T-Mobile turns on 2.5 GHz in 81 new locations

T-Mobile's Neville Ray noted the carrier has nearly twice as much low- and mid-band spectrum as AT&T, and nearly triple what Verizon controls. (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile has activated mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G in 81 new locations and is on pace to turn on 1,000 sites per month, the mobile operator said Wednesday.

That’s a jump from the eight previously announced cities that got access to 2.5 GHz frequencies soon after T-Mobile closed its merger with Sprint on April 1 – bringing the tally just shy of the 90 mark.

T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz is live in parts of towns and cities in the following states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. A full list of cities and towns can be found here.

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The news reiterated executive comments that T-Mobile expects to have thousands of towns and cities connected to 2.5 GHz by the end of the year.

RELATED: Sievert: T-Mobile 'running really fast' on network build

According to the release, the mid-band channels are delivering average speeds around 300 Mbps, with peak speeds of up to 1 Gbps. T-Mobile already launched nationwide 5G using low-band spectrum in the 600 MHz band. The network now covers 1.3 million square miles and 250 million people, but tests have shown speeds similar to 4G LTE.

T-Mobile recently got the green light from the National Advertising Division to keep running ads that say its 5G service is faster than 4G and covers more people than competitors’ 5G, but was told to discontinue 5G reliability claims.  

The trove of 2.5 GHz T-Mobile secured through its hard-won merger approval is a key factor that some analysts think will keep the operator ahead of competitors in 5G, as AT&T and Verizon wait to get their hands on more mid-band. Mid-band spectrum offers more capacity with higher speeds than smaller channels of low-band spectrum carriers like AT&T are using and Verizon plans to use for nationwide 5G coverage. Signals also have better reach and penetration than high-band millimeter wave frequencies. 

T-Mobile said each 2.5 GHz 5G site "can cover tens of thousands of times the area that one mmWave site can cover." 

RELATED: Everyone is chasing T-Mobile – analyst

T-Mobile is already using 60 MHz of 2.5 GHz for 5G – but that will increase this year and next, according to T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray on Twitter. PCMag detailed what could be preventing T-Mobile from using more than 60 MHz, citing factors like fragmented license schemes, radio limitations, and legacy Sprint LTE users.

Still, the 2.5 GHz rollout is aggressive and coincides with T-Mobile’s continued 600 MHz 5G upgrades. Enhancements were happening at 700 sites per week as of mid-August, executives said at an investor conference last month.

Outpacing the competition was, per usual, a focus of T-Mobile’s announcement today.

“T-Mobile has the competition in the rear-view mirror on 5G, and they’re only getting farther behind. While the other guys are playing catch-up, we’ve had nationwide 5G since last year, and we’re now adding faster speeds across the country with mid-band 5G,” Ray said in a statement. “This is our 5G strategy in action. Mid-band is the [emphasis T-Mobile] 5G spectrum, and T-Mobile has more of it than anyone.”

Ray pointed out that T-Mobile now has nearly twice as much low- and mid-band spectrum as AT&T, and nearly triple what Verizon’s got.  

“And that means T-Mobile is the only one capable of making the world’s best 5G network a reality,” Ray stated.

RELATED: Verizon tries to prevent T-Mobile from getting more 600 MHz spectrum

Verizon itself recently told the FCC that T-Mobile shouldn’t be able to lease more 600 MHz because of competitive harms from the spectrum advantage. The carrier provided graphs to show T-Mobile’s low- and mid-band license holdings of 311-megahertz nationwide total more than that of AT&T (176-megahertz) and Verizon (117-megahertz) combined.

That said, Verizon just spent nearly $1.9 billion (PDF) to win priority access licenses (PALs) in the shared Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) 3.5 GHz band. LightShed Partners expected Verizon would bid around $2.7 billion and analyst Walter Piecyk questioned on Twitter whether the carrier got its hands on a full 40-megahertz or “went regional.” AT&T, meanwhile, didn't come away with any PALs from the FCC’s Auction 105, and T-Mobile spent around $5.5 million.

RELATED: Verizon’s haul in CBRS auction pegged at 40 MHz – analyst

Carriers, particularly Verizon, are expected to bid aggressively at a December auction for C-band. C-band offers much more mid-band spectrum, with 280-megahertz available – on an exclusive basis and at higher power levels.

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