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Why the Sprint/T-Mobile merger could actually help the spread of 5G

“‘This merger is very beneficial for T-Mobile, but it’s also beneficial for the U.S., and where we currently are in the global race to 5G,’ said Steve Vachon, an analyst at Technology Business Research. ‘Now, the 5G plan is much more likely to go forward.'” — Digital Trends

Analytics within digital transformation engagements depend on high-quality people and data

This week, TBR publishes the first Digital Transformation Insights report for 2020, building on the 2019 series, which included analysis around blockchain, digital marketing, IoT and quantum. The first report centers on IT services vendors’ strategies and performances within their analytics practices. Senior Analyst Boz Hristov notes that, “The maturing A&I services market continues to hold strong digital transformation opportunities for vendors, as long as they can address buyers’ business model complexities through collaborative and coopetitive delivery frameworks. Additionally, vendors that can address skills gaps and ensure data quality and security standards are met are positioned to win.” Next month’s DTI report will look at edge computing within digital transformation. In March TBR will examine the SAP practices of a few leading services vendors.

Additional assessments publishing this week from our analyst teams

Sprint’s rising churn rates, weakening financial performance and high debt load highlight the necessity of the proposed T-Mobile merger. Subpar network quality remains at the root of Sprint’s issues as postpaid phone subscriber losses continue to escalate, despite the operator’s aggressive pricing and elevated network capex spending since 2018. A more significant capex budget is required for Sprint to successfully compete long-term in the U.S. market; however, Sprint’s inability to generate significant free cash flow hinders the company from doing so.” — Steve Vachon, Analyst

“As Infosys ramps up cyber offerings to better address the complexities associated with the next wave of emerging technologies, an aggressive pricing strategy paired with revamped account management enables the company to expand its client roster as it turns into a solutions broker.” — Hristov

Verizon remains able to capitalize on its reputation as a premium wireless service provider to attract customers willing to pay a higher price for the operator’s network coverage and premium unlimited data plans. However, Verizon’s wireless network is becoming a less significant differentiator as AT&T and T-Mobile are now on par with Verizon in LTE coverage and as the rival companies are improving signal quality and data speeds by deploying services on additional spectrum.” — Vachon

“Though AT&T is facing short-term challenges, the company’s ambition to transition from a traditional telco to a global digital service provider is a long-term endeavor requiring a broad array of assets that may not all pay dividends in the short term. AT&T also has abundant opportunity to reduce expenses without divesting core business units via initiatives such as WarnerMedia synergies, nonvital headcount and real estate reduction, and deeper integration of network virtualization.” — Vachon

“TBR anticipates Fujitsu Services will report revenue growth acceleration in 4Q19, as Fujitsu enhances its software, digital, hybrid IT and cloud offerings, which help offset declines in traditional areas. Reorganization and investments within its sales organization, such as the consolidation of its European sales force and the implementation of Account Planning and Opportunity Planning software to improve management in North America, will also contribute to revenue expansion in 2019. The business model adjustments allow the company to better execute and deliver on initiatives to drive adoption of hybrid IT and software offerings, providing recurring revenue opportunities.” — Kelly Lesiczka, Analyst

Senior Analyst John Caucis notes that the U.S. federal earnings season kicks off this week with three defense majors and one services-led defense contractor releasing the results from the final calendar quarter of 2019. First up is General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), releasing earnings on Jan. 29. Sales are expected to continue sliding for GDIT, owing to recent asset disposals, portfolio reshaping and operations realignment. TBR projects GDIT’s top-line revenue will decline between 11% and 12% year-to-year to roughly $2.1 billion. A strong rebound for GDIT will hinge on the full leverage of CSRA’s capabilities to win big-ticket, next-generation federal IT engagements in 2020. 

Two additional defense majors, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, will release their earnings on Jan. 30. Northrop Grumman’s Technology Services (TS) unit completed what was likely its final quarter and last fiscal year as a dedicated, stand-alone business line offering technology, sustainment and modernization solutions in 4Q19. TS, which includes the bulk of Northrop’s technology-related services, was integrated into Northrop’s emerging Defense Systems (DS) business group, effective Jan. 1, 2020. TBR projects TS’ 4Q19 sales will continue the rebound begun in 3Q19, with year-to-year growth between 2% and 3%, bringing TS’ 4Q19 revenue to roughly $1.1 billion. Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services (IIS), the services division of Raytheon Technologies, is expected to continue expanding its sales at a robust pace, putting the wraps on a red-letter year accentuated by consistent revenue and bookings growth, record backlog levels, improved margin performance, and of course, the pending merger with United Technologies (UT). TBR projects IIS will post revenue of about $1.9 billion in 4Q19, up between 10% and 11% year-to-year.

