What’s Next in Wireless: My 2016 Predictions

By John LegereDecember 29, 2015

You know, since we started this Un-carrier movement, I’ve faced a lot of critics who like to call me delusional. The one-liners are all the same: “It won’t work.” “Churn’s gonna skyrocket without contracts.” “They can’t possibly compete on network.” Then, when we start to prove them wrong, I get: “It’s not sustainable.” “They can’t keep up the growth.” “Their biggest moves are behind them.” “They can’t turn a profit.”

Well, I guess it’s about time for the doubters to realize they were more than a little off base! This industry may be stuck in the past but that is not how the Un-carrier rolls, and we’ve shown it while proving we can drive results! Through the first 33 months of this revolution T-Mobile has shown that doing things differently works! We’ve led this industry in new customers and revenue growth, won 100% of new postpaid phone customers, delivered record-low churn, ranked No.1 in JD Power customer care and have basically pulled even with Verizon on LTE coverage, now reaching 304 million people with the nation’s fastest LTE network.

Our business results speak for themselves, so I don’t even have to educate those idiots who continue to spew BS about T-Mobile! However, I do kind of hope that the critics keep fishing for issues and the haters keep hating because I have a lot of fun proving them all wrong when they doubt our commitment and ability to change this industry! Proving these guys wrong is a perk of this incredible job!

So as we get ready to start a new year, I sat down to think about how we could keep taking care of our customers AND keep schooling the skeptics throughout 2016! Just like last year, I wanted to share my thoughts and predictions - because mark my words, this year is going to be another big one for the Un-carrier movement. It’s really clear to me that the US wireless industry will start to look very different after this year, and though we may not see this industry completely change in 2016, I believe we will see more trends and paths for what may come in 2017 and beyond.

So here are some of my thoughts about wireless in the New Year…

1. The Un-carrier revolution will march forward, T-Mobile will keep eliminating industry pain points, and we will absolutely keep creating new ways to delight and surprise our customers.  #wewontstop

This revolution is already bigger than T-Mobile. It’s become a true consumer movement with momentum all its own. So T-Mobile will keep solving pain points with a renewed focus on ways to simplify the wireless experience, simplify the buying experience and of course, find creative ways to thank the tens of millions of Americans that are part of this revolution. After all, this industry still has a lot of room to improve! Wireless ranks 32 out of 37 industries in customer satisfaction – just above Health Insurance and the US Postal Service – according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index!! (ACSI) We have a LOT of opportunity to get better!

But not to worry… we’ll also keep proving to the naysayers that this isn’t a zero-sum game—and that we can create an amazing experience for our customers and give them value – WHILE we also build a strong business for shareholders.

2. Our LTE coverage will keep improving faster than the other guys—and perception will start catching up to reality.

The Duopoly barely added any coverage in 2015 while we have more than doubled our LTE footprint since 2014, adding almost 1 million square miles of new LTE (more than doubling our square mile coverage overall) – basically about 1/3rd the size of the continental US. We’ll continue outpacing them in innovation in 2016. And, Verizon’s PR machine notwithstanding, when 5G rolls out, it’ll be built on the back of the most advanced 4G LTE technologies. And who’s got both an advanced LTE network and the best mid-band spectrum capacity in the nation? Yeah. That’s right. That’d be us.

And not to be forgotten, the lowband spectrum auctions will be the most important in recent US history and will shape the future of the wireless industry for decades to come. I predict that T-Mobile will walk away a winner. The other guys have already hoarded 73% of the nation’s lowband. When we bought some of what they’d been sitting on for years, we immediately built out a huge Extended Range LTE network in a matter of months. The carriers have shown they don’t know what to do with their hoard. This upcoming historic lowband auction is going to most benefit the provider that knows how to best use it. Again, that’d be us.

3. Binge On will become one of our most popular Un-carrier moves ever, we’ll more than double the number of video streaming services in our program, adding at least 24 more… and the Duopoly will keep pushing their self-serving video strategies.

