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Wall Street Grumbling About Estimated $130 Billion Needed for National 5G Fiber Buildout

Wall Street analysts are warning investors that mobile providers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint will have to spend $130-150 billion on fiber optic cables alone to make 5G wireless broadband a reality in the next 5-7 years.

A new Deloitte study found providers will have to spend a lot of money to deploy next generation wireless service across the United States, money that many may be unwilling to spend.

“5G relies heavily on fiber and will likely fall far short of its potential unless the United States significantly increases its deep fiber investments,” the study notes. “Increased speed and capacity from 5G will rely on higher radio frequencies and greater network densification (i.e., increasing the number and concentration of cell sites and access points).”

Unlike earlier cellular technology, which worked from centralized cell towers that covered several miles in all directions, 5G technology is expected to be deployed through “small cell” antennas attached to utility and light poles with coverage limited to just 300-500 feet. To reach city residents, providers will need countless thousands of new antenna installations and a massive fiber network to connect each antenna to the provider.

Telecom providers seeking financing for such networks will face the same criticism Verizon Communications took from Wall Street over the expense of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home upgrade as well as doubts about the viability of other fiber projects like Google Fiber.

Goldman Sachs told its investors back in 2012 that throwing money at Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS was not going to give them a good return on their investment. That year, Goldman was “Still Bullish on Cable, But Not Blind to the Risks.” That report, written by analyst Jason Armstrong, noted Google’s fiber upgrades would cost billions and only further dilute industry profits from increasing competition.

Goldman Sachs steered investors back to the cable industry, which gets significant praise from Wall Street for its ability to repurpose 20-year-old wired infrastructure for enhanced broadband without having to spend huge sums on a complete system rebuild.

In 2013, Alliance Bernstein continued to slam Google Fiber’s buildout as an unwise business investment:

We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the US, as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business.

For example, making the far from trivial assumption that Google can identify 20 million homes in relatively contiguous areas with (on average) similar characteristics as Kansas City when it comes to the most important drivers of network deployment cost, homes per mile of plant and the mix of aerial, buried and underground infrastructure, and that Google decides to build out a fiber network to serve them over a period of five years, we estimate the [total capital expenditure] investment required to be in the order of $11 billion to pass the homes, before acquiring or connecting a single customer.

Some analysts are even questioning the relevance of 5G when providers investing in the massive fiber expansion required for 5G wireless could simply extend fiber cables directly into homes, assuring customers of more bandwidth and reliability. In many cases, fiber to the home technology is actually cheaper than 5G deployment will be.

VantagePoint released a report in February that called a lot of the excitement surrounding 5G “hype” and cautioned it will not be the ultimate broadband solution:

Undoubtedly, 5G wireless technologies will result in better broadband performance than 4G wireless technologies and will offer much promise as a mobile complement to fixed services, but they still will not be the right choice for delivering the rapidly increasing broadband demanded by thousands or millions of households and businesses across America.

Previous analysis of 4th generation (4G) wireless networks clearly demonstrated how these networks, even with generous capacity assumptions for the future, will have limited broadband capabilities, and inevitably will fail to carry the fixed broadband experience that has been and will be demanded by subscribers accustomed to their wireline counterparts. Although there is understandably much anticipation today about phenomenal possible speeds for 5G wireless networks tomorrow, they will continue to have technical shortcomings that will, like their predecessor wireless networks, render them very useful complements but poor substitutes for wireline broadband. These technical challenges include:

  • Spectral limitations: 5G networks will require massive amounts of spectrum to accomplish their target speeds. At the lower frequencies traditionally used for wide area coverage, there is not enough spectrum. At the very high frequencies proposed for 5G where there may be enough spectrum, the RF signal does not propagate far enough to be practical for any wide area coverage. This is particularly important in rural areas where customer concentration is far, far less than what can be expected in densely populated urban areas where 5G may offer greater promise.
  • Access Network Sharing: This is not a good solution for continuous-bit-rate traffic such as video, which will make up 82% of Internet traffic by 2020.
  • Economics: When compared to a 5G network that can deliver significant bandwidth using very high, very short-haul frequencies, FTTP is often less expensive and will have lower operational costs. This is particularly true when one consider how much fiber deployment will be needed very close to each user even just to enable 5G.
  • Reliability: Wireless inherently is less reliable than wireline, with significantly increased potential for impairments with the very high frequencies required by 5G.

In 2014, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP released a report urging telecom executives to shift their thinking about telecom capital spending away from one that focuses on upgrades to deal with increasing traffic and demand and move instead to a hardline view of only spending on projects that meet Return On Investment (ROI) objectives for investors.

“The predominant task of management is to take a considered view of the future, allocate capital towards strategies that maximize value for the providers of that capital, and manage the execution of those strategies through to the delivery of returns for those investors,” wrote PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “For too long, telecoms have been on auto-drive for much of their capex. Departments assume if they had the money last year, they are going to get it again this year, under the premise of increasing traffic. But rarely do telecoms truly analyze that spending for its ROI or ask whether the investment should be made at all.”

