After a COVID-related decline in CapEx in 2020, US operators returned almost exactly to 2019 levels in 2021, in line with guidance provided at the beginning of the year.
Operators are planning to increase CapEx by double digits in 2022, with the increase being driven by midband 5G deployments and increasing appetite for fiber from both large and small operators.
An analysis of US operator financial results based on Q4 2021 earnings releases shows that CapEx in 2021 came in nearly identically to 2019 levels after a COVID-driven dip in 2020. The nine network operators shown below – all of which spent more than $1 billion in CapEx – spent $70.6 billion in 2021 CapEx, up 5.2% from 2020 and nearly flat from 2019. GlobalData estimates that the big three that account for nearly 70% of total CapEx – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA – spent roughly $49 billion, up 7% from 2020. Continue reading “Midband 5G and Fiber Drive Increased 2022 CapEx Guidance from US Operators”→
• With $65 billion in federal funding up for grabs, states in the U.S. will now have to navigate a set of complex regulatory hurdles in order to get projects off the ground.
• Two industry associations plan to introduce a playbook to help speed up this process. In the process, they hope to make the case for fiber as the best deployment option for many rural broadband scenarios.
With visions of government funding dancing in their heads, two U.S. fiber advocacy groups announced plans in December to publish a “Broadband Infrastructure Playbook” next month. The playbook is designed to help educate state governments spending some of the $65 billion in deployment funds allocated in the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden in November.
The two groups – the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association – are preparing the playbook to help demystify the complex and convoluted funding mechanisms laid out by the newly-formed “Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment” (BEAD) program that will require each state to implement its own plan. While final awards will vary widely, each state will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for broadband infrastructure development. The near-term catch is that every state is required to coordinate with local governments and submit a five-year action plan in order to qualify for funding.
Compared to most other countries (including the UK, many EU countries, Australia, and India) in which the central government directly administers subsidies, or funds wholesale national broadband networks, the U.S. plan vastly overcomplicates matters through its state-by state process. While including state governments into the process may have been necessary for passage, it risks delaying the process of subsidy distribution and broadband deployments and may open the way for more political horse trading and lobbying on behalf of various interest groups. In that context, the Broadband Infrastructure Playbook should be seen with two lenses: 1) as a badly-needed information source to help states navigate a complicated funding process, and 2) as an opportunity for the FBA and NTCA to influence the process in favor of fiber deployments.
The playbook will provide a detailed overview of the statutory requirements associated with the new broadband infrastructure law and offer recommendations for how states should structure their broadband programs. Templates will also be provided to help accelerate the process of creating state funding applications and competitive bidding evaluations.
Specifically, the FBA and NTCA have indicated the playbook will provide recommendations in the following areas:
• Overall program plan, sequencing and timing of activities
• Recommendations on how states can best incorporate federal grant programs
• Key process and information requirements (e.g., in the mapping of underserved areas, the management of the award process and post-award monitoring)
• Organizational structure, scale and distribution of responsibilities
• Interfaces with other state government departments and external bodies
The FBA and NTCA are also calling for both states and broadband network providers to participate in the research for the playbook and share lessons learned from earlier funding programs. The two associations plan to issue the playbook in early 2022 in order to give states the opportunity to have systems in place in tie for the announcement of final funding awards, expected in May 2022.
While the playbook should provide an important tool in addressing the digital divide, the motives of the FBA and NTCA are of course not entirely altruistic. The FBA in particular represents dozens of telecommunications infrastructure vendors eager to break ground on a host of government-funded rural broadband contracts that are likely to extend well through the remainder of this decade. Rural broadband can come in many flavors, notably fixed wireless, and the two groups are keen to steer many of those investment decisions to fiber. The to-be-released playbook can play a vital role in that regard.
Verizon will exceed its 2021 plans of adding 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites that operate at mmWave frequencies.
While mmWave buildout will continue, Verizon signaled that its 2022 5G buildout plans will center around the C-band spectrum it obtained at auction earlier in 2021.
U.S. operator Verizon announced in December it has already exceeded its previously announced 2021 target of building 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites using so-called millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. However, the company also left a clear signal to the industry that it is ready to devote more attention to providing 5G in midband spectrum in 2022 and beyond. Continue reading “Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022”→
SoftBank plans to issue a sustainability bond to help fund its high-altitude platform station (HAPS) project designed to enable Internet service in currently hard-to-reach locales.
Investors may be reluctant to invest in the new bond because of the long timeframe to commercial viability, lack of a clear path to profit, and emerging competition from LEO competitors like Starlink and Project Kuiper.
