T-Mobile to Use Low-Band Spectrum to Provide 5G Service

After recently buying $8 billion in low-band 600MHz spectrum, the carrier said it will be using some of it to bring 5G to its customers.


T-Mobile will build its upcoming 5G network across the United States by using parts of the $8 billion in low-band 600MHz spectrum it recently acquired, even as it continues to expand its existing LTE coverage.

The company's 5G strategy, which includes leveraging multiple spectrum bands to deliver nationwide mobile 5G coverage, was unveiled in an announcement on May 2 by John Legere, T-Mobile's president and CEO. The carrier's 5G network is also being designed to enable high bandwidth and massive throughput in urban areas using a combination of mid-band and millimeter wave spectrum, according to the company.

The plans, according to Legere, contrast with those of major competitors including AT&T and Verizon, which are building their 5G networks differently by using high-band spectrum and planned fixed 5G sites to distribute cellular coverage. T-Mobile's 600MHz 5G network instead promises increased radio efficiency, lower latency, handling for more devices, and improved battery life and reliability, according to the company. T-Mobile argues that its low-band 600MHz spectrum capabilities will be easier to deploy across its existing nationwide macro network, while competitors will be hamstrung by technical needs such as requiring so many small cells to provide signals that it will be unwieldy to provide broad coverage for users.

"The carriers are using 5G to either distract from how badly they're losing today or to give their shareholders some hope they can compete with Big Cable," Legere said in a statement. "Their ambitious vision for Fixed 5G to replace home internet will never provide mobile 5G coverage. It makes no sense."

Competitors "are approaching 5G much like a series of hotspots in select cities—with 5G coverage that will completely disappear once customers step outside these limited 5G zones, meaning their 5G experiences disappear, too," said Legere.

Ultimately, 5G will use all the available spectrum bands to provide services to consumers, Legere said in a video posted on T-Mobile's website as part of the announcement. "Unlike the other guys, I'm not claiming this is right around the corner this year or next. 5G standards are still being defined, and there's a lot of work to do, but it will be here in the next two or three years."

As part of its 5G plans, T-Mobile said it will also help drive 3GPP certification for 5G in the 600MHz spectrum to assure compatibility and service quality.

The carrier said it expects to deploy 5G nationwide in a large swath of unused spectrum as 5G standards are defined, chipsets are delivered and equipment comes to market. T-Mobile's 5G rollout is expected to begin in 2019, with a target of 2020 for full nationwide coverage, according to the company.

Several IT analysts told eWEEK that while T-Mobile and its competitors have recently been making announcements about upcoming 5G service, those plans are still years from being fulfilled and much still must happen for the realities of 5G to crystalize.

"5G as a 'market-techture' is now in full swing," Bill Menezes, a mobile analyst with Gartner, wrote in an email reply to an inquiry. "Coming only a few days after AT&T indulged in its own version by announcing '5G Evolution' as its term for LTE-Advanced network capabilities, it's clear that at least some of the U.S. carriers plan on putting a marketing twist on 5G the same way they did by pushing to label pre-LTE technologies such as HSPA as '4G.'"

At the same time, though, telecommunications organizations, including the international Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA), have said that 5G spectrum specifically includes the use of sub-1GHz spectrum bands, while also noting that the Federal Communications Commission says that 600MHz could be used to drive 5G in the United States, said Menezes.