Without Sprint, T-Mobile will need 38,000 new cell sites to meet demand, analysts say

In a new presentation to the FCC, T-Mobile said it needs to merge with Sprint in part to provide faster network speeds. (T-Mobile)

In order to meet the demands of its growing customer base, T-Mobile will need to deploy 38,000 cell sites and increase network capital expenses by roughly 20%, according to new figures from New Street Research. Those figures represent the investments T-Mobile will need to make in its network in the coming years if it is unable to consummate its proposed merger agreement with Sprint.

“T-Mobile is seeing subscriber growth accelerate [apart from the merger],” the Wall Street analysts wrote in a recent report. “We think the faster growth is coming from geographic markets and customer segments that T-Mobile hasn’t effectively targeted before.”

Indeed, following the release of solid second-quarter results, T-Mobile said it expects to acquire more new customers during the course of 2018 than it previously expected. Specifically, the company said it now expects to gain branded postpaid net customer additions of between 3 million and 3.6 million—figures up from the 2.6 million to 3.3 million guidance that the company released earlier this year.

The analysts at New Street Research pointed out that eventually T-Mobile will need to bolster its network in order to address those new customers’ data demands and to keep pace with industry growth in the future. As a result, the firm said that T-Mobile may need to acquire additional spectrum and deploy more macro cell sites.

Already, T-Mobile has shown a willingness to invest in its network. For example, the company was the only major bidder during the FCC’s recent 600 MHz spectrum auction, walking away with fully $8 billion worth of licenses that the company has been studiously deploying in recent months.

Further, T-Mobile just last week said that it has expanded its small cell deployment efforts with Crown Castle, and that it recently inked new fiber backhaul agreements with dozens of fiber providers around the country.

But New Street said those efforts likely won’t satiate T-Mobile’s network capacity needs. The company said T-Mobile will eventually need to acquire more spectrum, likely from Sprint or Dish Network.

Indeed, T-Mobile’s proposed merger with Sprint—announced in April—aligns exactly with that thesis. T-Mobile executives have argued that the company needs to merge with Sprint in order to obtain the scale and resources it needs to fully deploy 5G technology and challenge the likes of AT&T and Verizon.

For example, in a presentation last week to the FCC, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that by 2021, T-Mobile would only be able to offer 100 Mbps speeds to around 30 million potential customers. But if the company is allowed to merge with Sprint—and gets access to Sprint’s vast 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings—T-Mobile could increase that number to fully 208 million potential customers.

Ray’s presentation comes just days after the FCC said it would pause its informal 180-day transaction “shot clock” on its review of the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. The agency said that it needed more time in part to review new documents the companies submitted outlining their network merger plan.