Wells Fargo upgrades shares of T-Mobile, citing network progress

Neville Ray
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray

Wells Fargo Securities upgraded shares of T-Mobile, saying the nation’s third-largest carrier continues to put the “pedal to the metal” as it upgrades and builds out its network.

T-Mobile said recently that its LTE network now covers 312 million POPs, which it claims is 99.7 percent of the number Verizon’s network reaches. Its “Extended Range LTE,” which is the carrier’s brand for services offered on its 700-MHz A-Block spectrum, now covers 225 million people in 366 markets, and its Wideband LTE service reaches 231 million people. The carrier also continued to tout its progress in deploying technologies including VoLTE, 4x4 MIMO, 256 QAM and carrier aggregation.

“More than 60 percent of T-Mobile’s voice traffic is now on VoLTE,” Wells Fargo’s Jennifer Fritzsche wrote in a research note after meeting with CTO Neville Ray last week. “The primary benefit of this is that it allows T-Mobile to re-farm more spectrum from the legacy technologies GSM and UMTS to LTE, which is a much more efficient technology for voice and data. Now almost 70 percent of T-Mobile’s spectrum is committed to LTE.”

Fritzsche also noted T-Mobile’s recent move to begin to leverage the LTE AWS-3 spectrum it acquired during the FCC auction that ended in January 2015. The operator announced last month that it had started to bring those airwaves online with the launch of the LG V20, becoming the first operator to deploy service through that spectrum.

“Ray indicated that T-Mobile has been pushing hard on its AWS-3 spectrum deployment,” Fritzsche wrote. “It has sites on air with AWS-3 in Texas now, and the first AWS-3 banded handset launched, but continues to push hard on the vendors for more of an ecosystem. AT&T and Verizon have not pushed as hard on this deployment (yet) according to Neville, with over $28 billion in spend from these two carriers for this spectrum (vs. T-Mobile’s $1.8 billion spend).”

Speculation about a T-Mobile merger with Sprint has heated up once again after last week’s surprising election triumph of Donald Trump, leading investors to boost shares of both companies. Sprint claims a trove of 2.5-GHz spectrum, leading some to believe it would be a particularly good fit for T-Mobile.

“When asked his thoughts on 2.5 GHz [Sprint’s main asset], [Ray] described it as ‘very patchy’ today and tough to deploy from a propagation standpoint when compared to mid-band,” Fritzsche wrote. “When we pushed and asked if together with the T-Mobile assets, Sprint’s spectrum assets would be a tough competitor, he didn’t seem to disagree but noted the strength in T-Mobile’s mid-band holdings.”

Wells Fargo raised its valuation range for shares of T-Mobile to $63 to $65, up from $56 to $58. Shares were trading at $53.48 mid-Monday, up 1.7 percent.