T-Mobile lights up 700 MHz in Chicago, vows to open 40 stores

T-Mobile took less than a year to launch service on its 700 MHz spectrum in The Windy City.

T-Mobile lit up its 700 MHz spectrum in Chicago less than a year after spending a reported $420 million for the airwaves.

The nation’s third-largest carrier said it launched service in that spectrum band—which it brands “Extended Range LTE”—across Chicago’s downtown, suburban and outlying areas. And T-Mobile said it will open more than 40 T-Mobile and MetroPCS stores in and around Chicago, expanding its retail presence in the area by 20%.

The 700 MHz spectrum “carries signals twice as far from cell sites,” T-Mobile said, providing a fourfold increase in in-building penetration. Chicago customers are also among the first to access T-Mobile’s small cells.

“With Extended Range LTE, T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in Chicago can get more reliable coverage indoors and out,” said Jennifer Silveira, vice president of engineering for T-Mobile’s central region, in a press release. “Our engineers worked around the clock to bring Extended Range LTE to our Chicagoland customers in record time, just a few months after we acquired the airwaves, and we have even more game-changing network enhancements on the way to boost data speeds even higher, like 256 QAM, three-carrier aggregation and 4x4 MIMO.”

The operator picked up 12 MHz of 700 MHz A Block spectrum in Chicago last May, paving the way for it to provide service in that band in every one of the top ten markets in the U.S.

Verizon had originally purchased the Chicago spectrum at auction in 2008 for $153 million, or $1.23/MHz/POP, but opted not to launch services on it. The airwaves were eventually spun into another company before T-Mobile acquired them last year.

Mignon Clyburn, who was acting FCC Chairwoman at the time, brokered a deal in 2013 to force the interoperability of A-Block spectrum. The move lifted the value of the entire A-Block, Walter Piecyk of BTIG observed last year, which Verizon owned most of—and did nothing with.

"Less than a year after the FCC approved the sale of Verizon's spectrum to T-Mobile at a profit despite Verizon having made no effort to build out this spectrum six years after buying it," Piecyk wrote last year. "In fact, the FCC extended the buildout requirements for the A-Block by 3 years, even though Verizon had owned the spectrum for 5 years and not built anything on it."

T-Mobile also restated its intentions to launch service on some of its new 600 MHz airwaves as soon as this year. The operator was the top bidder in the FCC’s recent incentive auction, vowing to spend $8 billion for licenses primarily in suburban and rural areas across the country.

“T-Mobile’s network has leapfrogged the competition in just four short years, and now we have the most advanced, fastest LTE in the country—including supercharged Extended Range LTE in the 10 largest U.S. cities,” CTO Neville Ray said. “But we’re just getting started. Every day, we’re building a bigger, better, faster network, and we’ll start lighting up 600 MHz later this year.”