There’s no question on this one. Consumer video-on-demand traffic is projected to double by 2019. The carriers see this as a way to screw their customers and line their pockets. The Un-carrier approach to video is radically different. The Duopoly will tax and toll every byte of every video you stream, then spend your money to buy or build video services − like Verizon’s Go90 and whoever AT&T buys next – that they can use to force you to buy more data or gouge you with more overage penalties. With Binge On, customers have total control to turn the service off or on at will. With our approach, customers win, our partners win, we win. That’s our secret recipe, and I have no doubt that we’ll add a ton more services to Binge On this year. I mean look at Music Freedom – we started with 7 music streaming services last year and now have more than 40 today! I also predict that it will become even clearer whose approach is winning in 2016!

4. Verizon will get more and more panicked – now that our network is going head-to-head with them nearly everywhere.

Big Red is FINALLY starting to realize they have a real fight on their hands! Now that T-Mobile’s LTE coverage has reached near parity and is still the fastest LTE network in the country (AND we continue to improve and build out our network faster than Verizon can even imagine), we are starting to see them sweat! This year already they’ve copied Carrier Freedom and their PR people have decided to try and attack me on Twitter, (I guess I get under their skin ). Now they’re even running ads focused on T-Mobile, targeting all the customers they’ve lost to us. Hey Lowell, when you’ve lost so many customers that you have to take out a full page ad to reach them, you’re doing something wrong!

Seriously. Look at the year they’ve had…. They hike activation fees, roll out perma-cookies, increase rates on grandfathered customers, fine customers more than a billion in overage penalties, hit one poor couple with a $2 million bill, spend billions launching Go90 (the video service no one wants or asked for) … and then spend billions in advertising telling us “better matters.” How tone deaf can you get? These guys still just don’t get it.

In 2016, Verizon’s borderline creepy infatuation with millennials will hit an all-time high as they continue to try and buy relevance. And knowing Verizon’s track record – they bought AOL; they’re eyeing Yahoo! – they may establish themselves as the place for old dotcoms – because they really must think they know “the millennials.” Up next, MySpace, WebVan or Lycos!

Verizon’s millennial infatuation will probably inspire some enterprising entrepreneur to create a new hit board game and app called “Verizon Buzzword Bingo.” Verizon Buzzword Bingo will rank higher than Go90 in the App Store and Google Play.

I also believe they will launch at least two more ad campaigns focused on T-Mobile, and their PR team will continue to try to slam me – more than once a quarter – in social media. They’ll copy at least one more Un-carrier move but find some way to screw that up and make sure customers lose. But, unfortunately, they’ll continue to punish their customers with overage penalties and inflated international roaming charges.

Unless they really change their carrier ways, Verizon will continue to struggle to hold on to their smartphone customers – especially businesses – and continue to have to pad their numbers with free tablets and other distractions that mask how many customers they’re losing to the Un-carrier. Jeez… I could go on and on!

5. The number of US businesses switching to T-Mobile will grow even faster.

Since we brought the Un-carrier revolution to US business − with simple, 100% transparent pricing and a load of benefits − the number of businesses choosing T-Mobile has quadrupled. American businesses are fed up with backroom deals, overages and overcharging from AT&T and Verizon. So it should come as no surprise that businesses of all sizes are flocking − and will continue to flock − to the Un-carrier. This has become by far the fastest area of growth for us, and in 2016, I believe that trend will accelerate! As a matter of fact, I predict that we’ll double our small and mid-sized business base in 2016. Maybe more!

6. Consolidation rumors will continue.

OK, so not all of these are unexpected, but just because I know you are all thinking it – I’ll take this one head on! Rumors about consolidation in wireless will continue this year, and Dish will be tap dancing in at least half of them. I am sure we’ll see at least 3 different versions of new M&A ideas and rumors in US Wireless this year, and I’m sure T-Mobile will be in the middle of all of them! But the reality is that I am sure this industry will look incredibly different in a few years, one way or another, and no matter what happens T-Mobile will be positioned for success! We will continue to compete and win on our own and we’ll see how the market landscape changes over time. Enough said!

