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5G and Airports: Much Ado About Nothing, Netcracker and T-Mobile, and AT&T and Dish – Futurum Tech Webcast
by Shelly Kramer and Ron Westfall | February 14, 2022

In this episode of The 5G Factor, a series that’s part of the Futurum Tech Webcast focused exclusively on all things 5G and the always evolving 5G ecosystem, I was joined by my colleague and co-host Ron Westfall for a look at what’s new, what’s interesting, and what we’re paying close attention to.

This week’s episode covered the following topics:

5G and Airports. We’ve seen a lot of headlines in recent weeks about 5G towers near airports and U.S. airlines warning of potentially dire circumstances for aviation and the economy if super-fast 5G mobile service is expanded without more safeguards. This brouhaha required Verizon and AT&T to temporarily put a hold on plans to put more towers near airports and much confusion in general. In our conversation, we unpacked this ‘problem’ and shared that we believe this is a communication problem more than anything and that none of the uproar (or delays for AT&T and Verizon) were actually necessary. This represents a communication problem, as well as the airlines moving more slowly than they perhaps should as it relates to replacing outdated equipment. More details on that in the webcast.

Netcracker and T-Mobile Expand their Strategic Partnership. Netcracker recently announced that T-Mobile has extended its BSS and managed services partnership for its wholesale business, providing BSS services (which handles T-Mobile’s billing platform for its wholesale business line), partner management services, and other managed services provided by Netcracker to the telecom giant.

T-Mobile Keeps Winning the 5G Speed War. T-Mobile received some recent accolades by way of Opensignal’s January 2022 USA 5G Experience Report. According to the Opensignal report, T-Mobile has a significant lead over both Verizon and AT&T in both 5G performance and coverage in the U.S. Our conversation took a dive into the Opensignal report and what the various telecoms are doing on that front.

AT&T and Dish Win Big in the Andromeda Auction, Verizon, Not So Much. Ron walked us through the recent Andromeda auction and why that’s a big win for both AT&T and Dish, walking away with the bulk of the spectrum licenses available in the FCC’s latest auction.

T-Mobile and Renewable Energy. You might say our show was a big news day for T-Mobile, and you’d be right. The last bit of news we covered in today’s episode was a nod to T-Mobile again achieving an industry first for U.S. Telecom Industry leaders in unveiling its plan to source 100% of its total electricity usage with renewable energy by the end of 2021. Yes, you read that correctly, by the end of this year.

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

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Transcript:

Shelly Kramer: We are going to kick off this conversation talking about something that’s been in the news a little bit of late, and that is 5G deployment near airports and what we like to call much ado about nothing. I will say as a preface that of course safety is always important, right? So we’re not making light of this and saying that for air travel safety is not a really important thing.

However, what we’ve seen in the media I think over the course of the last couple of weeks is I think a lot of hype and sometimes without really maybe getting all the facts, I don’t know for sure, but let me back up and just say news out at the end of last week was that federal regulators agreed to allow Verizon and AT&T to put more 5G towers near airports. This comes on the heels of US airlines warning in the last few weeks of what they have described as potentially catastrophic circumstances for aviation and the economy of super fast 5G mobile services expanded without more safeguards. Airlines warn that 5G cellular antennas near airports could distort readings from radar altimeters and those things tell pilots how far they are from the ground, which is slightly important.

But so we’ve had all of this hype and worry and alarm and news that foreign airlines were canceling flights potentially and all of that sort of thing. I will say that in my personal opinion this has largely been a communication problem, okay? We’ve had a steady breakdown in coordination and cooperation between the FCC, which regulates the business use of public airwaves and other federal agencies, the FAA and airlines.

So it’s kind of like when Verizon and AT&T were ready to do exactly what they said they were going to do on the time schedule that they said they would follow. All of a sudden people started raising their hands going, “But wait.” So it’s been and part of what our research has indicated, part of this problem is not that neither the FAA nor the FCC required airlines or mobile companies to conduct real-world tests in advance of this to see how, whether this was a concern. I think that what we’ve also seen is a little bit of government bureaucracy at work and wheels that are slow to turn.

One other part of the problem that I think is important to mention, there is a lack of a national spectrum policy. As we see, as our world goes more and more wireless and airways get more and more crowded, we’ve got to have better coordination between the FCC and other federal agencies. So I think that this is a latest in a series of standoffs that we’ve seen between the FCC and federal agencies. We need to do a much better job of communication on that front. So in my view, it was welcome news that out as I said late last week that would allow Verizon and AT&T to move forward. It’s important.

