Sprint PCS spectrum looks like boon for T-Mobile

T-Mobile used a similar approach several years ago when migrating MetroPCS CDMA subscribers to the T-Mobile network. (Getty Images)

An analyst with Ookla has taken a deep dive into the U.S. Department of Justice’s Consent Decree document regarding the T-Mobile, Sprint merger and finds that Sprint’s PCS spectrum offers some low-hanging fruit for T-Mobile to pick right away.

There’s been so much talk about Sprint’s valuable 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum and how that could help T-Mobile to quickly deploy 5G. But there hasn’t been much talk about PCS spectrum, which is in the 1850 – 1990 MHz mid-band range.

According to the Consent Decree with the DoJ, T-Mobile will keep Sprint’s entire 2.5 GHz and PCS spectrum portfolio. “The new T-Mobile will build an LTE layer on a denser cell site grid using Sprint and T-Mobile PCS spectrum synergies in combination with T-Mobile’s 600 MHz, 700 MHz and AWS holdings,” writes Ookla Technical Evangelist Milan Milanovic in a blog posting. Part of the plan is to overlay 2.5 GHz 5G-capable radios on existing T-Mobile sites, and then over time to reconfigure the existing PCS radio equipment to support additional PCS spectrum coming from Sprint.

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Milanovic found that in many major markets, Sprint’s PCS spectrum is contiguous to existing T-Mobile assets and will allow for wider allocations and higher spectral efficiency.

Ookla PCS chart 1

“Looking closely at the PCS spectrum in top markets, the contiguity between Sprint and T-Mobile is staggering,” he writes. “In markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit, adding the Sprint G Block will allow the new T-Mobile to expand the existing PCS spectrum assets and deploy 20 MHz channels. In Miami and Atlanta, the contiguous PCS block is a whopping 30 MHz wide. In markets like Detroit and Dallas, T-Mobile will have two 20 MHz PCS channels. This will enable the new T-Mobile to offer significantly improved capacity while leveraging more spectrally efficient 20 MHz channels. All this additional capacity makes the PCS spectrum a strong candidate for the 5G network.”

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Ookla PCS 2

In a call with FierceWireless, Milanovic said PCS is a mid-band frequency range that’s often used for VoLTE. “Sprint doesn’t have Voice over LTE; basically, most of its subscribers are on CDMA,” he said. “But with PCS because both operators use the same PCS spectrum, they can immediately see synergies. It’s the quickest way to transition Sprint’s CDMA users onto T-Mobile. PCS is a common frequency band that can be used. It’s basically low-hanging fruit.”

He also noted that T-Mobile used a similar approach several years ago when migrating MetroPCS CDMA subscribers to the T-Mobile network. The number of Sprint customers migrating to T-Mobile in major metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles would be very similar to the number of MetroPCS customers that migrated, according to public information from T-Mobile.

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