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 initially launching in portions of Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento in October. It will launch a mobile 5G service sometime in 2019.
AT&T is pushing to bring mobile 5G to 12 large and mid-sized cities in 2018, with an increase in coverage to around 19 cities in 2019. 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 paused its informal 180-day transaction “shot clock” 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 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 arewithout 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 a 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, 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 will switch on the actual 5G service in 30 cities during 2018 such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas followed by a full commercial release in 2019 when devices become more readily available. Full nationwide coverage isn’t expected until 2020.
You can see the current coverage map here.
North America including Puerto Rico.
Plans and prices
T-Mobile hasn’t made details on plans and prices for 5G connectivity public, but the company’s U.S. President and COO G. Michael Sievert said in an interview customers will see an average download speed of 450Mbps nationwide with maximum speeds exceeding 4Gbps in some areas by 2024.
T-Mobile’s plans 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 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.