T-Mobile Explores New Open-Access Fiber Network Deal

Following a recent Bloomberg report that said T-Mobile has been in talks with new fiber player Tillman FiberCo to become an anchor tenant on its yet-to-be-built open-access fiber network, the question appears to be when T-Mobile will move deeper into fiber, not if it will.

Impact: T-Mobile appears ready to get more involved in fiber broadband, according to a new report from Bloomberg that said the carrier has held talks with Tillman FiberCo to serve as an anchor tenant on its new open-access fiber network. Tillman FiberCo, a division of Tillman Global Holdings established in 2021, plans to build an open-access fiber network that will operate in at least five states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Texas. A $500 million strategic partnership agreed to in August 2023 by Tillman Fiber and private equity group Northleaf Capital Partners created a fiber joint venture and served to jumpstart the newcomer’s fiber expansion plans. For now, Tillman Fiber has $200 million to put toward constructing a new open-access fiber network, with construction set to start later this year.

While Tillman hasn’t revealed the markets within the five states where it plans to deploy fiber, CEO Ken Dixon said it would focus its efforts on “densely populated suburban and urban edge areas.” In the announcement about the deal and plans for a new open-access network, both Tillman and Northleaf referenced an unnamed anchor tenant that had already signed on to Tillman’s plan but so far neither side has revealed which company has signed on. According to Dixon, who spent 30 years at Verizon and served as president of the Fios division, Tillman Fiber opted to build out an entirely new network rather than inheriting the problems and outdated technology that would have come with acquiring and updating a legacy network.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile made fiber commercially available to customers in parts of New York City through a partnership with Pilot Fiber and teamed up with Intrepid Fiber, which has its own open-access network in the works with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, to deliver fiber to two communities in Colorado. That makes three fiber markets publicly acknowledged by T-Mobile. But a glance at the T-Mobile Fiber website indicates the wireless carrier already has fiber service quietly planned to two additional markets: Bloomington, MN (a Minneapolis suburb), and Kenosha, WI. Those markets have not been publicly announced, although they’re clearly visible under the Availability tab on the pulldown menu, and T-
Mobile doesn’t appear ready to offer even a pre-order option for service.

But T-Mobile shows gigabit speeds for both markets on its website and a 2 Gbps option for Kenosha that would mark the company’s first venture into multi-gigabit service. As for competition, T-Mobile already offers 5G Home Internet in both locations with Verizon fixed wireless access also available in Bloomington and TDS FWA in Kenosha. It would also run into incumbents Lumen and Comcast in Bloomington and AT&T and Charter in Kenosha. Although we know T-Mobile’s fiber partners in New York and Colorado, it’s not apparent with which provider(s) T-Mobile has partnered in either Midwestern market. But Kenosha plans to light up service on a new city-wide open-access fiber network enabled for 10 Gbps speeds this month, making it possible — even likely — that T-Mobile’s fiber offering will ride on that network. Any potential T-Mobile fiber partner in Bloomington remains a mystery at this point.

As far as any agreement between T-Mobile and Tillman Fiber that could potentially thrust the wireless carrier much deeper into wireline broadband, it’s not clear yet what a T-Mobile anchor tenancy on the coming Tillman Fiber network would involve. For instance, would T-Mobile take the anchor spot in all five states or only certain areas of the network? What we do know is that T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert wants to lean toward a less capital-intensive way of moving into fiber, and an anchor tenancy on an open-access network could serve that purpose. How the anchor tenancy takes shape appears to depend on how the talks between the T-Mobile and Tillman Fiber play out, but becoming an anchor tenant on a newly established open-
access fiber network could be the next step in T-Mobile’s evolution into a full-fledged wireline fiber player.

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