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.
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.