Finally, Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) will release earnings on Jan. 31. We project BAH will expand its top line between 8% and 9% in 4Q19 to over $1.8 billion, building on the momentum established during the first half of its FY2020. BAH’s strong performance stems from traction with its technically focused solutions, increasingly infused with advanced technologies that enable the mission aims of its federal agency clientele. Operationalizing AI has clearly become a strategic growth platform for BAH; AI featured prominently in the company’s alliance activity, new contract awards and introduction of new offerings in 4Q19.

5G Strategies of T-Mobile US, Sprint Hinge on Merger

“‘I’m leaning more toward yes than no. I think the federal backing is going to help with this decision,’ Vachon said, noting that the DoJ and Federal Communications Commission already reached agreements with the companies and signed off on the transaction. Vachon is convinced that the merger is beneficial for competition. T-Mobile US will remain a disruptive player in the market, regardless of the outcome, and Sprint ‘hasn’t been very much of a threat’ and if it were to leave the market it wouldn’t have much of an impact on T-Mobile’s strategy, he said.” — SDxCentral

Timely clearance of mid-band spectrum is essential for U.S. to remain at forefront of global 5G race

TBR perspective

Significant progress has been made on 5G ecosystem development since the 2018 5G Americas Analyst Forum held last October, as commercial mobile 5G services have been launched by the four U.S. Tier 1 operators, as well as in Uruguay by state-run operator ANTEL, over the past year. However, the infancy of the 5G era in the Americas has been somewhat underwhelming due to tepid smartphone adoption, the limited range of service on millimeter wave spectrum, and lack of coverage outside major metro areas.

The U.S. is at risk of falling behind other countries, especially South Korea and China, in the global 5G race. 5G adoption is growing at a more accelerated rate in South Korea, as the country gained 2 million 5G subscribers within the first four months of commercial services being offered and reached 3 million 5G subscribers as of September. South Korea’s rapid growth is being driven by its widespread 5G coverage, which is expected to reach 80% of the population by the end of 2019, as well as operators heavily subsidizing 5G devices to offset high smartphone prices. Conversely, China will make a strong entrance into the 5G market by launching commercial services in 50 major cities in the beginning of October, with plans to deploy 100,000 5G sites by the end of 2019.

The greatest barrier to the U.S. competing at the forefront of the global 5G race is its current lack of mid-band spectrum as global operators across all major regions have already been allocated a significant amount of mid-band licenses to support initial deployments. Offering 5G services across a mix of low-band, mid-band and high-band spectrum is critical to provide optimal coverage. Though deploying services on millimeter wave spectrum is necessary for U.S. operators to realize the fastest 5G speeds, the licenses are limited by the short range of coverage they provide.

Conversely, low-band spectrum will provide the coverage range necessary for operators including AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile (Nasdaq: TMUS) to deploy nationwide 5G services in 2020, but the spectrum will not yield significantly faster speeds compared to LTE. Mid-band spectrum provides the best of both worlds, speed and range of coverage, and the acquisition of mid-band licenses will play a pivotal role in the Americas’ position in the global 5G market as well as how individual operators compete for 5G market share in their respective countries.

Nearly 200 industry analysts and representatives from well-known telecom operators and vendors convened at the 2019 5G Americas Analyst Forum to discuss the state of the developing 5G market in North America and Latin America. The event featured an opening presentation from T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray regarding 5G leadership in the Americas, a fireside chat with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, and a choice of 26 roundtable discussions focused on key 5G topics including IoT, edge computing, 5G network infrastructure and technologies, regulatory considerations, and private cellular networks. 

Investments in acquisitions and startups enrich Capgemini’s next-generation solutions portfolio and improve its competitive position

Capgemini has taken multiple steps to enhance its portfolio to drive transformations through next-generation technologies and create business value for clients. The acquisition of Altran to deliver digital transformation in the industrial sector, enhanced relationships with Microsoft around Microsoft Azure solutions and with SAP around certification of industry innovation accelerators in manufacturing and retail, and investment in startups and joint commercial activities exemplify Capgemini’s recent activities to advance its competitive position,” said Senior Analyst Elitsa Bakalova. “Offering deep industry expertise improves Capgemini’s ability to address clients’ business-specific challenges. The company will continue to experience momentum in cloud services, with cloud revenue driven by offerings in the Capgemini Cloud Platform portfolio that support clients when building, migrating and managing applications and infrastructures in cloud environments. Offering each client its entire portfolio of solutions enables Capgemini to provide holistic transformational solutions and effectively compete with peers. The expanded partnership with Microsoft around Microsoft Azure solutions will enable Capgemini to increase cloud professional services activities, especially around cloud application development and maintenance.”

