First, they are selling off $10 billion in landlines in Texas, California, and Florida to Frontier. These properties include 3.7 million voice lines, 2.2 million high-speed data customers, and around 1.6 million FiOS customers. This divests their FiOS service everywhere except the east coast. The 1.6 million customers represents a very significant 24% of the reported 6.6 million FiOS customers at the end of 2014. A few weeks ago Verizon had also announced an end to any further expansion of FiOS.
It’s been clear for years that Verizon has wanted out of the copper business. They first sold off large portions of New England to Fairpoint. Then in 2010 they sold a huge swath of lines in fourteen states to Frontier including the whole state of West Virginia. And now comes this sale. It’s starting to look like Verizon doesn’t want to be in the landline business at all, perhaps not even in the fiber business.
After all, this latest selloff was done to finance another big chunk of wireless spectrum. When Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam announced the landline sale he said that the company would be focusing on its 108 million wireless customers. One can see the emphasis on wireless in the company just by looking at their annual reports. One has to go many pages deep to see a discussion of the landline business and most of the report talk about the wireless business.
McAdam said that the company was going to put its emphasis on selling data and video to LTE customers. McAdam repeated a past announcement that Verizon would be rolling out an online video package later this summer and he hinted that the service would include a significant number of networks when launched. They plan to sell the new video packages to both their wireless customers and to anybody online.
I find several things about Verizon’s decisions to be very interesting:
- One has to wonder how Verizon will deliver a lot of video programming through the cellular network. Certainly LTE has enough speed to deliver video, and most urban LTE network tests come in between 10 Mbps and 20 Mbps. But the issue in the cellular network is not speed, but overall capacity from a given cell site. Perhaps some of the new spectrum they are buying will be used strictly for this purpose to beef up capacity. But I find it a bit ironic that Verizon would now be pushing such a data-heavy network application when just a few short years ago they claimed that network congestion was the reason they needed to impose skimpy monthly data caps.
- You also have to wonder how they are going to reconcile this product with their existing data caps. An hour of video streaming can use a gigabit of bandwidth and so it won’t take very much video viewing to hit the existing data caps. Verizon stopped selling unlimited data plans in 2012. They throttle the top 5% of unlimited 3G users and threatened last fall to do the same thing to LTE customers, but backed down after a lot of pushback. The majority of their customers have low caps that are not going to match up well with cellular video products.
- Perhaps they were hoping to exempt their own video product from data caps, but that would violate the impending new net neutrality rules which won’t allow favoring your own product over those from other video providers. So perhaps Verizon is going to go back to unlimited data plans or at least raise the caps significantly. But doing that will allow Netflix and others to compete on cellphones.
- One also has to wonder how they will keep up with the inevitable trend for bigger bandwidth video. Will wireless networks really be able to deliver 4k video and the even bigger 8k bandwidth products that will inevitably follow?
- In general, one has to be curious about their obvious desire to be only a wireless company. The general trend in the cellular industry is towards lower prices. I know I was able to cut my own cellphone plan price almost in half this past year, and the trend is for prices to keep going lower. Certainly having companies like Google enter the market is going to push prices lower. Also, Cablevision announced a cellphone plan that mostly uses WiFi and that will only dip into the cellular network as a fallback. Comcast and others are considering this and it could produce significant competition for Verizon.
- This announcement also tells me that they see profits in selling over-the-top video. It’s well known that nobody makes much money selling the huge traditional cable lineups, but Verizon obviously sees better margins in selling smaller packages of programming. But will margins remain good for online video if a lot of companies jump into that business?
I scratch my head over selling off FiOS. Verizon reports an overall 41% market penetration for its data product on FiOS networks. Data has such a high profit margin that it’s hard to think that FiOS is not extremely profitable for them. The trend has been for the amount of data used by households to double every three years, and one doesn’t have to project that trend forward very far to see that future bandwidth needs are only going to be met by fiber or by significantly upgraded cable networks. Landline networks today deliver virtually all of the bandwidth that people use. There are now more cellular data dips than landline data dips, but people rely on their landline connection for any application that uses significant bandwidth.
Verizon was a market leader getting into the fiber business. FiOS was a bold move at the time. It’s another bold move to essentially walk away from the fiber business and concentrate on wireless. They obviously think that wireless has a better future than wireline. But since they are already at the top of pile in cellular one has to wonder where they see future growth? One has to admit that they have been right a lot in the past and I guess we’ll have to wait a while to see if this is the right move.