Altice’s 19,000 small cells in Long Island don’t help Sprint’s network much, say analysts

Altice, a cable provider that acquired the former companies Suddenlink and Cablevision, is offering an MVNO wireless service that rides on Sprint’s network. Altice recently has deployed 19,000 small cells in Long Island for the benefit of both Sprint and Altice wireless customers. But according to some new analysis from New Street Research, the small cells haven’t done much to improve coverage.

With its combined brands, Altice USA’s footprint includes the New York City tri-state area, as well as several midwestern and southern states. New Street’s latest research is based on a survey of 1,000 households in Altice’s target markets as well as data from network testing company Tutela.

The Tutela data showed little evidence of improvement in Sprint’s network performance in Long Island, despite the deployment of the 19,000 small cells. 

“The network is disappointing,” wrote the New Street analysts. “Based on the Tutela data and our own speed tests, it doesn’t seem like the deployment of 19,000 small cells has improved Sprint’s network much. There is little evidence of improvement year over year; Sprint’s network in Long Island appears worse than in the rest of the country, and Sprint still lags the other national carriers in Long Island.”

Altice’s agreement to install 19,000 small cells on Sprint’s network is a “unique relationship,” said New Street Research analyst Spencer Kurn. He said one of the biggest problem with densifying a network with small cells is going through the process of zoning, securing siting, permitting and regulations. “Cable companies already have the public right of way with poles and strands of aerial cables,” said Kurn. Most the 19,000 small cells that Altice deployed are small antennas hung on cable strands.

“Historically, cable companies have been reluctant to open their infrastructure to wireless carriers to deploy small cells," he added. "Altice is unique in that they did this for Sprint in return for a really attractive wireless MVNO.”

RELATED: Charter, Comcast could deploy strand-mounted wireless small cells

Kurn added, “Sprint’s network has always lagged the other three carriers in terms of network performance. The primary reason has been the amount of low frequency spectrum they have and the amount of nodes. We had thought that Altice deploying 19,000 small cells would really close the gap, but the data doesn’t show that. Sprint still lags other carriers by a pretty wide margin.”

Long Island has historically been a tough market to get capacity in due to its stringent zoning laws. “Undoubtedly the 19,000 small cells enhance the speeds of Sprint’s network,” said Kurn. “But it’s very possible the absence of the low-frequency spectrum really limits the range of Sprint’s network. The small cells aren’t going to improve that that much. It’s still disadvantaged from a coverage perspective.”

Altice’s low MVNO price draws customers

Altice is offering its MVNO service at $20 for its broadband customers and $30 for non-broadband customers. Based on the New Street Research analysis, Altice is projected to add 800,000 wireless net adds in 2021. Not surprisingly, consumers, always on the lookout for a bargain, are drawn to the low-priced wireless offering.

New Street chart

“Our survey results suggest 68% of households in the areas Altice will sell wireless would be interested in the product at $20 or more,” wrote the analysts. “This is not far off what Comcast will report this year, and Comcast is seven times the size. We estimate penetration will reach 12% of Altice’s addressable customers, which is higher than what we expect for Comcast and Charter.”

The cost of Altice Mobile’s wireless service undercuts other cable operators Charter Communications' and Comcast’s unlimited mobile plans, which are offered to the companies’ existing broadband customers for $45 per month.

RELATED: Altice Mobile launches its wireless service at $20/month

Altice’s MVNO rides on Sprint’s network. But unlike Charter and Comcast — whose MVNO’s ride on Verizon’s network — Altice’s infrastructure-based MVNO with Sprint is different in that Altice owns and operates its own mobile core.