T-Mobile is claiming a world first with Nokia: The two companies just completed a 5G data transmission on T-Mobile’s 600 MHz commercial network.
T-Mobile and Nokia engineers completed the downlink transmission tests using global 5G standards in Spokane, Washington. The “uncarrier” says the tests prove that low-band airwaves will provide 5G coverage across hundreds of square miles from a single tower, which stands in contrast to millimeter wave sites that cover less than a square mile.
Still, T-Mobile likes to remind everyone that low-band spectrum is key to building a nationwide 5G network, as it reaches farther than other frequencies. Of course, its 5G network will be even better if the merger with Sprint goes through; then it will be able to use all that 2.5 GHz midband spectrum that Sprint hasn’t fully built out.
T-Mobile had some fun on Twitter over the weekend after catching wind that AT&T was planning a 5G demo during Sunday’s Falcons/Cowboys game in Atlanta. T-Mobile says its standards-based 5G network is going to be mobile, nationwide and work on smartphones, whereas Verizon initially is using its non-standardized version of 5G and AT&T is launching 5G on a “puck” device rather than a smartphone.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile has been remarkably aggressive in putting its 600 MHz spectrum to use as soon as possible. The operator acquired the lion’s share of the 600 MHz licenses in the incentive auction that ended in 2017.
A lot of people figured it would take a few years before the 600 MHz spectrum would be put into practical use; broadcasters need to move out of the spectrum before wireless can move in. But T-Mobile was able to get things done even before that auction ended, including working with infrastructure and device vendors and the broadcast industry.
Last month, T-Mobile disclosed that it has so far switched on commercial 600 MHz LTE service in 1,500 cities and towns in 37 states and Puerto Rico. To do so, the carrier had to enter 76 different agreements with TV broadcasters to clear the spectrum for cellular use.
T-Mobile expects to cover a total of 132 million POPs by the end of 2018 with 600 MHz services, and fully 265 million POPs by the end of 2019. It’s also been working with device manufacturers to get 600 MHz supported, including in the latest iPhones.
Of course, T-Mobile isn’t the only one holding 600 MHz licenses, but other 600 MHz auction winners haven’t been nearly as active in the band.
During Dish Network's third-quarter conference call earlier this month, Chairman Charlie Ergen noted that statutorily, the 600 MHz spectrum doesn’t have to be cleared until the summer of 2020. T-Mobile has been able to build out some segments of theirs but in a 4G way, he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. Dish wants to build out on a national basis and since it doesn’t yet have a customer base, it makes more sense to wait for the 5G spec and for the spectrum to be cleared, he explained. Dish is setting its sights on a 2020 5G rollout and pursuing the buildout of a narrowband IoT network in the meantime.
T-Mobile is among the bidders qualified for the current 28 GHz auction, which is not expected to be as big as the one that follows—the 24 GHz auction. That’s because Verizon already holds a bevy of 28 GHz licenses, leaving mostly smaller markets to be had, while the 24 GHz band is mostly unencumbered and offers large markets across the nation.