Mosaik: T-Mobile lags on low-band spectrum, hurting LTE coverage overall in U.S.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) may be plowing ahead with its 700 MHz A Block deployment to enhance its LTE coverage, but it remains the carrier with the least low-band spectrum below 1 GHz, according to networking testing and mapping firm Mosaik Solutions. And although LTE coverage has expanded rapidly across the United States in the last few years, Mosaik notes that more than 30 percent of the U.S. land area has no LTE service available, a significant portion of that being in Alaska.

Mosaik's infographic provides a detailed look at all the carriers and their spectrum positions. Click here for Mosaik's PDF infographic.

Mosaik, which got into network testing last year after focusing primarily on providing detailed maps of network coverage and cell towers to carriers, ISPs and those who study them, shows in new maps how much further ahead Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) are in low-band spectrum holdings. Mosaik also released its 2015 Wireless Competitive Landscape poster, which highlights LTE network choice and availability in North America. Both Verizon and AT&T have nationwide 700 MHz footprints and deep reserves of 850 MHz spectrum. Both Verizon and AT&T also say they cover around 308 million POPs with LTE; the Census Bureau estimates there are 321 million people in the U.S.  

T-Mobile fought unsuccessfully to get the FCC to increase the spectrum reserve from 30 MHz of spectrum in a given market to 40 MHz in next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum. T-Mobile has been the major carrier that has been most enthusiastic about the auction.

The relative lack of low-band spectrum at both T-Mobile and Sprint (NYSE: S) likely contributes to the fact that many customers in rural areas do not have many choices if they want LTE coverage. According to Mosaik, 82 percent of Americans, or 256 million people, now have four or more LTE providers to choose from, but those people are largely congregated in major urban and suburban areas, as Mosaik notes that those areas with four or more LTE operators represent only 14.8 percent of the U.S. landmass.

Mosaik found that 8.7 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 27 million people, have two or fewer LTE networks to choose from. The Competitive Carriers Association, which represents small and rural carriers, has continually pushed for the FCC to ensure that its members can get access to enough low-band spectrum to build out LTE coverage in rural parts of the country.  

Customers in rural areas are more likely than not often forced to choose between Verizon, AT&T or a smaller local carrier that may have deployed LTE. There are large swaths of the Midwest and South where T-Mobile does not have any 700 MHz spectrum.

Last month T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that the LTE in 700 MHz deployment now covers 130 million POPs and that the company will get close to 190 million POPs by the end of the year. Importantly, Ray said that his goal is to have 50 percent of the company's subscriber base on a device that supports 700 MHz spectrum by the end of the year, which he said will improve coverage and in-building performance for customers. T-Mobile executives have said they expected the continued deployment of 700 MHz spectrum to improve network performance and lead to lower churn.

Around 98 percent of the population covered by the company's 700 MHz spectrum is free and clear and ready to be deployed or will be ready for deployment in 2015. In the second half of the year, T-Mobile will deploy the airwaves in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Portland and Sacramento, among other markets.

Overall, T-Mobile, which now covers 290 million POPs with LTE, aims to get to 300 million by year-end.

Sprint has nationwide holdings of 800 MHz spectrum, but because of ongoing rebanding issues it has been unable to deploy LTE service on those airwaves in certain parts of the country, especially along the Southwest border with Mexico. Sprint says its LTE network covers at least 280 million POPs. 

For more:
- see this Mosaik release
- see this Mosaik site 

Related articles:
RootMetrics: Verizon edges out AT&T, Sprint stays in No. 3 spot thanks to improved reliability
Verizon, T-Mobile lead Q2 network spending, but AT&T and Sprint poised to boost investment
T-Mobile edges out Verizon for fastest LTE network, according to Ookla
Sprint to add 'tens of thousands' of small cells, bring 800 MHz and 2.5 GHz LTE to 'nearly all' macro sites
T-Mobile shutting off HSPA+ service on its AWS spectrum market by market
T-Mobile catches up with Sprint: Both carriers now cover 280 million POPs with LTE
AT&T expects to start deploying 2.3 GHz WCS spectrum for LTE this summer

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