7. Mobile payments will take root and start to build real momentum —and eventually they’ll conquer the future.

It is tough to change years of ingrained multi-generational behavior … kind of like showing the Duopoly how to give a damn about their customers! So it’s no wonder that adoption and active usage of Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay has been a little slow, despite some pretty fantastic apps and new technologies. I believe that adoption will remain modest in 2016, but we’ll see more usage and signs that mobile payments are truly the future as the Millennials and Generation Xers really start to try this out and banks become more aggressive in promoting and showcasing how easy it is to pay with your phone! By the time we are all shopping for gifts next holiday season I’m sure you will see a lot more mobile phones used to buy your Mom her favorite holiday present - I know I’ll be part of that group!

8. IOT (Internet of Things) will start to be more than a few buzzwords.

We’ve been hearing about IOT for a long time – especially from AT&T who thinks they can mask their flailing consumer wireless business with lots of cars and other low-value IOT connections. In 2016, we’ll start to see some real implementations practiced, probably along the lines of what Google’s done with Nest - which is, of course, available at T-Mobile. These ‘just-works’ appliances will be smart enough and helpful enough that consumers will catch on and start to adopt IOT devices in meaningful numbers. And, for T-Mobile, when we see these markets get ready for prime time, we’ll be ready to disrupt them just like we’ve done to the carriers everywhere else!

Now, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I’m not all wireless all the time.  So I’m going to go out on a limb and make a few broader predictions….

1. Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR) will hit a tipping point in 2016. It’s clear VR/AR will be big – already expected to be a nearly $3 billion hardware market in 2020. This year, we were one of the first wireless operators to carry VR gear—and we sold out of the Samsung Gear VR in a matter of days. By holiday season next year, VR/AR gear will be a must-have gift, and the VR arms race will be underway with different providers − from Facebook/Oculus, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, HTC and maybe even Apple or Alphabet − all lining up their devices and content ecosystems. I think in 2016, we’re going to see some room-based systems that are going to blow your mind! It will be crazy fun stuff! As a matter of fact, I’ll bet VR/AR sales are close to 5 times as big during next year’s holiday shopping season as they were this year!

I’m also going to make a call that HTC will be a surprise innovator here with VIVE. They’re in a must-win situation, but they’ve got a lot of talent over there. I can’t wait to see what they deliver!

2. Periscope (and social media overall) is going to keep getting bigger and better!

If you follow me, you know I love Periscope. It’s an incredible way to connect directly with customers and employees, but there are still a lot of people who don’t Periscope regularly. Well, that’s going to change in 2016. We’re gonna see everyone – from celebs to politicians – start to understand how awesome it is for connecting with their fans, followers and customers! As a matter of fact, I’ll be really surprised if we don’t see Facebook Live and Periscope play significant roles in the US Presidential election this year. The candidates are nuts if they don’t take advantage of these tools to connect with voters! But even if politicians don’t see the real value of Periscope, I’ll bet we see some really innovative uses this year!

And by the way… I will definitely keep investing my time in Twitter and keep growing followers this year, but I’ll also make sure that Legere Doll (@LegereDoll) gets his act together and grows his follower base past Marcelo’s. I figure that should be a no brainer!

3. Drones will go from hobby / toy to super, amazingly useful.The buzz about drones has been crazy ever since Bezos said Amazon would deliver packages with drones – and that was like 2 years ago! Where’s my drone delivery, Jeff? OK, I get it. These things are complicated… but while drone delivery to my front door hasn’t quite happened (and the FAA is sorting out the rules), I do think we are going to see some amazing new uses of drones in 2016. At T-Mobile, we already use drones to help inspect remote cell towers, and I can’t wait to see how other companies put these amazing things to use. It is going to be game changing, and I think it is one to watch!

4. I’ll get into Twitter battles with more presidential candidates. So many candidates, so little time!

5. Rhonda Rousey will climb back on top of the UFC … and stay there. Unfortunately, my call for a Rousey v Trump match will probably not happen. Though a man can dream.

6. Batman will trounce Superman in ‘Batman v Superman.’ (Premiering in 86 days, but who’s counting.) Of course, the Dark Knight will win. Because I am Batman.

OK, so there you have it! Some things to watch in 2016… but the bottom line is that I predict another fantastic year for T-Mobile and our customers everywhere!

So here’s to another incredible, industry-shaping Un-carrier year!

With one very serious promise…..We’ll keep listening to you. And we’ll keep fixing what’s broken. That’s not just some New Year’s resolution. It’s a reality.