U.S. Carriers exhibited lower spending on their networks than expected last year for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest of which was a slowdown in rolling out LTE, with most carriers' LTE networks being mostly finished at this stage, and carriers still waiting for 5G standards to be completed before they begin building out their networks based on them in any sort of major capacity. Some carriers tightened their belts due to financial woes, as well, while others did so to keep cash available for the FCC's 600 megahertz incentive spectrum auction, which is currently winding down. This trend is projected to go worldwide, in fact, with analysts saying that spending across the board is supposed to be a bit low for 2016, for many of the same reasons that spending has gone down in the United States.
To put numbers to the sentiment, cumulative capex for all four major carriers is down about 15.1% from original projections for the year, based on data that's come in thus far. AT&T was the only exception, with a projected $22 billion in spending being surpassed by about $0.9 billion for the year. Verizon, meanwhile, issued guidance between $17.2 billion and $17.9 billion, but wound up only spending $17.1 billion. Sprint projected capex of $4.5 billion for the year, but cut spending and lowered projections multiple times, down to a figure of between $2.3 billion and $2 billion. T-Mobile, meanwhile, laid down around $4.7 billion, according to their recent Q4 2016 earnings call, against capex guidance between $4.5 billion and $4.7 billion, making them the only carrier to come in technically on target in regards to capex for the year.
Looking to the future, analysts don't see any real reason for capex to increase in 2017. While "4.9G" technologies are widely becoming available, they work fine alongside 5G, which means that carriers wanting to take a break and rest on their laurels for a year or two can do so without fear of missing out, though if one carrier decides to buck the trend and roll out entirely new technologies in 2017, other carriers will likely take the bait. If everybody comes to a truce and takes the year off from major capex projects, spending only to bolster existing networks and patch up gaps in coverage, it could be a pretty peaceful year as we wait for the other shoe to drop in regards to 5G.