T-Mobile CEO dishes on 5G enterprise, ‘torture test’ coverage goals

After years of pretty much picking up the crumbs left by rivals, T-Mobile now sees its 5G Advanced Network Solutions (ANS) launch with Dell, Ericsson and Nokia as a way to wind its way into the offices of key enterprise decision makers who can give it some meaningful business.

The “un-carrier” launched ANS on Monday, the same day T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert appeared at the J.P. Morgan investor conference, where he reiterated T-Mobile’s goal of growing its 10% share in the enterprise space to 20% by 2025.

“One of the things that we know we need to do as a non-incumbent in the enterprise space is to win much more strategic relationships with the corner office, the CIOs, the CEOs, whereas, to get that 10 [percent] share, frankly we had been focused much more on just simply bidding some RFPs,” he said.

Previously when companies put out RFPs, as a small non-incumbent, “we’d come in with a good network and a great value and they’d toss us some” of the business, in part so that the enterprise could then use it as leverage to renegotiate their deals with AT&T or Verizon.  

Now when T-Mobile wins bids, “we’re winning the whole kit and kaboodle and in order to do that, you have to have a relationship,” and the 5G ANS is a big step in “us having a strategic relationship with the corner office.”

5G ANS services like mobile edge compute and dedicated networks are important businesses on their own with their own return. But “on the other hand, it’s a kind of a two-fer,” he said, in that while building a business in 5G network services, T-Mobile has an opportunity, with the more strategic relationships, to win an outsized share of the smartphone and tablets business with governments and corporations, he said.  

“We’re in active deployments and trials” with an unspecified number of Fortune 50 companies, some of which he suggested people might be surprised to learn, including with major airlines, hospitality services and a “major entertainment company in Florida.”

T-Mobile is still the only one today with a standalone (SA) 5G network core, which it launched two years ago, and most of the advanced 5G services require a 5G core rather than an LTE core. CIOs know of this, and they’re seeking T-Mobile out like they never did before. “They’re asking us to sit down and talk about this,” he said.

He said some of the most famous companies, who will feel more comfortable talking about it when they’re closer to scaled deployments, and some of the biggest transportation companies in the world are picking T-Mobile after checking out and testing phones from all the carriers.

Coverage & torture tests  

In both the consumer and enterprise space, T-Mobile is very careful about saying it’s got the best 5G network in the nation. But for many years, Verizon and AT&T offered coverage and consistency and that’s why a lot of people picked them.

At what point does T-Mobile talk about having the best network overall?

“I give Verizon more credit than AT&T on that front,” Sievert said, noting that T-Mobile has caught up with AT&T on a lot of metrics. “Verizon does have the most square miles covered in the country and for us, what matters is being able to get signal to the places, the torture test places, and this is sort of a relatively new priority for us. A couple years ago, we were focused on population, just get the population covered.”

Indeed, about five years ago, T-Mobile was all about closing the gap on the last 700,000 square miles where Verizon had LTE and T-Mobile didn’t. Nowadays, it’s all about 5G, and T-Mobile boasts mightily about its coverage advantages over both Verizon and AT&T.

But Sievert said T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray and Chief Network Officer Ulf Ewaldsson pivoted from a population-driven obsession to a model called “customer-driven coverage,” where they’re looking at their core customers and where they go that’s a “torture test” moment.

For example, Sievert said he was at Mount Rainier National Park over the weekend. He ran a speed test in the national park lodge and got 276 Mbps. That’s a highly remote place – no one lives there –  but it matters, and those are the kinds of places that are a focus now.

“We are still the only ones with a 5G strategy in smaller markets and rural areas,” he said, with the goal of reaching 260 million people with Ultra Capacity 5G this year.

Is there a time when T-Mobile will be in those remote places where Verizon is now in terms of square mile coverage? “Yes, absolutely,” he said, especially as it relates to the places that matter most to customers.  

When an operator goes into a market, there may be a stretch of rural highway – say, a factory where a lot of the population works –  and if they don’t have that covered, “you can’t win,” he said. “You have to know where those places are that matter to people, and that’s what our focus is about.”