Verizon’s LTE push is a lesson learned from Apple

Brace yourselves folks, Verizon has made its LTE strategy clear, and it’s designed to leave AT&T standing in the dust. Focused on becoming the leading US telecommunications provider, Verizon is positioned to gain both market share and ARPU (average revenue per unit) with its demand that LTE be in all future smatphones and tablets they sell.

While Verizon is winning the LTE race for network coverage, with service in 195 markets reaching 200 million people, their new LTE-only policy is certainly bold, as reports suggest that only 5% of devices shipping in 2012 will be LTE capable. So why such a strong play? Because Verizon has learned a lesson that started with the iPhone and will likely end with the iPad.

Picking the right horse

This aggressive telco vs. vendor tactic has been leveraged previously within the telecommunications industry only it was Apple calling the shots, not Verizon. Historically, telcos have been in control when it comes to their business strategy, network and device lineup. With the groundbreaking launch of the original iPhone by AT&T on June 29, 2007, this all changed. AT&T was selling gold and Verizon was left selling chocolate.

When Apple originally designed the iPhone, it was tailored to the GSM platform. In the early stages of iPhone development, Verizon had the opportunity to pick up the device, but refused to meet Apple’s demands for a phone initially tailored to the GSM platform. As a result, Steve Jobs finalized an exclusive 5-year deal with AT&T. After a rocky start, the iPhone eventually redefined the handset market, gaining market share quarter after quarter, and giving AT&T a competitive advantage over Verizon.

Verizon’s inability to offer the iPhone between 2007-2010 stung for two reasons: the anxiety of losing subscribers to AT&T, and the reality of going against the grain maintaining a CDMA network. With no confirmation from Apple that they would produce a CDMA compatible iPhone, Verizon began to strategically build its next generation network: LTE.

Evolutionary planning

Verizon’s decision to put all its eggs into the LTE basket was a big move. An evolution of the GSM/UMTS standards, LTE required Verizon to buy new spectrum and build costly new base stations separate from their current network. But by adopting the natural evolutionary path of GSM/UMTS carriers (carriers like AT&T), Verizon could protect itself against any possiblility of missing out on the next big device. (even though Verizon managed to secure a CDMA iPhone 4 in Q1 2011, revolutionizing its network was a runaway train that had already left the station. And getting a CDMA iPhone 4 does not guarantee a CDMA iPhone 5). And being first to the LTE party in North America means being best prepared to capitalize on the networks revenue benefits.

Customers using LTE as their preferred network receive enhanced connectivity and faster data, but they in turn provide carriers an increase in potential revenue. The faster customers can click pages, send email and up/download files means more data transferred. AT&T reported post-paid Q3 2011 ARPU of $63.69, ahead of Verizon’s post-paid Q3 2011 ARPU of $54.89. Neck and neck with subscriber market share, Verizon is bell bent on beating AT&T for more revenue per unit. Having spent billions of dollars laying the foundation, Verizon’s ammunition for 2012 will be its LTE network roll out.

It’s no secret that telcos continue to see revenue margins soften on long distance and out of bucket minutes. With that in mind, building a gateway to increase data consumption is the most strategic way for any telco to safeguard market growth and revenue. We’ve already started seeing adjustments to data plan pricing, which is typically positioned as providing more value, but in reality this is a strategy to bring in more revenue while getting consumers hooked on loads of data.

Just one more thing…

Enter tablets, expected to be the next data hungry devices after the Siri-armed iPhone 4S. Consumers are absolutely obsessed with tablets! Research predicts that 2012 will be the start of two tablet households, less than a one year after the launch of Apple’s iPad. Analysts expect that tablet purchases will help carriers close airtime revenue shortfall by activating more data-only subscribers. In the future, telcos will not be paying their bills servicing only the smartphone market; it will be a combination of consumer tablet connectivity and app data hogs like Siri found on the future smartphones that will be their bread and butter. Consumer tablets like the iPad 3 and smartphones like the iPhone 5.

Today, Verizon is forced to make the most of an expensive situation. It knows that LTE smartphone support is the first step to convert their consumer base onto LTE networks. Consequently, to avoid maxed out COA (cost of acquisition) budgets by subsidizing CDMA smartphones today, which will eventually be upgraded to LTE smartphones, Verizon is simply skipping straight to LTE hardware on their product roadmap.

Is it that easy? Bet big on Apple and the future of data revenue to outmanouvre and outgrow your competitors? Likely not, but it’s not unheard of for Apple to be in cahoots with telcos prior to launching a device. Coincidentally, days after Verizon announced its aggressive LTE hardware stance, Apple’s Tim Cook released a statement confirming that the iPad3 will have LTE access. It makes you wonder, did Verizon simply plan really well or are Apple and Verizon up to something?