Additional assessments publishing this week from our analyst teams

Apple continues to pursue both service and hardware initiatives to maintain growth. The company is leveraging services and its wide install base to grow continuous revenue streams as device refresh activity wanes amid lengthening device life cycles and slowing hardware advances. While services are growing as a cornerstone strategy for Apple, the company also remains focused on maintaining its market perception as the most advanced smartphone producer. TBR expects the iPhone 11, which is slated to be released later in 2019, to have steady sales, but Apple will likely not see breakout sales like that of the iPhone X until the release of the 2020 model, which will deliver larger hardware upgrades such as 5G enablement. — Dan Callahan, Analyst

Google doubled its revenue over the past six quarters, surpassing $2 billion in 2Q19 as the vendor migrates customers to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and attains particularly strong revenue growth from selling analytics. Google’s PaaS business will continue to drive revenue growth as enterprises integrate their hybrid environment with Anthos and leverage Google’s analytics, AI and machine learning offerings. In addition, Google supplements growth with G Suite as the company’s growing sales base brings industry-specific versions of the collaboration suite to market and cross-sells G Suite into GCP-oriented customer engagements. — Jack McElwee, Research Analyst

Cognizant has reworked its corporate strategy to emphasize the criticality of digital technologies to its growth plans. Pursuing acquisitions, such as that of Meritsoft, enables Cognizant to diversify its revenue mix, fostering new sources of digital revenues within key verticals. We expect Cognizant will maintain steady revenue growth year-to-year, largely led by demand around its digital operations capabilities.    — Kelly Lesiczka, Analyst

An integrated sales structure, paired with investments in price-competitive AI solutions and on-site presence, will help Infosys transform its brand identity. At the same time as Infosys builds a healthy pipeline, the company may need to calibrate stakeholders’ expectations around margins to sustain trust. — Boz Hristov, Senior Analyst

Reinforcing Verizon’s reputation as a premium wireless service provider will be essential for the operator to sustain revenue growth in the 5G era, as competitive pressures from T-Mobile will intensify, especially given the pending Sprint merger. Though Verizon will continue to trail T-Mobile in postpaid phone net additions over the next several years, Verizon will be able to sustain revenue growth by attracting customers willing to pay a higher price for the operator’s network coverage and premium unlimited data plans. Steve Vachon, Analyst

Sprint continues to undercut its rivals as the operator remains reliant on competitive pricing to attract subscribers given its subpar network coverage, though the company is moving away from more aggressive promotions, such as its previous Cut Your Bill in Half offer, to improve average revenue per user (ARPU). Sprint will continue to struggle to balance ARPU and subscriber growth, however, as many customers are unwilling to pay higher prices for the company’s network quality and Sprint is experiencing high churn rates from customers rolling off promotional pricing offers. — Steve Vachon

Public sector IT services spotlight: The U.S. federal earnings season continues the week of July 29 with three services-led defense contractors — Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), Leidos and ManTech — releasing their fiscal results for the second calendar quarter of 2019.

As reported on Monday, July 29, Booz Allen Hamilton delivered 10.8% year-to-year growth during 2Q19, the first quarter of its fiscal 2020, and 100% of BAH’s growth was organic as the company continues to eschew acquisitions. BAH’s strong performance in 2Q19 reflects how ideally positioned the company is to serve its federal clientele, as well as a growing number of commercial entities, with a high-value, differentiated solutions suite spanning the strategy, mission and critical IT needs of public and private sector clients alike. As a result of its strong 2Q19 year-to-year growth, BAH is also likely to be the top-performing organic growth vendor in TBR’s upcoming 2Q19 Public Sector IT Services Benchmark (publishing in early October). BAH’s growth and margin performance (operating margin of 9.8%) in 2Q19 mostly outstripped that of the trio of federal competitors that released 2Q19 earnings and fiscal performance last week: Raytheon (YTY growth of 5.3%; operating margin of 9.1%); General Dynamics Information Technology (YTY contraction of 11.6%; operating margin of 7.1%); and Northrop Grumman Technology Services (YTY contraction of 0.4%; operating margin of 10.8%). We believe BAH’s performance relates directly to its solution set, which sits at the juncture of federal agency IT and mission objectives with a differentiating blend of consulting, technology and emerging solutions.           John Caucis, Senior Analyst  

