T-Mobile CTO has ‘huge interest’ in 3.5 GHz

Neville Ray
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said during the conference call that T-Mobile has been very active on the small cell front.

Quizzed about T-Mobile’s interest in 2.5 GHz spectrum, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said he has “huge interest” in the 3.5 GHz block and said the 3.5-4 GHz range is the most formative block of spectrum emerging globally for 5G.

“I don’t think about 2.5 that much,” he said during the company’s second-quarter earnings conference call, at which executives clarified their thoughts on 2.5. (Any spectrum is good spectrum but they’re not that into it.) “I don’t think about Dish spectrum that much, it’s tough spectrum to come after and to secure. We will make sure we have a great future with the assets we have.”

“If you want to talk about where is the most formative block of spectrum emerging globally for 5G, it’s in the 3.5 to kind of 4 gig range,” he added. The FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) at its August meeting that asks detailed questions about three specific midrange bands, including the 3.7-4.2 GHz band.

T-Mobile is so interested in the 3.5 GHz band, which is also known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Services band, that it filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC to amend the CBRS rules so that it’s more attractive to mobile carriers. In particular, the “uncarrier” would like to see the commission initiate a rulemaking proceeding to auction all 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band as PALs, or Priority Access Licenses, with General Authorized Access use offered opportunistically throughout the band. It would also like to see the FCC authorize PALs—which are the licenses wireless operators would obtain—on a standard 10-year licensed term and make all PALs available at auction.

RELATED: T-Mobile joins CTIA in pushing FCC to reform rules for 3.5 GHz

Others have argued that the commission should leave the rules alone and speed up the whole certification process for the CBRS band so that stakeholders—of which there are many—can get on with their business.

In its June 19 FCC filing, T-Mobile said 5G in the 3.5 GHz band is a global race and other regions and countries have already begun to act to make spectrum in the band available for 5G, including the United Kingdom, which initiated procedures to auction parts of the 3 GHz band; Japan, which has already allocated and licensed to three carriers spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band for mobile broadband; and China, which recently issued a public consultation request seeking comment on plans to use the 3300-3600 MHz and 4800-5000 MHz bands for 5G.

As for small cells, Ray said during the conference call that T-Mobile has been very active on that front. It picked up about 13,000 DAS nodes, or small cell equivalents, through its acquisition of Metro PCS, and it’s got more than 2,000 traditional small cell and new small cells in the ground, with plans to hit about 8,000 by the end of this year.

In the Los Angeles market, it now has more than 1,000 small cells turned up and it’s starting to see the benefits of macro network offload, speed enhancements and “really good numbers coming through when you get a material volume of small cells on the ground in a key urban and metro environment.”

The goal is to make every small cell that it deploys by the fourth quarter of this year be leveraging unlicensed LTE in the 5 GHz band.

T-Mobile has been burning the midnight oil on the 600 MHz front as well. Thanks in part to some early preparations the operator made on 600 MHz, it expects spectrum covering more than 1.2 million square miles to be clear in 2017, with actual deployments in many areas by year-end. Several compatible devices are expected by the holiday season, CEO John Legere said during prepared remarks, and it’s not wasting any time, with plans to light up the first 600 MHz site in August.