T-Mobile and Sprint's merger is coming under heavy fire from the likes of labor groups and is under review by the FCC, leading industry analysts from New Street Research to estimate that the Un-Carrier would need to erect some 38,000 new cell sites without Sprint's help in order to meet predicted demand on its network in the near future, should the merger fall through. This glut of new cell sites would reportedly represent a network spending hike of about 20-percent year-on-year if it were all done in such a way as to match the proposed timeline for 5G access through 2021 that T-Mobile recently published, as illustrated by the chart seen below.
T-Mobile predicts that both itself and Sprint would be lagging behind in 5G distribution by speed in 2021 if they can't merge. If they're able to consolidate and use one another's spectrum and equipment freely, however, the combined networks will be able to service over 100 million Americans with mobile connections boasting speeds of over 300 megabits per second, as opposed to serving nobody with such speeds if there's no merger. Of those, somewhere around 16.2 million will have speeds in excess of 500 megabits per second. While those marks may fall short of the gigabit speeds being seen in 5G test scenarios right now, they still fall within ranges set by the finalized 5G standard published by the 3GPP.
With the merger in very real jeopardy, these figures run the risk of becoming T-Mobile's new reality. If that happens, the company seems to already be on the way toward making the necessary investments and deals. According to an announcement put out last week, it has already made a deal with Crown Castle to expand deployment of small cells, a crucial component of the burgeoning 5G ecosystem. It has also made a number of fiber backhaul deals to back up that deployment. Still, New Street says that won't be enough. Should the merger not go through, T-Mobile will need to seek additional spectrum licenses in order to even begin to meet its projected future 5G coverage and throughput needs.