Leidos will release its earnings on Tuesday, July 30, and is expected to post top-line, year-to-year growth of between 5% and 7% to reach about $2.7 billion in 2Q19 revenue. Growth will derive from Leidos’ continued strong pace of new awards, net increases in volume across several high-profile programs, and improving win rates, which are accelerating the conversion of pipeline opportunities into bookings and revenue. Leidos should also be able to offset the wind-down of existing programs and some limited currency headwinds from unfavorable swings in the U.S. dollar. The company has guided for 2019 revenue of between $10.5 billion and $10.9 billion, implying a median 5% growth rate, and record backlog levels achieved in prior quarters positions Leidos well to achieve its projections. — John Caucis  

Finally, ManTech will release its 2Q19 fiscal performance and earnings after business hours on Wednesday, July 31. ManTech’s latest strategic acquisition (Kforce Government Solutions, or KGS) will add roughly $100 million in new revenue and expand ManTech’s opportunity set in the federal civilian segment, augmenting robust Department of Defense (DOD) and intelligence growth while inorganically boosting ManTech’s top-line growth (projected to be between 6% and 8% in 2Q19). ManTech’s top-line growth in 2Q19 should be significantly augmented by the KGS acquisition, as the purchase closed in April and immediately began to contribute inorganic revenue to ManTech’s top line. On an organic basis, classified customers continue to accelerate spend with ManTech, while spending on behalf of ManTech’s principal DOD and Intelligence Community clients continues trending upward. Prior to the KGS acquisition, ManTech tendered a 2019 outlook for full-year 2019 revenue of between $2.05 billion and $2.15 billion, implying growth of between 4.7% and 9.8% over FY18 revenue of $1.96 billion. KGS is expected to contribute between $60 million and $80 million in inorganic revenue during the latter nine months of FY19; this compelled ManTech to elevate its prior guidance for FY19 revenue to instead reach between $2.13 billion and $2.21 billion, implying growth of between 8.8% and 12.8% over FY18. — John Caucis  

Sprint Disparages Itself to Boost Prospects for T-Mobile Merger

“Quite frankly, this was a breath of fresh air,” Chris Antlitz, telecom principal analyst at Technology Business Research, told SDxCentral in a phone interview. “They are being marginalized, they can’t stay competitive, the network is not comparable, the competition has been out-competing them for years, and something has to give here.”

Full article

Competition from MVNOs and smaller rivals limits subscriber growth for Tier 1 U.S. and Canadian operators

Wireless revenue rose 2.2% year-to-year to $64 billion among U.S. operators covered in Technology Business Research Inc.’s (TBR) 4Q18 U.S. & Canada Mobile Operator Benchmark, driven by continued subscriber growth and adoption of premium smartphones. All benchmarked U.S. operators except Sprint were able to gain postpaid phone net additions in 4Q18 as opportunity remains to target first-time wireless customers in the country. Postpaid subscriber growth is also fueled by prepaid migrations as many subscribers are moving to postpaid plans for benefits such as bundled streaming services and increased LTE data limits for mobile hot spots.

4Q18 Wireless Revenue, OIBDA Margin & Year-to-year Revenue Growth

Subscriber growth for U.S. Tier 1 operators is, however, threatened by the growing momentum of new mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) entering the market. Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile and Charter’s Spectrum Mobile are attracting wireless customers via low price points and the convenience of being able to enroll in multiple services through a single provider. Altice also plans on providing wireless services in 1H19, giving the company the opportunity to cross-sell mobility services to its current residential base of over 4.5 million customers. TBR also anticipates Google Fi, which was rebranded from Project Fi in November, will gain further traction in 2019 as the brand is launching new incentives to attract customers including bring-your-own-device options for most Android and iPhone smartphone models.

