T-Mobile boasts 2.5 GHz momentum right out of the gate

T-Mobile Philly
T-Mobile says the size of its mid-band 5G footprint in Philadelphia is over two times the size of Verizon's entire nationwide 5G footprint. (T-Mobile)

The new T-Mobile just closed the merger with Sprint on April 1, and it’s already put its hard-fought 2.5 GHz spectrum to work in two markets. In fact, it teases that it might deploy at a pace that surprises the competition.

“We will deploy across thousands of sites this year, and I think that’s going to surprise our competition,” said T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray, speaking at a MoffettNathanson virtual investor conference on Monday. “They think this is going to take us kind of another two to three years to get some momentum and speed, and it won’t. We already have momentum.”

Ray explained that a lot of these 2.5 GHz radio and antenna deployments are at existing sites, so it’s not as if they have to start at ground zero. It was able to conduct a lot of leasing and permitting work prior to the close of the merger – at a risk, because it was possible its opposition might prevail. In the end, however, all that prior work paid off.

This year, a lot of the major metro areas will see the 2.5 GHz light up, and “the experience is great… We’re adding a lot of spectrum here,” he said. Ray expects to be building at a rate of almost 1,000 overlays a month as the team moves into May and June.

Even using 50 or 60 megahertz of 2.5 GHz – that’s what they started with in New York and Philadelphia – is enabling peak speeds that are five or six times better than LTE. (With Sprint’s assets, T-Mobile now holds an average of at least 160 megahertz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the biggest metro areas.) With that amount of mid-band spectrum, speeds are going to be strong, latency will be better and buffering eliminated.  

He reiterated that in Philadelphia, the geographic area where T-Mobile launched with 2.5 GHz was 2.5 times larger than the entire millimeter wave 5G footprint that Verizon has launched across the nation to date.

“We want to lead the way. We’ve spent the last seven years getting even” on LTE with Verizon and AT&T. Now T-Mobile has the opportunity to get ahead of its rivals with 5G, and the mid-band spectrum is going to play a starring role in that.

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Ray often talks about the spectrum “layer cake” that T-Mobile is using for 5G, with 600 MHz serving as the lower layer, 2.5 GHz in the middle and millimeter wave at the top.

He said T-Mobile’s rollout of low-band 600 MHz is continuing; it already reaches almost two-thirds of the U.S. using that spectrum, including some rural communities.

Making progress with enterprise

T-Mobile executives also see a big opportunity in the enterprise market, not just the consumer market. Enterprises want to get a great network at a great value as much as anyone else. "With this set of assets, I don’t see why we can’t own the enterprise market,” said SVP and CFO Braxton Carter.

If you went back five, six or even 10 years in the history of T-Mobile, “our problem was we didn’t have nationwide coverage, effectively. You didn’t get past ‘Hello’ with enterprise and business,” Ray said.

Fast forward and T-Mobile can now boast about its coverage, and T-Mobile for Business EVP Mike Katz and his team have been working hard to grow the enterprise segment. “We’re a real competitor in that space now because we leveled the playing field,” Ray said, noting it takes time for the perception to catch up to the network advances, but that’s happening.