In short, if a project is not certain to quickly deliver significant ROI, serious questions should be asked about whether that investment is appropriate to undertake. That reluctance is at the heart of Deloitte’s new study.

Deloitte notes if providers cannot overcome Wall Street’s reluctance to support major spending on fiber infrastructure, lack of investment will be even more costly.

It predicts falling short on fiber deployment will cause a dwindling number of broadband provider choices for consumers. Today, fewer than 33% of U.S. homes have access to fiber broadband and only 39% have the option of choosing more than one provider capable of meeting the FCC’s minimal definition of broadband – 25Mbps. As competition declines, the need to further expand is reduced while prices can freely rise.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP also recommends cable and phone companies partner with content providers like Netflix or Google, and let those companies take an ownership interest in return for capital investments for fiber upgrades. Those type of solutions also protect Wall Street from a feared price war should alternative providers launch in markets that are barely competitive, if at all.

Verizon FiOS Introduces 940/880Mbps Tier For As Low as $69.99; Existing Subs Can Upgrade April 30

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2017 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment

Verizon has announced near-gigabit speeds will soon be available to its FiOS customers in eight markets starting April 30th at prices as low as $69.99 a month.

The new speed tier will cost less than half of Verizon FiOS’ currently advertised 500/500Mbps plan, and less than the 750Mbps plan some customers have been able to buy during the last three months in select cities.

FiOS Gigabit Connection will not actually deliver 1,000/1,000Mbps service, but it will come close with download speeds up to 940Mbps and 880Mbps for uploads.

Current FiOS customers will be able to upgrade their internet speed and see a dramatic bill reduction starting April 30, according to a Verizon representative.

Unfortunately, all Verizon FiOS customers will not be able to take advantage of the upgraded speeds and lower prices immediately. For now, only customers in the following areas qualify:

  • New York (City and immediate suburbs)
  • Portions of Northern New Jersey
  • Philadelphia
  • Richmond and Hampton Roads, Va.
  • Boston
  • Providence, R.I.
  • Washington, D.C.

Pricing will depend on the level of service you have. Equipment rental, taxes and fees are not included. Customers must order online to get this pricing:

  • Standalone (non-promotional/never expires): $69.99/mo
  • Triple-play bundle price: $79.99/mo, rising to $84.99 in year two

Customers in the qualified markets noted above currently subscribed to Verizon’s 750/750Mbps plan ($150/mo) will be transitioned to the new gigabit plan automatically and get a lower bill as well.

As FiOS Gigabit Connection is introduced, Verizon will dramatically cut the number of internet plans it offers customers in areas where gigabit speeds are available. Verizon is expected to drop its 100, 150, 300, 500, and 750Mbps tiers, leaving just two — an entry-level 50/50Mbps plan starting at $39.99 and the gigabit plan for just under $70.

In other cities where gigabit speeds will not be available for now, customers are stuck with lower speeds and higher prices. Verizon does not have a timetable when other cities will receive upgrades at this time.

Republican-Controlled FCC Votes to Deregulate Business Data Services; Huge Win for AT&T, Verizon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to effectively deregulate the $45 billion business data services market in a win for companies like AT&T Inc, CenturyLink Inc and Verizon Communications Inc that will likely lead to price hikes for many small businesses.

The 2-1 vote is a blow to companies such as Sprint Corp and others that claim prices for business data are too high and backed a 2016 plan under former President Barack Obama that would have cut prices.

It marked a significant step in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s aggressive agenda to roll back many existing telecommunications rules and Obama era regulations.

Small businesses, schools, libraries and others rely on business data services, or special-access lines, to transmit large amounts of data quickly.

The services are used, among other applications, to connect banks to ATM machines or gasoline pump credit card readers. Wireless carriers rely on them to get data from an end user to a node in a major network or the so-called backhaul of mobile traffic.

Thursday’s vote scrapped most regulatory requirements in the business data services market, although some price caps in areas with little competition will be retained.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who accused her Republican colleagues of siding with “the interests of multibillion-dollar providers,” said the ruling “opens the door to immediate price hikes” to small businesses. The rule deregulates pricing in a majority of counties and more than 90 percent of buildings using the services.

Pai defended the decision, saying regulatory requirements had threatened competition and investment.

Pai plans as early as next week to unveil plans to dismantle the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules, even as he favors a free and open internet under a different regulatory scheme.

He declined to discuss his plans, but said he had met this week with executives at Facebook Inc, Oracle Corp, Cisco Systems Inc and Intel Corp to discuss internet issues.

In recent days, the independent Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, the European Union and Democratic members of Congress have raised concerns about the lifting of net neutrality rules.

Under Obama, then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in April 2016 proposed a sweeping reform plan for business data services that aimed to reduce prices paid. Wheeler had proposed maintaining and lowering lower price caps using legacy data systems with a phased-in 11 percent price reduction.

Sprint, which backed Wheeler’s proposal, told the FCC in a March 22 letter that “thousands of large and small businesses across the country were paying far too much for broadband because of inadequate competition.”

CenturyLink praised Thursday’s decision as something that aligned regulations with “competitive market realities.” Comcast Corp said the vote would help minimize “burdensome and investment-killing regulations, specifically on new entrants.”