Ron, I know you have some thoughts on this front.

Ron Westfall: Well, I agree wholeheartedly. I think, yes, it generated height, some headline news, but really it was fundamentally much ado about nothing. I mean, some of the headlines suggested that the FCC would be sociopathic enough to just squeeze out some more 5G spectrum, but at the risk of having airplanes crash land. That was never the case and it simply didn’t jive with the facts that we know already.

So fundamentally it came down to absurd allegations because already 40 countries, not two or three other countries, already have approved similar C-band spectrum around airports. What’s even more remarkable is that the FCC has mandated even larger guard band around airport environments. That is 220 megahertz guard bands around the 5G spectrum that’s used in the C-band around airports. That’s twice much as Japan, for example, which has already has 90,000 5G base stations that are in operation and of course in and around airports.

So now that’s a pretty valid used case, like this is not going to cause any issues that the FAA and the airline industry we’re asserting. So that kind of begs the question, why this somewhat underwhelming clutch-

Shelly Kramer: Brouhaha, brouhaha.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, exactly. Forethoughtful, yeah, what’s the incentive here. From my perspective was a feeble attempt to have the telecommunications industry put the bill for upgrading altimeters around airports and that’s needed. Yeah, I think that was just the false path. To your point, this has happened before. A couple years ago, the FCC and the NOAA were having to clash over again 5G spectrum allocation much higher up than C-band around 37 gigahertz range. But you get the idea that this is something that is not uncommon. But we definitely can benefit from that national spectrum type plan that can smooth this coordination and avoid a phony headlines and things like that that doesn’t benefit anybody and kind of hides agendas of one side of the government and so forth.

So I think this was resolved correctly. Yes, AT&T and Verizon are definitely responsible citizens and that obviously the 5G is definitely aligning with the requirements of airport safety, et cetera. So I’ll leave it at that.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and I think, too, as I was looking at this, a couple things that I think are important to note as you said, AT&T and Verizon have certainly not gone into this without doing due diligence. They’ve been testing 5G for a long time, especially in the C-band spectrum.

Another thing as we were talking about and thinking about this, where’s the military, right? If there were any danger at all, the military would arguably probably be one of the first people in line, right, the first organizations in line saying, “Wait, wait, there’s potentially a problem,” and the military has not. They’ve been largely silent on this front. They’ve been doing their own testing. I feel very confident that if they felt like there were any issues, they would’ve certainly come to the fore.

I think the last point here is that hopefully this is a little bit of a wake-up call for airlines because airlines are notorious for not upgrading their equipment in a timely fashion. Many of the planes that we fly on are very, very old, right? So I think that there comes a responsibility to them to be a little more timely on this front and the bottom line, the consumer is the one that misses out. If there’s any place that you want fast 5G connections, it’s in an airport before you board a plane, right Ron? How many things are you doing at the last minute? Like, “Oh, my gosh, I have to download this,” or my kids are like, “Oh, my gosh, I better have Netflix on this plane.”

So anyway, I think really the media has not been digging deep enough and taking some of the airlines and the FAA statements of face value. You know what? It’s really great to see this moving forward and it is certainly time for that, so.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, I believe the FCC never shared the study they were basing this on, for example. So it’s like, “Yes, let’s please, trust and verify. People, please.”

Shelly Kramer: Right, exactly. Media, I mean, you didn’t see any of that. You didn’t see most of the things that we’re talking about. You really didn’t see enough of that, so.

Okay, with that, we’re going to say that this again 5G and airports and all the brouhaha around this is much ado about nothing. If you are seeing this in the news and worried about it, we don’t think you need to. We’re glad to see this moving forward.

So now we’re going to move on and we’re going to talk about some news out today about Netcracker and T-Mobile and the extension of their strategic partnerships. It’s great to see Netcracker announced today that T-Mobile has extended its BSS and managed services partnership for its wholesale business, providing BSS services and Netcracker BSS services, so that handles T-Mobile’s billing platform for its wholesale business. It includes, gosh, it includes more than just this wholesale business line, some things having to do with IoT and things like that. But also, Netcracker provides partner management services and other managed services to T-Mobile and this is important to, I think this incredibly important. It shows the importance of these kind of services, BSS services in particular. It also shows this kind of partnership is what allows a company like T-Mobile to focus on providing great customer experience across all channels. You can have a goal of wanting to do that, but you’ve got to have the right technology foundations in place to allow you to do that. So I know, Ron, you were excited by this news as well.

