Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bullet Point Analysis: MetroPCS's 15 New Market Expansion & New Handsets

MetroPCS had multiple announcements. The first announcement focuses on expanded its smartphone portfolio with the Nokia Lumia 521 ($99) and LG Optimus F3 ($149). While handset announcements are less than notable on a strategy, there are small tidbits that one can glean. They are:

  • The  smartphones are not CDMA. This is a step to migrate the subscriber base to the T-Mobile network (100% goal in 2015) .
  • The Lumia is an HSPA+ only device and comes from the T-Mobile prepaid device stable. Moreover, it give MetroPCS a Windows Phone choice.
  • The LG Optimus F3 is HSPA+/LTE. Other carriers have the F3 in CDMA configuration. The F3 has better processor specs than the postpaid Optimus L9 offering. So the prepaid version bests a postpaid offering, albeit a tad smaller (4" vs 4.5" screen).   

The second press release was more interesting.  MetroPCS announced 15 new markets, expanding their total market reach to 30 markets.  With this announcement, the company has opened up for business in those markets along with distribution.  However, Metro will wait until September 1 for their advertising push. 

Of the 15 markets, 8 are Leap markets. T-Mobile's CEO has talked up a head-to-head match up against Leap. Interestingly some are in Texas, a Leap stronghold. One symbolic market that stands out is San Diego - Leap's corporate headquarters.  Key to the success will obviously be distribution - big box stores such as Best Buy and third party retailers. The company is looking for 200 doors in August with more in the fall.
  • Baltimore, MD - Head-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • Birmingham, Ala. - New market without retail Leap presence; Next major city that links up with Atlanta market
  • Cleveland and Akron, Ohio - adds to Great Lakes coverage
  • Corpus Christi, TexasHead-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • Fresno, Calif. - Head-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • Houston, TexasHead-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • Memphis, Tenn. - Head-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • New Orleans, LA  - New market without retail Leap presence
  • Rio Grande Valley, Texas  - Head-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • San Antonio and Austin, TexasHead-to head against Leap/Cricket
  • San Diego, Calif. - In Leap's backyard (its headquarters)
  • Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. - In T-Mobile's HQ area, no brainer in opening up distribution in the parent's backyard; New market without retail Leap presence
  • Tallahassee, Fla. - Rounds out MetroPCS's Florida coverage. New market without retail Leap presence
  • Toledo and Sandusky, Ohioadds to Great Lakes coverage; New market without retail Leap presence
  • Washington, DCHead-to head against Leap/Cricket

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

AWS Spectrum Maps - Before and After: AT&T-Leap Buyout

In yesterday's post, we saw the results of a combined entity spectrum depth map that displayed the 700MHz, Cellular, PCS and AWS bands.  However, one of the points I brought up was AT&T staying in the AWS spectrum game for LTE capacity fill in (to 700) and to position itself from an AWS LTE roaming standpoint. In this post, we are fortunate to show the AWS holdings for Leap and AT&T. 

Leap AWS spectrum

AT&T AWS spectrum

Combined AT&T-Leap AWS spectrum

What have we concluded? Specifically, the AWS national footprint still far from filled as evidenced by the white on the map. Once AWS LTE roaming happens, AT&T has the option to fill those areas, if necessary.

Despite the AWS gaps, we can see that Leap will strength AT&T LTE in specific markets such as:
  • (West) Seattle, central California, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Denver
  • (Southwest) Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tuscon, Sante Fe, El Paso
  • (Midwest) Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville
  • (South-ish) San Antonio, Ok City, New Orleans, Little Rock, Memphis, Hashville   
  • (Mid-Atlantic) Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Richmond, Charlotte, Raleigh, Columbia
  • (East-ish) Buffalo, Pittsburgh
Again, the combined AT&T-Leap spectrum depth map (note this excludes WCS spectrum)

Thanks to Mosaik for their output.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The AT&T-Leap Spectrum Depth (A Map View)

Spectrum is indeed a prime factor in any wireless carrier acquisition. Spectrum maps play an important role in understanding deal motivation and what the resulting merged entities' national spectrum depth looks like.

The Leap spectrum view:
Though Leap's spectrum (mainly PCS and AWS (the 700 in Chicago is for sale)) goes beyond their operating regional markets, the company's business model focuses in on densely populated markets. 

The AT&T spectrum view:
The combined AT&T-Leap spectrum view:

With the Leap spectrum, AT&T is strengthened in some heavily contested markets including, the Mid-Atlantic, central California, Las Vegas (better AT&T service at CTIA?), Denver, KC (Sprint's backyard), St. Louis (Sprint's newest market acquisition from US Cellular), and Northwest (Seattle - T-Mobile's backyard). Of course, the big question is will spectrum need to be divested?  The Department of Justice uses the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) to measure market concentration for purposes of antitrust enforcement.  

