If there was one phase to sum up 2022 it would be the year of 5G. The industry watched as T-Mobile dominated the U.S. with its 5G network performance and coverage, while competitors like Verizon and AT&T played catchup by turning up their 5G networks in newly acquired C-band spectrum. It was also a year marked by the highly-anticipated debut of Dish Wireless’ 5G network. The company met its goal of covering 20% of the U.S. population with 5G in mid-June.
But 2022 also was a year of high-profile flops, like Starry, the FWA startup that made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in late March but by October had laid off half of its workforce and halted plans to expand into new markets.
Here's a look back at some of the companies and technologies that excelled and failed in 2022.
Winner — Fixed wireless access. Fixed wireless access (FWA) was the good news story of the year for some U.S. wireless operators. FWA customers flocked to T-Mobile and Verizon, which touted their ability to lure home broadband customers away from the cable companies with their competitive offerings. By the end of Q3, Verizon had more than 1 million FWA customers and T-Mobile had more than 2 million subscribers to its FWA service.
Loser — Starry. Not all FWA services are equal. FWA pioneer Starry is currently struggling to survive. The company launched its broadband service using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in 2016 using a proprietary beam-forming technology. Starry targeted apartment buildings and other multi-dwelling units with its service, selling it for a flat rate of $50/month. The high-flying company was poised for fast growth when it debuted on the New York Stock Exchange last spring. But in the end Starry suffered from a number of problems, including its failure to scale quickly. The company laid off 50% of its workforce and halted all expansion. In early November CEO Chet Kanojia said Starry had hired an investment bank to advise the firm on a potential merger or sale as the company’s cash reserves dwindled.
Winner — T-Mobile. When it comes to deploying 5G, T-Mobile outmaneuvered its competitors with its 2020 acquisition of Sprint and its valuable swath of 2.5 GHz spectrum. T-Mobile’s speedy deployment of 5G in that 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum resulted in the operator receiving top awards in 2022 for network speed, consistency and low latency from both Ookla and Opensignal. In addition, T-Mobile’s strong network performance and savvy marketing paid off as the company consistently delivers strong quarterly metrics.
Loser — Edge computing. Mobile edge computing was supposed to be the next big thing in the wireless industry because it moves the compute to the edge of the network in close proximity to the end user and delivers ultra-low latency, reliability and better security. Nearly every major wireless operator, cable company, telco, hyperscaler and tower company has some type of edge strategy. Even though we’ve heard about numerous use cases for the edge — from gaming to manufacturing — it’s still unclear how these edge deployments will make money. Now even some of the top proponents of the edge are admitting that the service has not delivered on its promise. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg recently told investors at an investor conference that edge hasn’t developed as fast as he had hoped.
Winner — Dish Wireless. Dish Wireless managed to switch on its 5G network in more than 100 cities in mid-June, just in time to meet the FCC-mandated deadline. That is no small fete, considering Dish is building a cloud-native greenfield 5G standalone network, something that has not been done before. By the end of October Dish said that it had 10,000 towers that were operational and the company is adding a whopping 1,000 towers per month to its network. The goal is to have 15,000 operational towers by the next FCC-mandated deadline of mid-June 2023.
Loser — Open RAN. A lot of companies were banking on the promise of open RAN because it enables service providers to use non-proprietary components from a variety of vendors instead of being locked into proprietary solutions that are sold by a handful of traditional RAN vendors. But the transition to open RAN is not easy and established operators have to balance migrating to an exciting new technology like open RAN and also protecting their investments in their existing network. While there is a lot of momentum behind open RAN and there is support from government agencies like the NTIA, the technology has been slow to make an impact on the market. That lackluster growth of open RAN forced vendor Parallel Wireless to lay off a significant portion of its staff in mid-June.
Winner — Cable MVNOs. Cable’s mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) made big inroads in wireless in 2022 with Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile surpassing 5 million subscribers and its wireless revenue jumping 30.8% year-on-year to $789 million in Q3. Likewise, Charter’s Spectrum Mobile ended Q3 with nearly 4.7 million subscribers and its revenue grew 40.2% to $750 million. But not only are the cable MVNOs luring customers away from the traditional wireless operators with their aggressive price plans, they also are starting to make moves to deploy their own 5G cell sites and small cells as a way to offset costs and lower payments to Verizon for using its network. These inroads by the cable MVNOs should raise some red flags for traditional mobile operators.