Ron Westfall: Oh, yeah. I think you did a excellent job of hitting on the key points of the agreement extension. I believe this is definitely crystallizing the need for flexible dynamic billing in the 5G era. That is you want billing that can handle, not just regular customer billing, but on-demand billing, real-time billing and even more importantly is used case billing. That I think comes across the fact that Netcracker’s digital BSS platform is supporting, yes, the wholesale model for T-Mobile, but also their IoT and MVNO capabilities.

Shelly Kramer: I knew you would know what it was to be on the IoT. Thank you for that.

Ron Westfall: That’s all important and definitely, I think it’s demonstrating that the platform is not going to be restricted to one set of customers or one set of use cases anymore. It definitely has to be all encompassing. I think also other important takeaway is that Netcracker is working with T-Mobile on the DevOps aspect of it that is agile software development, which is going to be required. That definitely is going to be requisite for improving time-to-market turnaround, time-to-value delivery, et cetera. That is enabling T-Mobile or any mobile operator out there to respond to customer demands in a much more rapid fashion to adapt to new cloud requirements, new container management needs, et cetera, you name it and this is all very I think important. I think it demonstrates that the ecosystem is moving forward and getting these capabilities, not just ready, but also having them deliver on things such as IoT, which I think has receded a little bit because of some of the security concerns that are cropped up with IoT.

But now the operators are becoming smarter about, yes, we definitely need security baked into IoT and that could be part of the billing for an IoT service, as people become more adept at adopting it on a more wide scale and flexible level.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. Well, all in all, this is great news, great partnership. Obviously, things must be working. They extended it, so good job on that front, Netcracker and T-Mobile, I think that’s awesome.

Ron Westfall: No doubt.

Shelly Kramer: So with that, we’re going to move on. Since we’re on the topic of T-Mobile, I ran across Opensignal’s January 2020 report on 5G user experience. According to that report, T-Mobile is cooking with gas and they have a significant lead over both Verizon and AT&T in both 5G performance and coverage in the United States. I will say that it is important to note here that based on our conversation earlier about C-band coverage and that’s at airports and that sort of thing provided by AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile isn’t playing in that space. The C-band deployments by those companies could impact this report moving forward. But for now things look really great on the T-Mobile front. I think that what I looked at is that T-Mobile has won in the 5G download speed for the fifth year in a row, fifth time in a row, going from an average of 118.7 mbps to 150. That’s pretty impressive, right? That’s what everybody wants, speed, speed and more of it. In upload speeds, T-Mobile was also ahead of the pack at 17.9, although Verizon was creeping right along at 14.1.

So there were some other key metrics mentioned in the report. I will include that as part of our show notes here. But basically, T-Mobile is doing a terrific job as it relates to great user experiences and speeds and that sort of thing.

Ron, did you get a chance to look at that report by any chance?

Ron Westfall: Oh, yeah. I think it definitely demonstrates that T-Mobile has been very adept at executing its 5G strategy, certainly nationwide, one here in the US. Clearly, the speed tests show that they definitely made some of the right bets in terms of their spectrum priorities and I think that came across in the recent C-band auctions.

I think it’s also tying in with other initiatives that are also critically important to the success of T-Mobile or any mobile operator let alone the overall 5G ecosystem. Specifically speaking of having marketing momentum, T-Mobile announced that they fulfilled their renewable energy goals, the RE100 objective. That is the entire 5G operations are now being run on renewable energy and that includes agreements with 19 retailers, eight virtual power agreements and so forth.

So the net result is that there are now 3.4 megawatt hours. So now we have to talk megawatt hours more and more in addition to megahertz and megabits and so forth. But again, 3.4 megawatt hours that includes energy grids across states like Maine and Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Oregon. As a result, T-Mobile has landed again the Green America Wireless Scoreboard top score amongst mobile operators.

So this is clearly a feather in the cap that they’re really combining the best of both worlds delivering, on the one hand the best performance and speeds, but also doing it in a very energy-conscious way that is definitely executing on the sustained middle league goals that are so important and are integral to any organization’s ESG goals. So this is I think a welcome news the fact that T-Mobile is executing on these two vital fronts.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, and it would be prudent of me to mention here I think as we’re on the topic of sustainability and ESG initiatives. Our team here at Futurum is really passionate about all things, ESG and actually DEI as well. We believe that we have companies of all sizes who have planted a flag, especially in either one of these spaces as it relates to DEI initiatives, as it relates to ESG initiatives. We believe specific to ESG that this is going to become increasingly important as time goes by. Just as you know, we saw organizations embrace digital transformation journeys and initiatives, right? Some work rapidly than others. But all of a sudden we went from a space where our team was working, actually working with the clients on digital transformation initiatives and journeys before the term digital transformation was even coined and widely used, so we’ve been kind of elbows deep in that space.

