One of the knocks on T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS) is that it doesn’t have the same network coverage as rival Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), but judging from what T-Mobile had to say when it reported fourth-quarter results, that gap is narrowing and could close even more this year.
As part of T-Mobile’s earnings presentation, it showed two maps showing its current network coverage and where it expects to be by the end of the year. While there are a lot of areas—particularly in Montana, Wisconsin and West Virginia—that won’t get T-Mobile 4G LTE coverage by the end of the year, the same map shows coverage pretty much all over the country. According to T-Mobile, 4G LTE coverage currently reaches 314 million people, which is up from zero just four years ago. T-Mobile is forecasting coverage of 320 million by the end of the year. The company said it plans on using new technology to improve connection speeds and has been re-farming existing older spectrum. “At the end of Q4 2016, approximately 70% of spectrum was being used for 4G LTE compared to 52% at the end of Q4 2015,” said T-Mobile. “The company expects to continue to re-farm spectrum currently committed to 2G and 3G technologies.” (See also: T-Mobile Posts Q4 Results That Beat Street Views.)
Bad News for Verizon?
For Verizon, a narrowing of the gap between network coverage can’t be welcome news. With T-Mobile rolling out aggressive plans and promotions, Verizon can no longer ignore the third-place carrier. That was evident earlier this week when Verizon caved and announced an unlimited data plan after avoiding them for several . years.
Earlier this month, OpenSignal, a research firm that tracks coverage and performance of mobile operators around the world, said in its “State of Mobile Networks: USA” report that T-Mobile is narrowing the coverage gap against Verizon. OpenSignal, which drew upon 4.6 billion measurements, found Verizon’s LTE signal was available 88.2% of the time, placing it in the lead among the big four U.S. carriers. T-Mobile, however, is closing the gap, with its 4G availability less than 2 percentage points behind Verizon in the fourth quarter. OpenSignal also found T-Mobile and Verizon are neck and neck in terms of speed. Six months ago T-Mobile was in the lead, but thanks to upgrades of its 4G network Verizon was able to catch up.