T-Mobile Fixed Wireless

One third of T-Mobile fixed wireless access (FWA) subscribers are in rural areas, according to an estimate from telecom financial analysts at MoffettNathanson. It’s a surprising finding, considering that the analysts estimate that only 6% of locations that can get T-Mobile fixed wireless are in rural areas.

Forty-four percent of T-Mobile fixed wireless subscribers are in urban census blocks, which represent 74% of locations that can get T-Mobile fixed wireless, according to the estimates. And suburbia comprises the remaining 23% of subscribers and 20% of passings.

MoffettNathanson based its estimates on data from Comlinkdata, provider of granular telecom network data. It’s an important analysis considering that T-Mobile and Verizon together gained 719,000 FWA subscribers in 2021 and stakeholders want to know where the subscribers are coming from.

The analysts looked at Verizon’s FWA availability and subscribership, as well as T-Mobile’s, but declined to draw any conclusions about Verizon because until recently, Verizon had FWA available only in the millimeter wave band, which has been deployed primarily in urban areas.

Competitive Analysis

As part of the MoffettNathanson analysis, Comlinkdata sorted FWA subscribers into four “competitive cohorts,” including:

  • Fiber markets that have both cable and fiber-to-the-home from the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC)
  • “Cable-advantaged” markets where cable competes with earlier-generation telecom technology such as fiber-to-the-node and digital subscriber line (DSL).
  • “ILEC-only” markets where cable is not available
  • Underserved markets where broadband is not available from a cable or ILEC provider

According to the Comlinkdata estimates, fiber markets comprise 45% of locations that can get T-Mobile FWA, but only about 23% of T-Mobile FWA subscribers. Meanwhile, ILEC-only markets, which represent just 5% of locations that can get T-Mobile FWA, account for 24% of T-Mobile FWA subscribers.

Cable-advantaged markets comprise 52% of T-Mobile FWA subscribers and 49% of markets that can get T-Mobile FWA. Unserved markets comprise about 1% of T-Mobile FWA subscribers but comprise less than 1% of locations that can get T-Mobile FWA.

The upshot is that the T-Mobile fixed wireless service is having its greatest success in areas where it competes primarily against telco non-FTTH services, which includes many rural areas. But according to the analysts, “a meaningful number” of T-Mobile FWA subscribers are coming from cable.

The MoffettNathanson analysis also used information from Comlinkdata to explore another element of T-Mobile’s FWA strategy: A T-Mobile executive told the analysts earlier this year that the company planned to limit the number of FWA subscribers per cellsite to ensure that FWA traffic did not impact the performance of the company’s mobile service.

Using the Comlinkdata, the analysts estimated that 88% of T-Mobile’s FWA subscribers are in “under-utilized” zip codes where less than 5% of network tests exhibit signs of capacity stress such as suboptimal download speeds. Ten percent of subscribers are in areas with average utilization and just 2% are in “over-utilized” zip codes where 7% or more of network tests exhibit signs of capacity stress.

Join the Conversation

4 thoughts on “Research: T-Mobile Fixed Wireless is Overperforming in Rural Markets

  1. I’m guessing that a big factor in T-Mobile’s rural FWA success may be in their extensive 2.5 GHz networks that they inherited from Sprint acquisition … ClearWire was busy buying up ETV 2.5 GHz spectrum 20+ years ago.

    Anyone closer to the current T-Mobile network care to comment on my speculation?

    1. Yes, and 2.5Ghz has more reach than Verizon’s Cband (3.7Ghz). I haven’t used FWA service yet but do the receiver boxes allow external antennas? They could probably get broader range with distant users using MIMO external antennas.

  2. I’m struggling to find data on the range of potential capacity/users of FWA for both T-Mobile and Verizon. If service pricing wasn’t a constraint, how many FWA customers could they have? Is this 10 million each or could it be as high or higher than 50 million each? They both seem pretty coy on the estimates and I’m uncertain if there are technical limitations or are the limitations commercial? Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. The limitation is spectrum width available per cell sector and backhaul into the cellsite. TMobile is soon rolling out 3.3Gbps per cell sector (there are 3 sectors per cell site) across 4 carrier aggregation, which uses more spectrum. The tower would also need a 10Gbps connection. So technically a cell site could support about 100 homes at 100Mbps but hard to say because oversubscription will probably be used that could allow for more however FWA runs at a lower priority than mobile phone service so they may be more conservative on how many homes they allow per cellsite.

      In the near future, they’ll be adding mmWave to macro cellsites, which would allow for more capacity to add more users (I suspect about 1/3 more) and when 6G arrives, even more homes could be added per cellsite. However they also need to supply enough backhaul into the cellsites as well, 15gig-50gig in future.

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