Combined wireless revenue among Tier 1 Canadian operators rose 6% year-to-year to $6.9 billion due to continued subscriber growth spurred by shared data programs and expanding LTE-Advanced coverage. However, subscriber growth for Tier 1 Canadian operators is limited by mounting competition from smaller competitors. Tier 2 Canadian operators, most notably Shaw Communications’ Freedom Mobile and Quebecor’s Videotron, which now have a total of about 1.5 million and 1.1 million customers, respectively, are accelerating subscriber growth via their pricing promotions and network investments. TBR anticipates Freedom Mobile will further disrupt the Canadian wireless market in 2019 as the company will expand LTE coverage to an additional 1.3 million Canadians throughout the year in markets in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

For additional information about this research or to arrange a one-on-one analyst briefing, please contact Dan Demers at +1 603.929.1166 or [email protected].

Deeper convergence of mobility, broadband and video services creates revenue opportunities and disruption for CSPs

The digital era is bringing fundamental, disruptive changes to traditional business models for communication service providers (CSPs), including telecom operators and cable providers, as the mobility, broadband and video industries converge more deeply. These shifts are driven by the following trends, which will gain further traction over the next several years:

  • The rise of cable mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) — New entrants including Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile are attracting wireless customers via low price points and the convenience of being able to enroll in multiple services through a single provider.
  • Preference for over-the-top (OTT) video — The popularity of OTT services including Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now are contributing to video subscriber losses for cable providers and bundling opportunities for wireless operators.    
  • Wireless as a broadband replacement — Over the next several years, customers will gradually substitute traditional fixed broadband connectivity with wireless-based services due to enhanced 5G and LTE-Advanced coverage, fixed-wireless services, and increased data allotments for mobile hot spots.

These trends create both revenue opportunities and disruption for CSPs as cable providers have opportunity to take market share from telecom operators and vice-versa. Cross-selling multiple services enables CSPs to maximize revenue opportunities per customer while also helping to reduce churn. Conversely, the deeper convergence within the telecom and cable industries will create greater challenges for CSPs as broadband and video access will become more commoditized, which will make competitive pricing more crucial to attracting and retaining customers.

Graph showing 3Q18 postpaid phone net additions

Cable MVNOs are disrupting the mobility industry

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile has emerged as a stronger player within the U.S. wireless market as the brand has garnered over 1 million customers since launching in mid-2017 and has been able to consistently outperform AT&T and Sprint in postpaid phone net additions the past several quarters. Contributing to Xfinity Mobile’s success is the low price of its unlimited data plans, which are currently undercutting prices from all Tier 1 U.S. operators, for the underserved market of single-line customers. Xfinity Mobile is also attracting customers by offering pay-as-you-go pricing for $12 per GB, which provides price-sensitive customers who consume minimal data an alternative amid the market’s emphasis on unlimited data plans.

Xfinity Mobile will become a stronger competitor in the U.S. market over the next several years as it expands its retail footprint and Comcast gains additional broadband customers to which it can cross-sell wireless services. Spectrum Mobile, which became available across Charter’s footprint in September, will also disrupt the U.S. wireless market by offering similar pricing incentives as Xfinity Mobile. Additionally, Altice USA plans to launch an MVNO offering in 1H19 that will focus on serving bring-your-own-device customers, giving the company the opportunity to cross-sell mobility services to its current residential base of over 4.5 million customers.

Chart showing single-line postpaid unlimited data plans

To counter disruption from cable MVNOs, operators can capitalize on the value proposition offered by their unlimited data plans, which bundle in popular OTT streaming services as well as other incentives including high-speed data tiers for mobile hot spots. Telecom operators are also relying on the discounts provided to multiline unlimited data accounts, which are not currently offered to Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile customers, to undercut cable MVNOs.

Chart showing video services bundled with unlimited data plans

Wireless begins to disrupt the traditional fixed broadband market

Significant enhancements in wireless technology over the past few years, such as the inception of 5G, which makes millimeter-wave spectrum viable for commercial use, as well as the inventions of carrier aggregation, 256 QAM and massive MIMO, have made it economically feasible for CSPs to offer mobile broadband as an alternative to traditional fixed broadband services.

Though Verizon was a major driver of this trend with its early use of 5G fixed wireless, TBR expects more CSPs will begin to leverage their wireless assets to provide similar services in 2019 and beyond. AT&T, with its Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot, essentially provides a nomadic ultra-high-speed broadband connection leveraging 5G. T-Mobile is also looking to jump on the bandwagon, arguably in a much bigger and more market-impactful way, especially if its proposed merger with Sprint is approved. Regardless of whether the deal goes through, T-Mobile intends to leverage its mix of low-, mid- and high-band spectrum assets with the aforementioned wireless technologies to provide its own mobile broadband as an alternative to fixed broadband services.

