Sprint’s legacy 5G service using 2.5 GHz has been deactivated as T-Mobile continues work to reconfigure, test, and re-deploy the coveted mid-band spectrum into its new integrated 5G network.
This is not unexpected, as T-Mobile has been refarming 2.5 GHz for its own use since closing its Sprint merger on April 1. T-Mobile already re-deployed its new 2.5 GHz spectrum in New York City, and on Tuesday said it reactivated 2.5 GHz in parts of Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles, which were all initial Sprint 5G markets.
The 2.5 GHz spectrum was first turned on by T-Mobile in Philadelphia. New York is the first market that offers T-Mobile’s full 5G layer cake combining low-, mid-, and millimeter wave spectrum, and showed early signs of strong performance, according to Ookla testing earlier this month.
A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed to Fierce that Sprint’s 5G service is no longer available, except to customers who have a Galaxy S20 5G that works on T-Mobile’s 5G network, as noted by a recent RootMetrics report. Before merging with T-Mobile, Sprint had deployed 5G in 13 cities.
“We are working to quickly re-deploy, optimize and test the 2.5 GHz spectrum before lighting it up on the T-Mobile network. In the meantime, legacy Sprint customers with compatible devices can enjoy T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network,” the T-Mobile spokesperson added.
T-Mobile’s press release said customers are seeing average download speeds of 330 Mbps on its mid-band 2.5 GHz network.
Early Sprint 5G adopters need to upgrade their phones
The 2.5 GHz Sprint network deactivations, while necessary, do present a change for some legacy Sprint 5G users, RootMetrics noted.
Namely, it's those who were early adopters and purchased first-generation 5G smartphones from the carrier, including a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, LG V50 ThinQ, or OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. Those were built with support for Sprint’s 2.5 GHz 5G network but now instead pick up a 4G LTE signal, so users will need to upgrade if they want to access 5G on the new T-Mobile network.
In April, T-Mobile said it planned to alert users who bought Sprint 5G phones that they would need new devices, but that customers would be able to tap into Sprint 5G where it was available until the network was no longer active. The early 5G smartphones from Sprint use a Snapdragon X50 5G modem, while newer phones that can access T-Mobile’s combined 5G network utilize Qualcomm’s X55 5G modem. 5G device design and network compatibility differences were previously detailed by CNET.
So how many users might this actually impact?
Data provided by research and analysis firm BayStreet Research shows that in the 11 months from June 2019 through April 2020, Sprint sold slightly over 75,000 of the now incompatible 5G phones. That includes around 15,000 Galaxy S10 5Gs, 35,000 LV V50 ThinQ and roughly 25,000 One Plus 7 Pro 5G.
Comparatively, Sprint users bought many more Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra devices.Through April 2020 cumulative volume totals for the devices were 90,000; 55,000; and 75,000, respectively, according to BayStreet data.
That’s only two months of S20 volumes, BayStreet founder Cliff Maldonado noted, including part of March and April. Through June 2020 that increased to 200,000 for the S20; 115,000 for S20+; and 150,000 for S20 Ultra.
T-Mobile said it’s also been giving Sprint customers with older 5G devices replacement offers such as:
- Customers who currently lease or finance a 7 Pro LG (256GB), GS10 5G (256GB), V50 Thin Q (128GB) and are paying more than $10/month will get a Samsung Galaxy S20 5G for $10/month after $31.67/month credit with a new 18 month lease.
- Customers who currently own, lease or finance a 7 Pro LG (256GB), GS10 5G (256GB), V50 Thin Q (128GB) and are paying less than $10/month will get a Samsung Galaxy S20 5G for $0/month after $41.67/month credit with a new 18-month lease.
Sprint 5G users see a change, for now
Although T-Mobile has re-deployed 2.5 GHz in a few markets and has limited millimeter wave deployments, its nationwide 5G network is built using low-band 600 MHz spectrum.
Recent results from Opensignal show that for legacy Sprint users this has translated into slower average 5G speeds, but a boost in 5G availability.
Opensignal’s June 2020 5G User Experience report found users can tap T-Mobile’s 5G much more often than competitors and spend 22.5% of time connected to 5G, compared to 10.3% for AT&T and a mere 0.4% for Verizon users.
Sprint 5G users, meanwhile, got a slight increase with access to T-Mobile’s 5G network, with 5G availability rising from 10.3% to 14.1%. Still, when Opensignal analyzed Sprint’s 5G network between January 31 and April 30, 2020, users were getting average download speeds of 114.2 Mbps. That compares to 49.5 Mbps in the latest report, which the company attributed to different characteristics of the 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz frequencies.
“T-Mobile is still in the process of merging its original network with Sprint and we expect the mobile network experience of Sprint users will continue to change for some time,” wrote Opensignal.
RootMetrics last week reported it wasn’t able to pick up any Sprint 5G signal using a Galaxy S10 5G device during testing in Atlanta (an earlier Sprint 5G market) where it recorded results for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon using a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.
While a Sprint 5G signal could no longer be found, RootMetrics said 4G LTE service proved fast, meaning, “Sprint users who don’t’ have a Galaxy S20 5G should still experience generally fast speeds on 4G LTE” in that market – similar to 5G speeds from AT&T and T-Mobile.
According to the results, Sprint’s 4G LTE network delivered median download speed of 38.3 Mbps, compared to 42 Mbps on AT&T’s 5G network and 40.1 Mbps on T-Mobile’s 5G network in Atlanta. RootMetrics wasn’t able to compare Verizon’s 5G median download speed because it couldn’t record enough samples.
Sprint 5G users with compatible phones should eventually be able to use the new T-Mobile’s 5G "layer cake."
“That combination should, in theory, allow the carrier to offer widespread 5G coverage and deliver much faster speeds than those found on either Sprint’s or T-Mobile’s 5G networks alone,” wrote RootMetrics, noting that gaining access to 2.5 GHz spectrum was a crucial reason for T-Mobile pursuing a merger in the first place.