For the second time this year, analysts have unexpectedly raised capital expenditure (Capex) expectations for both Verizon and AT&T in response to higher than expected spending on network improvements. The spending is primarily thought to be part of efforts to prepare and launch the long-promised 5G networks which are expected to begin rolling out in late 2018 and early 2019. Oppenheimer analysts have reacted to the increases by moving its Capex forecast for Verizon to $18.2 billion and for AT&T to $25 billion. That's up by approximately two-percent and five-percent, respectively. For AT&T's part, the change is higher due to the carrier's rollout of its first responder-specific FirstNet implementation. Of course, there is a chance that the companies' spending will increase over the next several months. As the proposed launch of 5G approaches, as with other major cellular milestones, it wouldn't be too surprising to see the figures bosted once again.
Meanwhile, there's been no change for T-Mobile's Capex expectations, although some analysts have predicted the total increase in spending will be around 10-percent, split among each of the top providers. That's the largest expected uptick the market will have experienced over the past five years. If Oppenheimer's latest estimates pan out, the total Capex will likely not come anywhere close to that rate of increase. Sprint, on the other hand, has actually had its own Capex expectations cut back by Oppenheimer, for now. For the current quarter, the analysts now expect the nation's fourth-largest mobile services provider to spend just $1 billion instead of the firm's previously predicted $1.5 billion. That's a relatively massive change at approximately a 33-percent decrease. With that said, the company's figures are expected to rise substantially later on in the year via tri-band upgrades and 'macro footprint expansion' on the back-end. As a result, the analysts have not changed their estimated Capex for Sprint for the full year.
Setting Verizon and AT&T aside, there could be several other big shifts in terms of Capex for both Sprint and T-Mobile over the next several months as well. The two companies are preparing to make their case before regulators in hopes of merging into a single carrier. Depending on whether the prospects for that partnership are favorable, both companies might adjust their own spending in anticipation of refocusing with joint assets.