Verizon not showing signs of worry that T-Mobile is catching up to it on LTE coverage

T-Mobile says it is accelerating its expansion into rural America, further closing the coverage gap. (Image: Pixabay)

If Verizon is the least bit worried about T-Mobile catching up to it in terms of coverage, it’s not letting on to that in any significant way.

“We’re in a leadership position,” said Mike Haberman, vice president, Network Support, at Verizon, when asked about T-Mobile’s move to close the LTE coverage gap. “There’s no questioning that. Everybody is trying to catch up to us.”

Even though T-Mobile was later to the LTE game than Verizon, it’s made incredible progress in the past few years. Executives made no secret of the fact they wanted to cover the last 700,000 square miles of the U.S. that provided Verizon an edge over the past year.

The company had talked about closing the LTE coverage gap by the end of 2016 and this week declared the feat accomplished now that it covers 99% as many people as Verizon. CTO Neville Ray said the LTE coverage gap is a “thing of history.”

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“Any small difference that exists will rapidly disappear as we accelerate expansion into rural America,” Ray said in a press release. “We’re just getting started with the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we’re rolling out now, and it’s a wide-open highway for customers, increasing coverage, capacity and in-building reach.”

T-Mobile, which started in the wireless business with 1.9 GHz spectrum, said it expanded its LTE network in 2017 by completing several major 700 MHz deployments and aggressively deploying its newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum—something it’s been doing at breakneck speed. A lot of people thought it would be a long process before the 600 MHz was put to good use by wireless carriers due to TV broadcasters needing to vacate the space.

But Haberman indicated that Verizon discovered long ago that adding low-band spectrum onto PCS isn’t as smooth-sailing as it sounds.

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“There are pros and cons to that,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time designing for both PCS and 700 MHz,” and by design, that includes figuring out where to locate sites and go through the zoning process to get permission to put them where you want them to go, which takes a long time. Verizon’s LTE network is on 700 MHz.

Designing a network for PCS to start with and putting 800, 700 or 600 on top of it, “isn’t necessarily a good thing,” Haberman said. What happens, for example, in a downtown area, is you’ll end up with more interference, something referred to as the signal to noise ratio (SINR), and “if your noise is too high, you actually end up hurting yourself,” he said. “There are pluses and minuses.”

“We do have the best coverage out there,” he added, including a lot of overlapping coverage, which he said is more than any other carrier. “Quite frankly, the puck’s moving, so we’re moving forward with other things that are going to augment our coverage and improve it while they’re still trying to catch up on where we’ve been already. To me, they’re in a continual catch-up mode. To say they’re on par with Verizon—we’ll see what the third parties say,” like Mosaik.

FierceWirelessTech reached out to Mosaik but its data was not immediately available due to a data refresh the company is undergoing.  

For its part, T-Mobile is keeping the message alive, hammering on the bigger carriers in the same fashion it has since John Legere became president and CEO in 2012, nicknaming the two largest carriers as “Dumb and Dumber.”

“We completely understand why they sound so defensive," said Grant Castle, vice president, T-Mobile Network Engineering, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. "T-Mobile has built and expanded our advanced 4G LTE network in record time—while providing the fastest customer data speeds for four straight years (tens of millions of tests from actual consumers say so)—and in the meantime Verizon was resting comfortably in its marketed/perceived coverage advantage. Now they’re nervous. They know we’ve got them beat on speed, and we are expanding faster than they can imagine—so they are just beginning to realize that their coverage advantage is all but gone.”