This could be telco/vendor canoodling at it’s best, or Verizon’s attempt exert their influence for accelerate convergence. Who knows, but little things like Apple and Verizon announcing their quarterly financial results on the same day have to make you wonder.

About the author

Jennifer Daly

Jennifer has over 4 years experience working in the telecommunications industry, most recently at Rogers liaising with companies such as Best Buy and Apple (and many more) to help successfully launch cable and wireless products. During her tenure she had the opportunity to work alongside top executives who taught her a thing or two about the telco industry. Jennifer is generally always found talking, but really loves talking telco.

  • Anonymous

    Hum, very intersting article Jennifer.  So, you like talking Telco, hum?  Okay, lets get started.  Yes, we know AT&T is in first place with Verizon gaining.  But, you left out the under-dog…Sprint.  Yes, I know lately they have taken a hit in the market place. 

    But, let’s take a few minutes to look at them, not on a ARPU, but the big picture.  As you know billions of these little toys are hitting the market place even as we speak.  But we both know that providers do what is called…Bandwidth Throttling.

    Why do provider, do bandwidth throttling?  When a provider get to a point where the customer is using too much bandwidth, they slow down their bandwidth and then start it up again and again   So it makes it look like there something wrong with the download and the only thing they are doing is shooting themselves in the foot because customers want instant gratification.

    But, Sprint is rated number one in customer service…why?  Because no one call and complains about dropped calls, slow speeds, or their bill.  The main reason for no dropped calls or throttling is because they ivested in a company called Clearwire.

    Yes, there’s a really good chance that you don’t like them….like most investors, but Sprint was smart investing in them because now they have 3/4 more bandwidth then AT&T and more 3/4 more bandwitdh then Verizon.  As for T-mobile…well, good luck.

    Okay, so what’s the big deal?  Well, as you know, billions of these new toys are hitting the market and new customers are going to use more bandwitdh.  And who has bandwidth in the LTE range?  Clearwire!  So in the long run, who really is the winner?  Clearwire!  Thanks for the talk!

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  • Anonymous

    Hi UDEM,

    Thanks for reading my post!

    Sprint is definitely the underdog when it comes to the American telco market- I agree with you there and they play a critical role in keeping a balance in the US telco market place.

    I hear you on the bandwidth throttling- it can be a pain. Carriers do this on their ISP side of the business to regulate congestion. This is so all users can get a piece of the pie. This is important to them as they provide the service to all the homes on Main Street not just the household with 3 teenagers all downloading movies. 

    When it comes to wireless technology, bandwidth throttling doesn’t really come into play in the same way.  Wireless technology has a natural way of throttling on it’s own due to tower node ability to transfer at X speed and handset connectivity. As such the concept of bandwidth throttling doesn’t have much to do with dropped calls. I am afraid that is just poor tower connectivity to the users handset.   

    CSAT (Customer SATisfaction) is really a here nor there measurement. For every disgruntled Sprint customer you’ll find a Verizon/AT&T disgruntled customer and vice versa. It’s impossible to compare telco to telco CSAT. The best reportable metric to consider is churn. However, that has various components… price, handset line up etc. And when it comes to churn Sprint quarter over quarter keeps reporting a loss of subscribers.   

    When it comes to having more or less (3/4) “bandwidth” than Verizon and AT&T. In this sense, we talk about transfer rate. I have to disagree with you, AT&T and Verizon definitely have a much fast network than Sprint. In fact, Sprint rarely makes the leader board. And on the contrary, T-Mobile usually outranks Sprint and even outranked AT&T on 3G speeds in 2009. 

    As for Clearwire, Sprint & LTE: David Owen from Sprint confirmed Jan 2012 that Sprint will not have access to Clearwire’s spectrum for the purposes of expanding Sprint’s LTE network. They have stated on their Sprint PCS base is the only segment that will have access to the 1900MHz available to them at this point in time. 

    Sprint will probably continue to be the underdog in the LTE race, they are simply too far behind spectrum auction purchases to adequately compete in the next 2-3 years with AT&T and Verizon when it comes to network coverage and speed.

    But I always have a keen eye on the underdog and will continue to watch Sprint. They may not be pulling in revenue like AT&T (Q3 2011 $31.5B) or Verizon (Q3 2011 $27.9B) but their Q3 2011 $8.13B is certainly no chump change. They also play a key role in catering to the low cost customer segment (leveraging their prepaid business), especially during the US recession! 

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