Is LTE the Winner? Follow the Money.

Anyone who is still unsure whether LTE is the technology of the future just has to look at the real and potential mergers and acquisitions in the carrier industry to have their doubts put to rest.

More and more enterprises are looking to 4G LTE as their primary network connectivity for employees, customers, kiosks, digital signage, point-of-sale devices, and vehicles. They also use LTE to create separate, standalone networks within their enterprises, either to offload applications from their secure private networks that handle sensitive customer transactions and data, or to isolate an application and make it even more secure. And by using 4G LTE as a backup network connection, these companies are finding that they can significantly reduce what can turn out to be very expensive downtime.

As they see the demand for LTE growing, the wireless carrier industry has been engaged in a kind of horse race to see who would be first to offer the best, broadest, and most powerful LTE network.

Verizon was the first industry giant to make an earnest effort to provide LTE to its customers and currently holds the lead. Industry watchers now say AT&T’s LTE rollout is catching up with Verizon and is only 6-12 months behind. T-Mobile’s LTE rollout might be further along had it not been distracted by negotiations in 2011 to be acquired by AT&T.

When that deal fell through, AT&T paid T-Mobile $3 billion in cash and turned over some of its wireless spectrum to the German-owned T-Mobile. T-Mobile has since used a large part of those new funds to expand its LTE network. According to a Nov. 5 Reuters article, the company has “reported much better-than-expected subscriber growth, outpacing bigger rival AT&T and also putting pressure on other competitors, including market leader Verizon Wireless.”

Since the failed merger with AT&T, T-Mobile in May 2013 acquired MetroPCS, which was at that time the fifth or sixth largest cell carrier. Post-acquisition, T-Mobile has tripled its number of subscribers in just six months. Despite lingering concerns about the interoperability of the two companies’ technologies, T-Mobile has still transitioned more than 1.5 million MetroPCS customers to its nationwide 4G LTE network. T-Mobile is still the Number 4 carrier—but not nearly as far behind as it used to be.

This year, Japan-based Softbank acquired Sprint in a deal for $21.6 billion. In an interview with the New York Times, Son, the CEO of Softbank said, "we will improve the network to be the world's best." They have earmarked $16 billion for network investment over the next two years with the majority of that going toward LTE infrastructure.

Meanwhile, rumors are now circulating of a possible Sprint/T-Mobile merger. With Sprint’s 56 million subscribers and T-Mobile’s 34 million, the new company would be in a position to finally give the top two (Verizon with 115 million subscribers and AT&T with 107 million) a run for their money.

The carriers are clearly convinced that 4G LTE provides the fastest, most efficient – and most profitable – use of its wireless spectrum. Now it just has to convince more businesses that these benefits are there for them too.