Verizon in Need of Rescue

By Doug Mohney May 30, 2014

Over the past year, it has become clear what AT&T and T-Mobile US stand for.  Sprint is looking for a merger with T-Mobile.  It leaves Verizon in need of a rescue, because the company is leaning on marketing tricks more than technology accomplishments.

AT&T shook off its failed merger with T-Mobile and motored on. It now proposes a merger with DirecTV to compete with the likes of Comcast, has successfully started deployment of Voice over LTE (VoLTE), launched gigabit fiber in response to Google Fiber, and is flirting with municipalities for future high speed broadband deployments.   The carrier is in it to win it.

Upstart T-Mobile is happy to be the "Un-carrier."  It was the first to deploy HD voice nearly 18 months ago, has rattled AT&T and Verizon with aggressive pricing and no-contract plans, was the first to announce a real, 100 percent VoLTE deployment in Seattle.  Speculation is ripe as to what "Un-carrier 5.0" is –which goes to show, whatever it turns out to be, people are paying attention.

Since Softbank bought Sprint, the longer term goal of Softbank appears to be merging Sprint with T-Mobile and somehow making all the different parts and pieces work through sheer mass.   With all due respect to Masayoshi Son, Softbank would have been better off buying T-Mobile.  The current leadership at T-Mobile is clearly geared to innovative thinking, while Sprint is, well Sprint. If Softbank had let Sprint go into financial trouble as it appeared where the company was going, Softbank would have been able to get a better price on the distressed assets.

Verizon has stated it has no interest in purchasing DISH Network, instead focusing on over-the-top programming. Its actions over the past two years illustrate that it wants as many customers as possible on either fiber or wireless.  If copper goes bad, Verizon has shown no inclination to fix it, even in a major event wiping out facilities such as Hurricane Sandy.  At the same time, it stopped FiOS deployments.  Cities such as Boston, Baltimore and Buffalo want fiber to the home, but Verizon isn't going to provide it. 

At some point, Verizon's abandon-in-place strategy is going to come back to bite it. Google or even AT&T may see an opportunity to gain market share and customers in abandoned secondary markets while gaining public relations brownie points by providing gigabit services.  If the private sector can't effectively deliver gigabit services, it greases the hinges for bandwidth-starved municipalities to deploy and own fiber.  I'd go so far as to suggest a company like ADTRAN might be tempted to leverage its rural outreach to play matchmaker with municipalities looking to get into the fiber business.

Finally, Verizon was an early and often advocate for VoLTE.  Now it appears it may be one of the last carriers to turn up VoLTE, with AT&T and T-Mobile beating it to the finish line.

If there's any one thing that indicates when Verizon took its wrong turn, it might have been its obsession with LTE as an "everything" solution from replacing copper to being embedded in household appliances for new business models. 

Analysts and Verizon executives may want to look at Sprint's history as a harbinger of its future. Sprint was a strong player in broadband and had wireline holdings.  It chose to emphasize wireless rather than continue to maintain a strong presence in wireline and now looking to buy T-Mobile to compete.  Who will be available for Verizon to buy a decade from now? Or will Verizon be searching a company breakup and buyers?

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Editor

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