ANALYSIS

Is T-Mobile A Credible Home Internet Provider?

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By Jim Patterson

April greetings from Davidson and Charlotte, NC where spring buds (and storms) are popping up all over.  This week we will analyze the events of the past two weeks with a particular focus on T-Mobile’s Home Internet Uncarrier announcement last Thursday.

Before diving into the rest of the Brief, congratulations to two companies who have been good friends over the last decade.  Regional data center company DC Blox, headed by Cbeyond veterans Jeff Uphues, Mark Masi, and Chris Gatch, reported on March 29 that they had raised $187 million from Post Road Group and Bain Capital to continue their Southeast expansion.  We will cover more on their progress in next week’s “Up and Comers” post.  We like to think of DC Blox in the same manner as we thought about regional, middle-mile fiber providers in the 2000s – making long-term investments with a commercial real estate/ telecom balance. 

Also, longtime friend and Kansas City-based entrepreneur Rob Oyler announced last Friday that WANRack would be purchased by the investment arm of real estate giant CBRE (press release here).  Having known Rob and most of the WANrack team since they formed the company in 2012 (including many meetings at Broadway Coffee in Kansas City that year), it has been terrific seeing them grow and invest.  WANRack now has over 68 school networks covering 23 states, with many more in construction thanks to a strong 2020.  Kudos to all involved.

The week that was

“POP!” is the best word to describe last week’s Fab Five market activity.  Over the last two weeks, their market capitalization has risen US$757 billion and the cumulative market capitalization is just shy of US$8.3 trillion.  As we disclosed on Friday, all of this gain happened the week of April 5 (US$785 billion gain from 4/5-4/9 vs US$28 billion loss from 3/29-4/2).  As best we can tell, this is the best single weekly performance ever for the Fab Five.  Even Apple, who for the 1st quarter of 2021 seemed content to hold on to 2020 gains, is now in positive territory.  What happened?

As our economy recovers from the COVID-induced recession, those companies with healthy balance sheets will accelerate hiring, product development, marketing, and capital investments to improve their competitiveness.  The Fab Five had US$607 billion in cash and marketable securities entering 2021 with a collective US$218 billion in short and long-term debt (a figure that is within US$30 billion of AT&T’s projected Q1 debt) .  They refused to choke on cheap debt and made most if not all of their 2020 acquisitions in cash (it also didn’t hurt that they weren’t bidders in the C-Band auction).  Google, Amazon, and Microsoft stand to gain from their growing cloud computing businesses, while Google and Facebook should also benefit from an improved advertising outlook.

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A good case in point is the HoloLens contract awarded to Microsoft by the Department of Defense (announcement here).  According to Ars Technica, The total value over the next ten years could approach US$22 billion (which makes all the fighting over the US$10 billion Jedi contract look small).   Applying low latency, augmented/ mixed reality, and instant feedback to prepare for the net war would seem to be something Verizon, perhaps in collaboration with Lockheed, would trumpet.  Did Microsoft just scoop a key 5G use case and steal someone’s thunder?  As a matter of fact, they did.

To recap, Apple gained US$198 billion in the last two weeks (the equivalent of 1.2 T-Mobiles in value in a fortnight), Google gained US$169 billion, Amazon gained US$161 billion, Microsoft gained US$146 billion and Facebook US$84 billion.  They are on pace to exceed last year’s US$2.5 trillion of incremental market cap gains.  And, if that weren’t enough, Amazon fought off an intense effort to unionize their Bessemer, Alabama, facility (why it failed in a landslide is covered quite well in this New York Times article as well as this Wall Street Journal article).

Meanwhile, the Telco Top Five continue to hold on to their 2020 gains.  T-Mobile erased half of their 2021 losses (+$8 billion) while Comcast lost US$8 billion (inexplicable, in our view) and the rest largely marked time.  One bright spot for AT&T was the release of Godzilla vs. Kong which has grossed US$48 million in domestic box office sales (plus and additional US$237 million globally) according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.  While the latest blockbuster will not be reflected until 2Q 2021 earnings, WarnerMedia’s “day and date” change appears to have been a wise move (in addition to the numbers above, Deadline estimates that over 3.6 million households watched at least five minutes of Godzilla vs. Kong over the Easter holiday weekend, making it the most watched debut in HBO Max’s short history).

As we have mentioned in other Briefs, AT&T is going to increasingly use their content to transform their customer relationships and brand.  As we emerge from the pandemic this summer, it would not be surprising to see AT&T reinforce moviegoing traditions with some promotion (free or discounted tickets for all new AT&T/ HBO Max customers to selected titles would be innovative and profitable).

Network quality metrics also were updated over the last two weeks.  T-Mobile trumpeted their latest results from global testing firm umlaut (results here) which found T-Mobile had the largest, fastest, and most accessible 5G network in 44 of 50 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont were split between Verizon and AT&T).  While this is indicative of the significant progress T-Mobile has made since the merger closed a year ago, our tracking of RootMetrics Metro RootScore reports (here) shows that they still have a ways to go.

As the nearby table shows, RootMetrics has published the results of 55 out of 125 metro areas (measured every six months).  Unlike other testing agencies, RootMetrics uses the same device across all carriers (a Samsung S20+ or Note 20 5G device).   The results continue a trend we have discussed in previous Briefs:  AT&T is challenging Verizon’s long-held pole position at RootMetrics, with over half of the markets categorized as a two or three-way tie.  These include larger metro areas such as St. Louis (19th largest MSA in the USA), Denver (#20), San Antonio (#24) and Austin (#29).  While T-Mobile has also improved, they are not showing up in the winner column with the same frequency as AT&T.  We expect to see outright T-Mobile wins beginning in 2H 2021 as they complete their upgraded network rollouts to more MSAs. The City of Brotherly Love was one of T-Mobile’s first 5G markets, and their progress shows with wins in Network Speed and Data Performance.

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