More Spectrum = Less Investment in London

America is approaching the #1 position in 5G coverage in the West. T-Mobile is reaching 100 million pops this month with 2.5 GHz spectrum. It is on track for 200 million in 2021. Almost all important 5G builds are in mid-band, 2.5 GHz – 4.2 GHz and T-Mobile has the only large holding in the U.S.  

D.C. assumes that releasing 270 MHz more mid-band spectrum will increase investment. A provocative empirical study of Greater London suggests the opposite was true in 4G rollouts. Telcos with more spectrum built 42% fewer sites in dense urban areas. 

With more spectrum, a cell site can serve more subscribers. That means the company needs fewer cells to deliver enough capacity.  

We find that MNOs with double the bandwidth use 42% fewer eNBs on average in dense urban environment (for approximately similar market shares). This difference decreases down to 27% and 23% fewer eNBs in lower density urban and suburban areas, respectively.

In less dense areas, a telco needs more towers for coverage rather than capacity. Increased spectrum has only a limited effect on how far the signal reaches. More cells are needed.

That’s why almost all telcos have substantial unused capacity in rural areas. They must have towers to cover the territory but rarely have enough use to use the capacity they have.

Separately, I disagree with Washington’s assumption that the additional spectrum will have a large effect on U.S. 5G coverage. For at least two years, Verizon and AT&T will be concentrating on matching T-Mobile’s service in the major cities. T-Mobile is rapidly building to 280+ million pops; the others will strain to catch up and will not do much in areas T-Mobile doesn’t already cover.

More spectrum is a good thing and will bring down the cost of duplicating T-Mobile’s network. That will significantly reduce the capital spending requirements, The government will collect tens of billions. Verizon and AT&T shareholders will benefit from the reduced investment requirements.

U.S. 5G coverage will be rapid because T-Mobile has strong incentive to extend its advantage.

How Does Spectrum Affect Mobile Network Deployments? Empirical Analysis Using Crowdsourced Big Data

1Department of Signals, Systems and Radiocommunications, Universidad Polit├ęcnica de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
2Department of Geography and Geoinformation Sciences, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
Corresponding author: Zoraida Frias (
The work of Zoraida Frias and Luis Mendo was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, under Grant
ABSTRACT Despite the growing trend towards the use of big data methodologies, there is still limited
application of such techniques to understand how spectrum is used in mobile networks. In this paper we
analyse how low (<1 GHz) and high (>1 GHz) frequency spectrum is used in 4G networks in urban areas,
in relation to eNodeB density, available bandwidth, Reference Signal Received Power (RSRP) and Reference
Signal Received Quality (RSRQ). We present a method to analyse the strategies used by Mobile Network
Operators (MNOs) to deal with traffic congestion, and the degree to which they must densify their networks
depending on their spectrum portfolio. Using crowdsourced data from 2017 from a popular mobile app,
we apply this method to Greater London. We find that the fraction of sites that fully use all available bands
to the MNO range from 2% to 20%. Additionally, MNOs with large bandwidth use 42% fewer sites on
average in dense urban environments. This difference decreases in suburban areas to 23% fewer sites. The
lowest frequencies in each eNodeB tend to exhibit lower RSRP values, as they are often used to serve
cell-edge users. These frequencies also show lower RSRQ values because of higher interference caused
by neighbouring cells. Similarly, large (high frequency) bandwidth improves RSRQ as it allows for fewer
users per MHz, which reduces interference and enables larger cell sizes. We conclude that in dense urban
environments, the available bandwidth, rather than propagation properties, determines the preferred band for
network deployment by MNOs.

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