T-Mobile to build—but not necessarily sell—5G in 30 cities this year

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray outlined the carrier's 5G plans for 2018 during a press event at the Mobile World Congress trade show. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)

BARCELONA, Spain—T-Mobile said its network vendors Ericsson and Nokia will build a 5G network across the carrier’s 600 MHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz spectrum in 30 cities—including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas—during 2018.

However, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said the operator won’t be able to offer compatible smartphones for the service until early 2019.

“There is a world of opportunity in 5G,” Ray said, explaining that the operator expects to eventually power 5G offerings across a variety of devices including laptops, tablets, smartphones and wearables, running services like virtual reality, real-time translation and industrial automation.

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Ray presented a number of 5G use cases during a media event here at the Mobile World Congress trade show.

Ray explained that Nokia and Ericsson today are deploying 5G-capable network equipment to T-Mobile towers, and will continue that work throughout this year. T-Mobile has promised to turn on 5G services starting next year and expects to offer 5G services nationwide in 2020.

However, Ray declined to speculate about the real-world speeds that T-Mobile might be able to offer through 5G. He said the carrier’s LTE network would offer increasingly speedy connections through the deployment of new technologies like 32T32R MIMO (which T-Mobile expects to roll out on LTE this year), and that the operator’s 5G services would work alongside those LTE offerings to increase users’ overall speeds.

Ray also acknowledged that T-Mobile’s 5G speeds would likely vary depending on which spectrum band users access it through. Indeed, low-band spectrum like 600 MHz is often used to cover large geographic areas at relatively slow speeds due to its propagation characteristics, while high-band spectrum like 28 GHz typically doesn’t propagate as far (transmissions in those so-called millimeter-wave bands often are measured in hundreds of meters rather than tens of miles) but can generally support dramatically faster speeds.

Ray noted that T-Mobile owns roughly 200 MHz of millimeter-wave spectrum across 100 million POPs in the 30 cities where it is building 5G.

“Right now I don’t know” what end-user speeds will be, Ray said of T-Mobile’s forthcoming 5G service, adding that “it’s going to take a long, long time” to fully deploy 5G services across all of T-Mobile’s low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.

Ray offered a look at T-Mobile’s multispectrum band 5G deployment plans.

Interestingly, T-Mobile’s two main wireless network vendors—Ericsson and Nokia—issued press releases of their own detailing their 5G work for T-Mobile, and those releases offered some insights into each company’s overall strategy with T-Mobile.

Ericsson, for example, said that it is supplying 600 MHz, 28 GHz and 39 GHz equipment for T-Mobile in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But Nokia said only that it is supplying 600 MHz and 28 GHz equipment in Dallas.

However, Nokia added that its 5G work for T-Mobile covers a wide range of Nokia products and services, including:

  • Nokia’s AirScale baseband and remote radio heads and its ReefShark-enabled portfolio.
  • Nokia’s Core technologies “powered by the Nokia AirFrame data center solution, Subscriber Data Management, CloudBand and Cloud Packet Core.
  • Nokia Mobile Anyhaul framework.
  • Nokia Digital Experience and Monetization solutions.
  • Nokia CloudBand Management and Orchestration (MANO) software suite.
  • Nokia NetAct virtualized network management software.

“Nokia's 5G solution combines our high-capacity New Radio, Core and SDN controlled 'anyhaul' transport and software, and incorporates innovations such as the new in-house silicon ReefShark chipset to deliver a new level of network performance. 5G is happening now, and no company is better placed to deliver than Nokia,” boasted Nokia’s CEO Rajeev Suri in a release from the company.

In T-Mobile’s own release about its announcement, the company’s CEO John Legere sought to downplay the fact that T-Mobile doesn’t plan to sell commercial 5G services this year—whereas both of its bigger rivals AT&T and Verizon have promised to sell commercial 5G services by the end of 2018.

“Dumb and Dumber [Legere’s nicknames for AT&T and Verizon] are in a meaningless race to be first. Their so-called 5G isn’t mobile, and it’s not even on a smartphone. It’s a puck?! You gotta be pucking kidding me!” Legere said in a T-Mobile release. “While the Duopoly focus on bragging rights, we focus on customers. T-Mobile has massively bigger plans for a truly transformative 5G experience on your smartphone nationwide. We’re playing the long game ... the only game that matters.”

Specifically, AT&T last month promised to launch a standards-based mobile 5G service in a dozen cities in the United States before the end of this year. Company executives have said the operator will offer a mobile “puck” device in time for the launch.

Meantime, Verizon has said it will launch fixed 5G services in 3-5 cities this year, and mobile services shortly thereafter.