To tout its upcoming advances in 5G, T-Mobile summoned a soccer ball and a toy car, among other props in a demo staged for journalists this week.
But it left out one thing that could have strengthened its 5G sales pitch: a map breaking out the areas where its mid-band 5G offers a tantalizing combination of speed and range unavailable from AT&T and Verizon.
The Bellevue, Washington, carrier also had no news about any plans for 5G in personal hotspots and in home broadband, two areas where its rivals have been moving forward.
Instead, Wednesday’s Tech Experience demo via a Zoom video conference leaned into gadgets.
Hosts Erin Raney, senior director network technology services and innovation, and Jimmy Mwangi, senior product manager, began by illustrating 5G’s lower latency by showing how much longer phones on a 4G LTE signal (with latency estimated at 10 to 30 milliseconds) took to show a soccer ball in motion than 5G phones (with latency under 1.5 ms).
That’s a standard-issue sales pitch for 5G, but their next demo was not. Raney and Mwangi showed how a laptop on a 28 GHz millimeter-wave 5G signal from a transmitter in the same lab could easily hit 1.5 Gbps in a speed test. However, holding up a sign made out of laminated paper and aluminum foil in front of the laptop’s receiver cut that speed down to near zero.
That exhibition of mmWave’s limits, as well as the duo’s reminders of its roughly 300-meter outdoor range, seemed a clear shot at Verizon and its emphasis on mmWave.
T-Mobile offers mmWave and slower, longer-range low-band 5G, but it’s moved rapidly to capitalize on the 2.5 GHz spectrum it picked up when it bought Sprint. It first switched that over to T-Mobile’s network in New York to serve up what it calls a complete "layer cake" of 5G frequencies and has since lit up mid-band 5G in some 210 locations nationwide.
T-Mobile’s Sept. 29 press release announcing the most recent expansion of mid-band 5G cites average speeds of 300 Mbps and coverage “tens of thousands of times” that of mmWave.
“T-Mobile has a significant advantage in terms of mid-band spectrum, which has a good combination of speed and reach,” said Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at Techsponential, in an email.
Raney and Mwangi then walked attendees through demonstrations of 5G powering augmented reality interfaces and providing remote control of a toy car—no 5G sales pitch is complete without a nod to autonomous vehicles.
The T-Mobile presentation also touched on its narrowband-Internet-of-Things ambitions. It sketched out in a demo showing how parking sensors deep within a garage could still work over that thin stream of data, and a plan to procure a fleet of drones that could provide backup LTE coverage after natural disasters.
But for viewers hoping for more details about consumer applications of mid-band 5G, T-Mobile’s show left much to the imagination. The company had no news about Wi-Fi hotspots that might replace the HTC 5G Hub Sprint had sold until this spring, nor did it offer any updates on the 5G home-broadband project it unveiled last year.
Nor did the company provide any more specifics about the availability of mid-band 5G beyond an assurance that it will cover “thousands of sites” by the end of the year.
“It is more problematic that T-Mobile’s maps don’t break out where consumers can find mid-band spectrum, because T-Mobile’s national 5G lowband network has a lot of coverage, but relatively slow speeds,” Greengart said.
On top of the inadequate descriptions of 5G compatibility for individual handsets on T-Mobile’s site—visitors must know that “n41” is the band number for its 2.5 GHz 5G—much of T-Mobile’s 5G potential remains shrouded in mystery for consumers.
“T-Mobile’s challenge is figuring out how to convey a fairly technical message on how to get a device that can access that spectrum, and where to find it,” Greengart summed up. “T-Mobile has simply chosen not to try.”