Note: Thanks to Mosaik for the use of their MapElements output. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bullet Point Analysis: The AT&T-Leap Buyout

What is it?

AT&T is buying prepaid player Leap Wireless for $15 per share in cash. Under the terms of the agreement, AT&T will acquire all of Leap’s stock and wireless properties, including licenses, network assets, retail stores and approximately 5 million subscribers. AT&T expects the transaction to complete in 6-9 months (1H 2014).

What is in it for Leap?

  • For shareholders and management, they can exit the cut throat prepaid business with money. Leap and similar regional prepaid player, MetroPCS, had once enjoyed strong growth until a couple of years ago. National competitors and prepaid MVNOs ate into their marketshare and growth. T-Mobile's acquisition of MetroPCS that closed in May 2013 logically put a brighter spot light on Leap. 
  • For Leap operations, the Cricket brand expands its geographical reach beyond Leap's limited regional footprint and can go head-to-head against MetroPCS and can tap into AT&T's distribution resources.
  • For the Leap network, it has a clearer LTE path. Operating CDMA (96M POPs) and LTE (21M POPsin the same limited AWS spectrum bands doesn't work well.   

What is in it for AT&T?


  • Complementary PCS and AWS bands covering 137M POPs, some of AWS is not in service (41M POPs).
  • Proceeds from the Leap 700 A Block spectrum goes into the deal calculus.

Subscribers and Doors: 
  • Leap has 5 million prepaid subscribers but the company has been trying to right itself after steady customer losses that began in Q2 2012. AT&T increases its prepaid customer base to roughly 12 million, roughly 11% of the AT&T total subscriber base.
  • Leap's distribution channel numbers a little less than 9,000 doors.  
  • Commentary: Leap's business needs a turnaround that Leap's management has been trying to accomplish for more than a year. In that time, Leap lost about 900K customers. Leap's distribution also slimmed down from over 11K doors in a bid to focus customer acquisition.  AT&T's own branded prepaid is not growing. The launch of the Aio brand in May allows for the company to enter the prepaid market aggressively without diminishing the AT&T brand. Now that Leap joins the AT&T prepaid fight, the strategy is shaping up to match the segmentation strategy pioneered by Sprint (Boost, Virgin, Assurance) and Tracfone (Tracfone, StraightTalk, Net10, Simple Mobile, PagePlus, and Safelink). T-Mobile also joins in the prepaid segmentation fight with its own GoSmart and MetroPCS).  All this Tier-1 competition and the plethora of MVNOs out there vying for the prepaid share of wallet will make for thin margins.  
Strategic Positioning:

Keeping T-Mobile Away: There are many who say this is a spectrum deal. That is true that additional PCS and AWS spectrum enhances the AT&T network, I argue that a large element is to neutralize a growing T-Mobile threat. Fresh off the May close of MetroPCS, T-Mobile supplemented its AWS spectrum with a $308M deal with US Cellular at the end of June.  
To understand it roughly, rewind back to the ongoing speculation that a then independent MetroPCS and Leap were a perfect fit since both had the same prepaid business models and did not compete against each other for the most part. The results of the 2006 AWS auction (see graphics below) helped fuel this speculation as the AWS  MetroPCS and Leap spectrum fit provided an uncannily perfectly complement. Time has passed and some AWS licenses changed hands. 


Graphics from
But with the AT&T-T-Mobile merger breakup, T-Mobile received some AWS licenses and in 2012, Leap and T-Mobile traded some licenses. While the T-Mobile-MetroPCS coverage map looks empty in some areas of the country, that is not to say that the company lacks spectrum in those areas. 
As seen in the spectrum holdings graphic, the company does indeed have spectrum nationally and can expand if so desired.  

With the June purchase of Mississippi Valley AWS spectrum from US Cellular (Barat) Wireless) and a future rumored purchase of Leap, the T-Mobile AWS portfolio would be formidable. Aside from T-Mobile, archrival Verizon Wireless' SpectrumCo AWS deal completed in August 2012 and building out this AWS to add LTE network capacity.  

This competitive landscape would put AT&T in an AWS coverage disadvantage relative to T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Therefore, AT&T needed to stay in the AWS LTE game and keep T-Mobile from growing a stronger AWS portfolio. For AT&T, AWS will not only to serve to add LTE capacity customers but also tap into future AWS LTE roaming revenue. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless are logical future roaming partners.  

Which companies will feel the most impact?