Advocacy group Public Knowledge said the decision “doubles down on incumbent market power, forcing businesses, hospitals, schools, and ultimately consumers to pay more for essential connectivity.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Andrew Hay and Tom Brown).

Verizon Reports First-Ever Quarterly Loss of Wireless Customers, Despite New Unlimited Data Plan

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Verizon is seen at a retail store in San Diego, California April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc on Thursday reported its first-ever quarterly loss of subscribers, even as it offered an unlimited data plan, raising questions on whether the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier may need a larger acquisition than Yahoo to diversify its business.

Verizon has been struggling to fend off smaller rivals T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp in a maturing market for U.S. wireless service, and in February offered an unlimited data plan for the first time in more than five years.

While it has pursued other revenue streams, including a $4.48 billion deal for Yahoo Inc’s core business, analysts have questioned if it should pursue a more transformative combination.

“We continue to believe that the company needs a strategic transaction to support their wireless business for the long-term,” analysts at New Street Research said in a note.

Meanwhile, Verizon’s main competitor AT&T Inc plans to diversify its business through an $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc, which would give it control of cable TV channels like HBO and other coveted media assets.

Verizon’s shares were down 1.2 percent at $48.33 in midday trade.

Earlier this week, Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam said in an interview with Bloomberg News that he is open to deal talks with companies ranging from Comcast Corp to Walt Disney Co.

On Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Ellis clarified the comments, saying that while the company would consider deals that are in the interest of shareholders, it is confident in its assets.

“The ecosystem is constantly changing, and if there’s somebody who comes to us with an idea of how we can kind of leapfrog forward in that environment, we’re going to listen to them,” Ellis said in an interview with Reuters. But he added, “We are very confident with the strategy that we have.”

In the first quarter, Verizon said it lost 307,000 retail postpaid subscribers or those who pay a monthly bill. Analysts on average were expecting net additions of 222,000, according to market research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

Churn, or customer defections, among wireless retail customers who pay bills on a monthly basis, increased to 1.15 percent of total wireless subscribers, compared with the average analyst estimate of 1.03 percent, according to FactSet.

Ellis noted that churn rose in the first half of the quarter but came down in response to the relaunch of unlimited plans. “It really was a tale of two halves,” he said.

But analysts viewed the results as disappointing.

“They badly missed on every important subscriber metric, and it just underscores that the wireless business is a severely growth-challenged business at the moment,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson in an interview.Net income attributable to Verizon fell to $3.45 billion, or 84 cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $4.31 billion, or $1.06 per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, earnings per share was 95 cents.

Total operating revenue fell to $29.81 billion from $32.17 billion a year earlier.

According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, analysts had expected adjusted earnings per share of 99 cents and revenue of $30.77 billion.

(Reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Bernard Orr).

Verizon Commits to Spend $1 Billion on New Fiber Buildout for Its 5G Network

Verizon Communications announced a deal Tuesday with a leading optical fiber manufacturer to supply up to 12.4 million miles of fiber cable annually for a large buildout of Verizon’s fiber network to power its forthcoming 5G wireless service.

Verizon’s $1.05 billion agreement with Corning, Inc., of Corning N.Y., will guarantee Verizon will have an ample supply of optical fiber available from 2018-2020 at a time when the company noticed a fiber cable shortage was causing problems for its current FiOS/5G fiber buildout now underway in Boston.

“This new architecture is designed to improve Verizon’s 4G LTE coverage, speed the deployment of 5G, and deliver high-speed broadband to homes and businesses of all sizes,” Verizon said in a statement. But Verizon did not make it very clear the expansion will primarily benefit Verizon Wireless, not Verizon Communications’ FiOS fiber to the home service.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, appearing exclusively on CNBC this morning, rejected the notion that the fiber buildout would represent a restart of Verizon’s long-suspended expansion of its FiOS fiber to the home service.

“When we deployed FiOS we would run a fiber cable into a neighborhood with six or eight strands in it,” McAdam said. “Now we’re going to drop off six or eight strands to every street light in every neighborhood so that allows you to deliver a gigabit of thruput into the home and allows you to do things like intelligent transportation, electric grid management, and water system management. You hear a lot about autonomous cars and things like that today that don’t work without 5G.”

Verizon’s Boston project represents the current CEO’s vision: a wireless-based network supported by an extensive fiber network. But instead of connecting fiber to homes, McAdam’s network connects fiber to tens of thousands of palm-sized “small cells” and other wireless infrastructure that will deliver services to individual neighborhoods instead of individual homes.

Critics still question whether Verizon’s 5G network will be able to sustain its speed and capacity claims outside of testing labs, especially as shared wireless network infrastructure faces future usage demands. Fiber to the home service does not require customers to share bandwidth the same way a wireless connection would and can manage much higher capacity.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and Corning chairman and CEO Wendel Weeks appeared jointly on CNBC to discuss Verizon’s $1.05 billion agreement with Corning to guarantee up to 12.4 million miles of optical fiber a year from 2018-2020. (11:24)

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