CTIA says 2019 wireless investment of $29.1B marks a 4-year high

According to the CTIA, America’s wireless providers invested $29.1 billion in 2019 as they worked on building out their 5G networks. The data comes from CTIA’s annual survey, which it’s been publishing for 35 years.

FierceWireless has previously reported the following 2019 capex numbers:
AT&T - $23.7 billion
Verizon - $17.9 billion
T-Mobile - between $5.8 billion to $6.1 billion

Sprint - $4.5 billion

But CTIA’s capex number excludes the cost of spectrum licenses. In an email to FierceWireless, a CTIA spokesperson said, “The $29.1 billion in capital investment reported for 2019 excludes the sums bid in auctions for licenses conducted by the FCC, as well the cost of any licenses purchased in private transactions in any year.” 

The spokesperson also noted that AT&T and Verizon no longer publicly report their wireless-only-related capex. Their totals reflect both wireless and wired capex, including capital expenditures such as fiber rollouts.

RELATED: Where’s the beef? 2020 capex of major U.S. wireless carriers

The 2019 investment of $29.1 billion marks a four-year high. “This accounts for 18% of the world's spending on wireless, while the U.S. represents just 4.5% of the world's population,” stated CTIA.

Cell sites

A lot of the 2019 and current capex is being spent on the rollout of 5G-ready cell sites and antennas. CTIA says in 2019 the wireless industry added over 46,000 cell sites—more than the combined growth from 2015 to 2018—to reach 395,562 active sites across the country.

“Thanks to new federal and state policies that streamline their zoning and permitting, the industry built more cell sites last year than the previous three years combined,” stated CTIA.

CTIA chart

FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry tweeted, “From 2013 to 2016, the number of cell sites in the United States increased by fewer than 4,000. But in the first three years of this FCC (2017, 2018, and 2019), the number of cell sites in the U.S. increased by more than 87,000!”