5G is a real moment of decision for smaller wireless networks. We all know how 5G is sweeping across the industry, increasing the wireless footprint and changing customer expectations. Going forward, every wireless carrier must offer 5G or they risk losing their customers. However, 5G is a massive investment that many small wireless carriers either can’t make or are not willing to make.
So, we will see three different options going forward. One, they will upgrade to 5G. Two, they can continue as a 4G only player for as long as they can. Three, they call be acquired by larger carriers. We will likely see plenty of each occurring in the coming years.
Many smaller wireless carriers will not upgrade to 5G
Moving to 5G is very expensive and time consuming for carriers. I think many smaller carriers will delay or avoid the upgrade altogether. As crazy as that sounds, they already have the least demanding customers in the industry. It will be a while, if ever, for these customers to want 5G enough to leave. They prefer the 4G world at a lower price.
I would say most of these smaller wireless networks are family-owned businesses. It you recall, wireless was like this in its first few decades. Loads of smaller networks. Over time, the acquisition wave changed the industry. Today, the big three networks handle the vast majority of customers.
However, there are still many smaller networks in small towns and rural areas. These may be attractive to larger carriers to strengthen their rural reach.
You see, even though the big carriers are huge, nationwide wireless networks, the entire wireless industry partners with other wireless carriers, large and small to get coverage everywhere.
Wireless co-opetition means large and small carriers compete and partner
The wireless industry is co-opetition. Large and smaller carriers both compete with each other and partner with each other at the same time.
Large and smaller players partner, so all their customers can reach every nook and cranny in the USA. It’s a strange model, but it has worked well for decades.
5G is exciting and will be what customers want. However, it does not occur overnight. It takes time for each generation of wireless to reach the entire marketplace, and it takes time for new apps and ideas using 5G to make it a critical choice for customers.
There is always the first wave of adopters. Many industries and professions need 5G speeds today. However, it’s not yet necessary for the average user.
So, expect 5G to take the same path as 4G and 3G. It’s not like flipping a switch and transforming to 5G. It will take time, work and billions of dollars.
It will start, then spread over the several years. Then we’ll start to talk about 6G. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s stick with the 5G question.
Wireless carriers moving to 5G have a competitive advantage
Large or small wireless carriers who make the move to 5G have a competitive advantage. That means large carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and midsize carriers like US Cellular and C Spire Cellular. There are also plenty of smaller wireless providers in smaller geographic markets.
The small carriers who make the expensive 5G upgrade will have a similar competitive advantage. Similar to the big guys.
It’s the small carriers who don’t upgrade to 5G who are at risk.
5G will become next wireless standard moving forward
Bottom line, 5G will become the standard in this industry going forward. So, that’s why every competitor must make the decision to upgrade to 5G or to sell their operation to a larger competitor who will.
5G is bigger, more encompassing and more important to both the wireless industry, and other industries like automotive with self-driving cars, healthcare with TeleHealth, retail and so much more.
In fact, many other industries will upgrade and transform using 5G and that will change the customer experience going forward. That will change the competitive nature and makeup of industry after industry.
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Dish are making the 5G upgrade investment
Larger wireless carriers like AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are making the 5G investment. This turns the heat up on smaller carriers to follow.
Smaller wireless carriers are at a disadvantage. Upgrading will cost many more than they can afford. This is why many smaller carriers will be acquired by larger carriers.
The USA has three major wireless networks today, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. Dish Network was supposed to be the number four, but they are moving ahead with the speed of oozing molasses.
However, these four wireless carriers may or may not be interested in acquiring strategic assets of smaller carriers depending on the geographic location, the technology and the price.
US Cellular, C Spire, Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile, Altice Mobile
Then there are the mid-sized carriers like US Cellular, C Spire Wireless and so on. There are also resellers like Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile and Altice Mobile, but I don’t think they will be in the market to acquire smaller wireless networks.
There are also plenty of smaller wireless carriers in smaller cities and regions around the country. These are the small-time operators or resellers who don’t have the deep pockets to upgrade to 5G.
These are the companies to keep an eye on.
Any way we slice it, the wireless industry is going through a revolution. 5G is transforming everything. Now, smaller carriers have a critical choice to make. Do they invest in their own 5G technology upgrade or do they sell?
I get the sense we will see plenty of activity all over the map in the next few years.
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