  • For T-Mobile, with Leap as a unit of AT&T, its MetroPCS geographic expansion will be challenged by AT&T's resources.  T-Mobile seemingly has a year or two lead as it is integrating MetroPCS and working on migrating the CDMA base to HSPA+/LTE but the stated goal of 2015.
  • Sprint will lose 3G data wholesale revenue from the agreement forged in August 2010 that expires in Dec 2015. But now Sprint (Clearwire's owner) loses another wholesale arrangement that Clearwire announced in March 2012 though nothing really started.  It's clear now that Sprint's prepaid segmentation strategy was the correct in the long run but Aio Wireless and Cricket are going up against Virgin, Boost, Assurance, respectively. Cricket's logical national (or specific target market) expansion may spell trouble. 
  • Verizon Wireless now sees a stronger AT&T rival with new found AWS and PCS spectrum from Leap. In the long term, it needs additional spectrum to thwart impending capacity brought on with WCS and Channel 55 (700 from Qualcomm) frequencies. In terms of prepaid, its branded prepaid is holding its own but without any flanker brands, competitors will take almost all the future prepaid growth.
  • In infrastructure, AT&T LTE equipment suppliers, Alcatel and Ericsson now have more of an order pipeline than before.

Last Word

  • The biggest question in this deal is whether the acquisition will pass regulatory hurdles. The sting of the failure to acquire T-Mobile is still fresh in everyone's minds. Like any major deal, it should have been gamed out by M&A internal and external resources taking into account the regulatory environment before it makes the light of day. 
  • If regulatory hurdles are overcome, what conditions will there be? AT&T has proactively said that the Chicago 700 MHz A Block will be sold. (It doesn't like the A block anyway). Will the company need to divest in other markets (planned or unplanned)? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Analysis: T-Mobile’s "Boldest" Move - JUMP and Simple Choice forFamilies

What is it?

  • T-Mobile announced an equipment upgrade program known as  JUMP!™, which enables people to upgrade their phones when they want, up to twice a year as soon as six months from enrollment. The monthly outlay is $10/month with equipment warranty (theft, lost, broken, or when one wants another phone).
  • The Simple Choice for Family plan (4 lines of unlimited talk, text and web(500MB) for $100/month) was also announced allowing access to discounted  plans without a credit check. The caveat is that payment must be in advance (prepaid).

  • JUMP Details: 
    • Enroll in JUMP for $10/month. Have to wait for 6 months until the first 'JUMP' to get a new device. 
    • If in 'Good Working Order' (powers on, no screen cracks, no visible water damage), customer can get the next latest and greatest. If customer is financing it (Equipment Installment Plan (EIP)), remainder of payments are waived. Customer can enter a new EIP plan.
    • If not in 'Good Working Order,' a deductible will be paid ranging from $20-$170, depending on device,
    • Customer can upgrade twice a year. It could be as early as the next day. 

What it means for consumers:
  • For T-Mobile consumers who are early adopters and want the latest and greatest, Jump should be very compelling.
  • For T-Mobile customers who don't care for upgrading and are price-sensitive, they're not likely to enroll in JUMP as the enrollment tallies to $120 a year.  
  • For credit challenged family customers who want access to discounted postpaid rates, this should spur them on.
  • The JUMP plan should appeal for early adopters in other competitors. Since T-Mobile is targeting AT&T, it would be logical for T-Mobile to step up some anti-AT&T marketing as it has done so already.

 What it means for T-Mobile:
  • JUMP is an interesting anti-churn tool that appeals to a segment of customer who is willing to switch to get the latest and greatest. For this reason, it comports with T-Mobile's public comments stating that 2013 is going to be a year to stabilize.
  • JUMP may be an effective switching tool. If T-Mobile can convince potential switchers that the T-Mobile network is just as good as everyone else's that would help customer acquisition.  
  • The long term impact of JUMP 'trade-in' devices will help its MetroPCS unit.  These turned in devices will be refurbished and pushed into the MetroPCS portfolio as refurbished. For the MetroPCS customer who normally pays full priced for a phone, access to nearly the latest and greatest smartphone at a lower cost increases service stickiness. As T-Mobile wants to transition MetroPCS customers from their CDMA phones anyway, this move can potentially help accelerate the migration to the LTE/HSPA network and refarming of MetroPCS PCS spectrum. 
  • Depending upon the JUMP subscriber size, the $10 monthly fee may be a factor in lifting postpaid ARPU.
  • Simple Choice for Family should also help T-Mobile acquire subscribers. The price point is compelling. This plan could draw price sensitive postpaid family subscribers from competitors as well as transition families dealing with individual prepaid plans. How much this will hit Tracfone brands like StraightTalk and Simple Mobile remains to be seen. Of note, Simple Choice is LTE accessible whereas MVNO plans are still 3G/HSPA (okay 4G-ish). 

Which companies will feel the most impact?

  • AT&T as the very public target should see the most marketing against its subscribers. Other competitors may experience some leakage from their early adopter community as well, especially those whose ending contracts. 
  • T-Mobile warranty companies should be busy depending upon how well JUMP is embraced.
  • Handset makers (likely with halo devices) will likely see more volume coming out of T-Mobile. With increased volume, T-Mobile may leverage this to attain more favorable pricing.