Of the three major wireless carriers, T-Mobile claims only it will have true, nationwide mobile 5G coverage based on industry standards approved by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) conglomerate.
In comparison, Verizon is focusing on a proprietary pre-standards fixed 5G service for the home which initially launched in portions of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento in October of 2018. It will launch a mobile 5G service sometime later this year though no firm word on that.
AT&T launched its mobile 5G network to parts of 12 large and mid-sized cities in 2018, but only with a mobile hotspot. It will increase its coverage to around 19 cities sometime this year. According to T-Mobile, AT&T is initially focusing on larger cities now — including Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, and so on — and throughout 2019, while T-Mobile seeks to bring 5G connectivity across the nation, even in rural areas. AT&T says it will eventually expand its 5G network once it’s established the service in those 19 cities.
Right now, the plan for T-Mobile 5G is that it will provide both mobile and in-home service. The overall network expansion will take time as TV stations vacate the now-unused channel space that will serve as the backbone for 5G, and as T-Mobile continues to expand its underlying hardware infrastructure across the nation.
Remember, T-Mobile and Sprint are in the process of merging, though the FCC briefly paused its informal 180-day transaction “shot clock” in September 2018 to review “newly-submitted and anticipated modeling.” T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G coverage hinges on this merger, which will combine both networks to create the nation’s second-largest carrier, simply named T-Mobile (sometimes with “new” tacked on the front), behind Verizon. The FCC restarted the “shot clock” in December 2018.
“The new company will be able to light up a broad and deep 5G network faster than either company could separately,” T-Mobile boasts in a press release.
“The combined company will have lower costs, greater economies of scale, and the resources to provide U.S. consumers and businesses with lower prices, better quality, unmatched value, and greater competition.”
Here is what we know about T-Mobile 5G and the company’s plan for the next six years.
This is the big differentiator between T-Mobile 5G and its two biggest competitors. The typical 5G scenario is to use the high-frequency millimeter wave bands, but there are drawbacks. Millimeter waves can’t easily penetrate buildings and other obstacles, and plants and rain can absorb them.
To solve this problem, carriers are installing small cell networks — like mini base stations — to relay signals captured from their current cellular towers. In turn, these small cells provide short-range millimeter 5G transmissions without any obstacles in the way. If you’re moving through a city, your device will switch from one small cell to another for clear reception.
T-Mobile wants to provide long-range 5G wireless connectivity across the nation. To do this, T-Mobile is using the 600MHz spectrum on LTE Band 71 formerly used by channels 38 to 51 on old-school UHF-based TV. More specifically, T-Mobile will use seven downlink channels (around 5MHz each) between 617MHz and 652MHz, and seven uplink channels (around 5MHz each) between 663MHz and 698MHz. The 600MHz range is considered “low band” and doesn’t use millimeter waves.
For short-range transmissions, the company will rely on millimeter wave bands like AT&T and Verizon. In this case, T-Mobile will use a 200MHz chunk of spectrum in the 28GHz and 39GHz bands, both of which are high-band frequencies. You’ll likely see T-Mobile 5G use these bands in cities and Band 71 in rural areas.
Overall, T-Mobile says it claims 31MHz of the 600MHz spectrum in North America and 50MHz in Puerto Rico. T-Mobile plans to purchase additional spectrum when TV stations vacate those bands and the government puts them up for auction.
As of September of 2018, T-Mobile has established 600MHz Extended Range LTE connectivity — the backbone of its upcoming 5G service — in more than 1,254 cities and towns across 36 states in North America and Puerto Rico. T-Mobile previously said it will build out its actual 5G service in 30 cities during 2018, and the first customers to actually get 5G service will be located in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas. While much of this has now happened, customers in these cities still have to wait until real 5G smartphones are released to check out the network, which is not expected to happen until sometime later in 2019.
In a recent post, T-Mobile said that by 2021 its 5G network will cover almost two-thirds of the US population with speeds of at least 100Mbps. According to an interview with T-Mobile President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert, the carrier’s goal is to offer those kinds of speeds to 90 percent of the US population by 2024. The average download speed for T-Mobile customers in that time frame could be even higher, at 450Mbps, according to Sievert, and some areas of the country could see download speeds as fast as 4Gbps on T-Mobile’s network.
You can see the current coverage map here.
Plans and prices
T-Mobile hasn’t made details on plans and prices for 5G connectivity public. T-Mobile’s plans do include offering the first prepaid 5G service under its revamped Metro by T-Mobile brand (formerly MetroPCS) in 2019. Specific plans currently aren’t provided although they may be variants of those introduced in October.
The company also intends to provide an in-home broadband service under the New T-Mobile banner to compete with Charter, Comcast, and Verizon. Initially, download speeds will average 100Mbps and increase to more than 300Mbps for more than 250 million people by 2024.
According to T-Mobile, its broadband service will cover over 52 percent of the nation’s zip codes. More specifically, T-Mobile says the service will cover 64 percent of Charter’s territory and 68 percent of Comcast’s territory by 2024.
“New T-Mobile expects to acquire 1.9 million in-home wireless broadband customers by 2021 and 9.5 million customers by 2024,” Sievert says.
Other things we know
Alcatel’s new 3T 8 is the first tablet to support T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum. It sports an 8-inch screen with a 1,280 x 800 resolution, a quad-core processor, a 4,080mAh battery, a 5MP camera on the front, a 5MP camera on the back, and more. It arrived on October 12 for $150, but you can finance the device for $6 down and $6 per month.
T-Mobile’s inked multiple deals to expand its access to the technology and software it needs to further ramp up its 5G operations. In December, T-Mobile’s CTO Neville Ray confirmed that the carrier will sell a currently unnamed 5G phone from Samsung, which will be the same phone that AT&T and Verizon have mentioned they will sell for their networks as well. He added that T-Mobile will also sell multiple unnamed 5G devices from many “OEMs and chipset manufacturers” in 2019 “that will work across multiple spectrum bands”.
In July, T-Mobile signed a $3.5 billion deal with Nokia for access to the Finnish company’s end-to-end 5G technology, software, and services. The deal includes expanding T-Mobile’s network with 600MHz and 28GHz millimeter wave 5G capabilities using Nokia’s AirScale radio platforms, CloudBand software and more.
In September, the company signed multi-year deals with Ericsson and Cisco, as well. The $3.5 billion Ericsson deal will supply T-Mobile with the Swedish company’s latest 5G New Radio (NBR) hardware and software stemming from its 5G Platform, along with digital services solutions. The five-year Cisco deal grants it access to Cisco’s Ultra Virtual Packet Core & Policy solution, which provides network functions as virtual services, so T-Mobile can introduce new services faster and at a reduced cost. Cisco’s technology also lets T-Mobile scale out its network at a faster rate.