But we think that ESG is going to be increasingly important, as important by comparison as digital transformation focuses are. Because this is the path forward, this is what consumers care about, and the challenge here for organizations is that we’ve had so many companies plant their flag. I mentioned this already, plant their flag and that by 2025 or 2030, we’ll be here 2040. Now what they’re doing is saying, “Okay, well, we’ve said this. How are we going to get there or how are we going to measure this meaningfully?”

So there are some really interesting times ahead as it relates to that. We have a new media property launching here in about a week called good equals progress, which is focused on all things, ESG and DEI. So we will invite you to be a part of that launch with us as that property launches. But no, we’re going to be talking about that quite a bit moving forward and good on you. T-Mobile for your efforts in the sustainability, in the sustainability race that’s awesome, that’s awesome news, so.

Ron Westfall: Hot topic, definitely. Go ahead in hand.

Shelly Kramer: A hot topic indeed. You’re going to see all of our analysts talking about these things more. You’re going to see all of our analysts writing about these things more. So our listeners, if you have interesting initiatives going on, either DEI or ESG, we want to know about it and you know where to find us.

So with that, I’m going to segue to our final topic of today, and that is all about AT&T and Dish and the Andromeda auction. Ron, I’m going to let you bring us home on that one.

Ron Westfall: Well, thank you, yes, speaking of C-band spectrum, which has been very important and certainly was a key factor in the FAA controversy. Recently, the FCC conducted a C-band auction and I think a little background is helpful. It was the third largest one in the FCC history. It was only behind last year’s massive C-band auction of $81 billion for Verizon, spent a good fortune to secure C-band assets, and then 2015’s AWS-3 auction which came in at $45 billion. So this auction netted $22 billion and in it AT&T spent $9 billion too, in essence scoop up 1,624 licenses followed by Dish with $7.3 billion spent on 1,232 licenses, and then T-Mobile with $2.9 billion spent in order to secure 199 licenses. So that’s an impressive haul for these three players to gain these valuable C-band assets at this stage of the 5G competitive race. What I actually think important to note here is that Verizon did not partake that even, looked to pad their existing C-band assets after their major spend on last year’s C-band spectrum auction.

So I think this is definitely worth noting that why is C-band so valued by the operators. Fundamentally, it kind of provides a goldilocks, provides the combination of throughput speed with coverage that enables 5G to really hit its optimal capabilities and that is the 3.45 to 3.55 gigahertz range. So I think this is definitely something to definitely follow that is how spectrum is being allocated, how the major players are capitalizing on it.

I think one other takeaway is that when T-Mobile added those licenses and enabled them to remind the market that the Andromeda Auction 110 allowed them to add an average of 21 megahertz of mid-band to their existing spectrum portfolio. So that actually reaches to 184 million people, so that’s a pretty sizeable number to improve your targeting on. As a result, their overall 5G network can reach 310 million people, which allows them to start that twice as much as what AT&T can do today and five times as much as Verizon can do today. Although, as you noted with the speed test, those numbers will change as AT&T and Verizon bring on more of their C-band assets to market and make it commercialized and so forth. But definitely, we’re going to keep an eye on all the spectrum races and definitely the options and so forth and how it’s definitely impacting the ability of the major mobile operators to feed the demand out there to make a big impact across all society and not just for specific mobile applications and so forth.

So this is good news overall for the whole industry, but certainly good news for AT&T, Dish and T-Mobile from my perspective.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, lots of interesting things happening in the 5G ecosystem. Ron, as always, it is my pleasure to partner to bring these shows to our team, to our audience. Thank you all for hanging out with us and listening. You can find the resources to all the things that we talked about in the show notes. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the 5G Factor, you can solve that problem really quickly by hitting that subscribe button on YouTube or that subscribe button in your favorite podcast streaming platform, and we will see you again here next week. With that, we’re out.

About the Authors

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”

Ron is an experienced research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets. He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including software and services, infrastructure, 5G/IoT, AI/analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues. Read Full Bio.