A new phase of price competition for internet service could come to North America due to wireless. TBR also expects this trend to unfold in other developed and developing markets, especially where fixed access is not widely deployed. Offering wirelessly delivered, high-speed internet services could become a major new business for telecom operators that are in countries where internet penetration is relatively low.

Consumers will reap the greatest benefits from cable and telecom industry convergence

Though CSPs have the opportunity to create new revenue streams from the deeper convergence of mobility, broadband and video services within the cable and telecom industries, these benefits are largely outweighed by the competitive challenges spawned by industry convergence. Consumers will reap the greatest benefits from cable and telecom industry convergence as they gain more flexible service options as well as the ability to enroll in additional services from a single provider. The competition created from cable and telecom industry convergence will also spur CSPs to become more competitive in their wireless, broadband and video pricing to maintain market share.

Opportunities for wireless subscriber growth remain plentiful for U.S. operators

Cable providers are disrupting the U.S. wireless market

Subscriber growth for U.S. Tier 1 operators is being limited by the growing momentum of Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile brand, which outperformed AT&T and Sprint in postpaid phone net additions in 3Q18 and now has a base of over 1 million subscribers. Xfinity Mobile will become a stronger competitor in the U.S. market over the next several years as it expands its retail footprint and Comcast gains additional broadband customers to which it can cross-sell wireless service. Spectrum Mobile, which became available across Charter’s footprint in September, will also disrupt the U.S. wireless market by offering similar pricing incentives as Xfinity Mobile.

 

TBR’s U.S. & Canada Mobile Operator Benchmark details and compares the activities of the largest U.S. and Canadian operators, including financial performance, go-to-market initiatives and resource management strategies. Covered companies include AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile (Nasdaq: TMUS), U.S. Cellular (NYSE: USM), Rogers, Telus and Bell Mobility.

Limited availability and adoption of compatible smartphones will stall 5G’s early momentum

Anticipation is building as mobile 5G networks will be widely deployed in the United States over the next couple of years. As the wireless market continues to shift to unlimited data plans, the capacity provided by 5G will enable operators to more cost-effectively offer these programs over the long term while better handling network congestion. Operators will also be able to capitalize on the cost efficiencies of mobile 5G by introducing new premium unlimited tiers, with incentives including higher data limits before speeds are throttled as well as increased data tiers for mobile hotspot coverage, both of which enhance plan value.

Chart showing initial mobile 5G timeline in the U.S. for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint

Though operators are eager to realize the network efficiencies 5G will provide, they will not be able to reap these benefits until consumers migrate to 5G-compatible devices. Adoption of 5G smartphones will be hampered by lengthening device upgrade cycles in the U.S. as consumers are holding on to their devices for longer periods as features offered on new handsets are not deemed compelling enough to justify their rising price tags. Migration to 5G smartphones will also be slowed as certain flagship handsets, particularly the iPhone, will likely not offer 5G-capable models until 2020.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle to 5G smartphone adoption will be 5G itself, as the initial capabilities offered by the technology will not be a strong enough incentive for many customers to upgrade their devices. Although offering mobile 5G services will help to attract some subscribers craving faster speeds, the difference in user experience compared to LTE-Advanced will be minimal, at least initially. Early 5G smartphone customers will mostly benefit from reduced download times for large files such as high-definition video and advanced gaming applications, which will not be a significant enough incentive to encourage wide-scale purchases of 5G smartphones. Advanced consumer smartphone use cases requiring accelerated data speeds and ultra-low latency offered by 5G, such as augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), are still being developed and will not become commercially available until the early 2020s.

Graph showing postpaid upgrade rates for Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T for 2016, 2017 and estimated 2018

To foster 5G smartphone adoption, TBR expects U.S. operators will prolong the financing terms of their equipment installment plans — from two years to three years — to ease the cost of purchasing 5G smartphones as many devices will likely exceed a $1,000 price point. TBR also anticipates operators will become more reliant on device promotions, such as BOGO (buy one, get one) offers and significantly discounted handsets, to accelerate upgrade rates during the infancy of the 5G era. Though these promotions will pressure wireless margins in the short term, operators will justify these initiatives by the long-term network efficiencies they will ultimately realize from 5G smartphone adoption.

Chart showing announced 5G devices in the U.S. as of Dec. 5, 2018, for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile