mobile’s continued network expansion is expected to be a boon for tower companies while Sprint’s plans to deploy bigger and better MIMO antennas has the potential to provide more of an incremental opportunity, BTIG’s Walter Piecyk said in a Tuesday tower roundup.
Piecyk noted T-Mobile is the only one of the four major wireless carriers that has been growing wireless service revenue, and said the Un-carrier would likely fuel further growth in 2017 and 2018 with a continued buildout of its existing low-band spectrum. Additionally, Piecyk said it’s possible the carrier could make additional spectrum purchases in the coming year, including a potential $20 billion buy of Dish’s Band 66 airwaves. These factors, of course, “bode well” for tower companies, Piecyk observed.
Another boost for tower companies is expected to come from Verizon’s anticipated conversion of its 850 MHz spectrum to LTE. Piecyk said the carrier indicated that process could start “within the next two years” as Verizon looks for a way to deal with growing data traffic.
“We expect Verizon to maintain its level of capital investment for wireless capacity,” he wrote. “If it runs low on legacy spectrum to convert to LTE and/or struggles to deploy small cells fast enough, it could ramp up macro cell site densification plan even more.”
Joining Verizon with middling potential in Piecyk’s assessment was AT&T, which he said is not expected to increase capital investment in 2017. The opportunity there, he said, will probably come in 2018 since the carrier will likely be looking to deploy its FirstNet (assuming the carrier is awarded the contract early next year following litigation) and AWS-3 spectrum in one shot to minimize costs. Like T-Mobile, Piecyk pegged AT&T as a potential buyer of Dish’s spectrum, which he said could be rolled out alongside the aforementioned airwaves.
Low on the totem pole of opportunities for tower companies was Sprint, which has been widely criticized of late for its minimal capex spending. While the carrier has said capex will rise slightly in 2017, Piecyk noted the difference isn’t expected to be a “material amount.”
However, there is one area where tower companies might find opportunity with Sprint: MIMO. Piecyk recalled Sprint CTO John Saw’s show-and-tell about newer and larger MIMO antennas in NYC last week and said an “incremental opportunity” could exist there for tower companies if Sprint moves ahead with deployment. Of course, while Sprint has indicated Massive MIMO is “coming soon,” it has stopped short of putting any date on the technology’s launch.
One big potential downer for tower companies noted by Piecyk was the prospect of a Sprint/T-Mobile merger. But according to Piecyk, such a transaction is highly unlikely.
“Thankfully, we believe the odds of a Sprint/T-Mobile deal are less than 20 percent, not only because of obvious regulatory issues, but also based on lack of interest by T-Mobile controlling shareholder Deutsche Telekom,” he wrote. “Sprint management also expects to out execute T-Mobile over the next two years making a deal more attractive for them over time, but not in 2017.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure