T-Mobile has opened a new lab to test how devices, including 5G smartphones, perform on the operator’s network using a range of current and future technologies.
The 20,000 square foot facility is located in T-Mobile’s Launch Pad innovation center in Bellevue, Washington. It includes more than a dozen testing areas including ones focused on sub-6 GHz 5G radio performance, millimeter wave (mmWave) antenna range, hardware pressure testing, and software performance, among others.
T-Mobile is testing both commercial and pre-commercial devices that connect to its network using a variety of technologies and spectrum, including low-, mid-, and high-band 5G, 4G LTE, 3G, Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). If the operator’s pending merger with Sprint is approved, T-Mobile said it wants to ensure devices can take full advantage of the range of spectrum bands the combined company will have for 5G.
The facility’s sub-6 GHz 5G Radio Performance Chamber is equipped with more than 50 antennas at varying angles to measure the level and quality of signal that mid- and low-band 5G smartphones can send and receive. The aim is to maximize T-Mobile’s network performance and the distance a device can move away from a cell site while sustaining a quality connection. This is geared toward optimizing usage on T-Mobile’s 600 MHz spectrum for 5G, and could apply if it the operator picks up 2.5 GHz holdings through a merger with Sprint.
The Sub-6 GHz 5G Radio Performance Chamber in T-Mobile's new device testing lab. (T-Mobile)
Another area in the lab is dedicated to testing 5G connections on mmWave spectrum. Equipped with a mmWave base station and a smartphone on either side of the room, engineers will work to ensure a quality mmWave 5G signal is both established and maintained while a phone is moving.
True mobility has been an issue in early 5G launches using mmWave spectrum, as multiple news outlets have reported devices dropping the 5G connection when a user moves out of line of sight.
T-Mobile is also simulating complex radio environments to test devices on different combinations of spectrum and technology. The operator said this ensures devices are ready for any mix of network scenarios customers may encounter and helps T-Mobile to maximize device performance and efficiency.
The lab will also focus on hardware and software tests that look at features like user interface speeds, battery life, and applications, among others, as well as device durability during drops and in extreme temperatures.
When it comes to high temperatures, 5G device testing by the Wall Street Journal earlier this year found Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G couldn’t quite take the heat. Summer temperature in Atlanta, Chicago and New York caused the device to overheat, forcing the smartphone to drop 5G signals and revert back to 4G connections to optimize battery and minimize energy use.
T-Mobile said its Software Performance Lab contains machines created and patented by the operator that test hundreds of functions on every device, and simulate a week’s worth of customer usage in 24 hours.
A company spokesperson said if needed, T-Mobile will work with vendors to make necessary changes to validate the devices.
“5G will unlock SO MANY new capabilities and opportunities for innovation. And, with that comes new complexities in delivering the technology to customers,” said Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer at T-Mobile, in a statement. “We’ve evolved in this new era of wireless to deliver continuous innovation and the best 5G experience possible — from the network to the devices in their hands.”
Meanwhile, T-Mobile faces delays to closing its $26.5 billion merger with Sprint, as a group of 16 attorneys general have joined in a lawsuit to block the deal. While some states are opposed, Louisiana’s AG recently was the latest to join five other states and the U.S. Department of Justice in support of the merger.
Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order that would conditionally approve the merger. This comes as some groups, including those representing labor, consumer, and rural industry interests, have called on the agency to open an extended public comment period on the deal based on new developments related to a series of agreements made with the DoJ.