Japanese investment management conglomerate SoftBank Corporation announced it will issue a sustainability bond to fund its novel HAPS project designed to enable Internet service in currently hard-to-reach locales. Sustainability bonds are becoming an increasingly popular way for telecoms operators to fund environmental initiatives; however, investors may be skeptical of SoftBank’s plans to use a sustainability bond to fund development of its still-unproven HAPS model. Continue reading “SoftBank Sustainability Bond Plans May Face Skeptical Investment Community”→
• In a new report, Vodafone warned that current initiatives underway by the UK government are insufficient to help meet aggressive carbon emission reduction goals, including a 2035 78% reduction target.
• Vodafone and its research partner WMI Economics offered solutions designed to help jumpstart progress on these aggressive goals by deploying 5G and IoT to a host of vertical segments, notably agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation.
UK telecom operator Vodafone warned in September that the UK government has much more to do to meet aggressive emissions reduction targets that call for a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2020. The company believes its Internet of Things (IoT) solutions can help.
In a new report issued in conjunction with political communications consultancy WPI Economics, Vodafone pointed to slow progress in important sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, and transport where IoT could potentially deliver important progress. In these three sectors alone, Vodafone estimates that existing IoT technology has the ability to reduce between 11.7 million and 17.4 million metric tons in annual greenhouse gas emissions – at the high-end, that would represent 4% of total UK emissions, or approximately the total emissions in the Northeast of England. The benefits of IoT vary by population density – Vodafone estimates that in city centers, 87% of the benefit would come from smart transportation solutions; by contrast, agriculture would drive 38% of emission reductions in rural areas.
TOTAL POTENTIAL ANNUAL CO2 SAVINGS FROM DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
BY SECTOR AND SCENARIO
Source: Vodafone/WPI Economics “Connecting for Net Zero: Addressing the climate crisis through digital technology” (September 2021)
In order to fully realize these emissions reductions, Vodafone issued a call to action for the UK government. Among its recommendations:
• Set clearer targets and benchmarks for the adoption of digital technology within the company’s 2050 zero net emissions strategy.
• Incentivize adoption of IoT and 5G technologies in key sectors to accelerate emissions reductions.
• Increase the weight given to carbon reduction technologies and vendors’ internal carbon reduction targets in procurement processes.
• Expand the role of UK programs such as Digital Catapult and Connected Places Catapult that are tasked with accelerating digital technology innovation and adoption in high impact sectors of the economy.
• Allocate £500 million of public funding to regional innovation centers focused specifically on IoT and 5G applications that can reduce carbon emissions.
• Enable interoperability among solutions by introducing regulation to drive common security and data standards in IoT devices.
• Introduce a regulatory and policy framework that “creates the right signals for investment” in mobile networks across the UK.
For all the focus on the lead-up to COP26, the next annual UN climate change conference happening in Glasgow, Scotland in November, Vodafone also offers another, less altruistic rationale for focusing on 5G-based digital solutions to reduce carbon emissions: jobs. According to the September report, Vodafone estimates that 5G could add £6.3 billion to the value of UK manufacturing by 2030 and create 175,000 additional jobs across the economy.
AT&T announced a new initiative designed to help its customers dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The company still has work to do on internal ‘greenification.’
Verizon is taking a different approach, issuing its second and third $1 billion green bonds recently to fund a host of renewable energy contracts.
AT&T arguably took a leadership position among U.S. telecommunication operators, announcing August 31 that it will drive a reduction of a gigaton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions —1 billion metric tons — by 2035, in conjunction with a consortium of partners that includes Microsoft, Equinix, Duke Energy, and a number of research universities. A gigaton is equal to roughly 15% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of global emissions based on 2020 estimates. Continue reading “AT&T and Verizon Showcase Two Approaches to Environmental Sustainability”→
Through midyear, U.S. network operators have performed as expected on capital expenditures, posting a modest increase in spend over last year’s COVID-dampened investment. T-Mobile USA stands out with a large year-to-year increase as it embarks on aggressive 5G buildout plans.
H2 2021 spending appears likely to also be up slightly compared to 2020; however, as evidenced by revised AT&T guidance, looming supply chain challenges could stymy some plans, particularly in fiber deployment.
A GlobalData analysis of U.S. operator financial results based on mid-year 2021 earnings releases shows capital expenditures (CapEx) spending increased just over 7% compared to COVID-impacted H1 2020. In total, the nine publicly reported carriers spent $38.5 billion in CapEx. GlobalData estimates that the big three operators that account for nearly 70% of total U.S. CapEx – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA – spent just over $26 billion, up 6.1% from H1 2020. Continue reading “H1 2021 CapEx Up Modestly for U.S. Operators, but Supply Chain Challenges Loom”→
Samsung has traditionally found itself outside of the sphere of influence with European operators, but a combination of emerging vRAN and O-RAN technologies and geopolitics is creating a new opportunity.
The company’s O-RAN deal with Vodafone UK, announced in June, is small in size but could represent the beginning of a long tail of opportunity.