If its merger with Sprint goes through, T-Mobile will get a boatload of 2.5 GHz spectrum. If it doesn’t happen, the operator still needs mid-band spectrum for 5G, so it’s no shocker that it’s seeking permission to continue tests in the 2.5 GHz band—but of the EBS variety.
The “uncarrier” filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission asking for an experimental license for continued experiments related to the 2500-2670 MHz band, or 2.5 GHz. Experiments already have been underway for several months thanks to a Special Temporary Authority (STA) that T-Mobile ascertained in April. That grant is good through Oct. 2.
“T-Mobile seeks an experimental authorization in order to work with vendors and test experimental equipment in the 2.5 GHz band,” T-Mobile said in its application filed Thursday. “The experimental authorization will allow T-Mobile to understand the propagation characteristics and gain a better understanding of the new, innovative services that this band can offer.”
Under the current STA, T-Mobile has been conducting tests from five fixed locations in its home state of Washington and in Utah, with 10 mobile devices around each fixed location. The prototype equipment comes from a number of manufacturers, none of which are named in the public application materials. Experiments have occurred both indoors and outdoors in places where the 2.5 GHz band is unlicensed.
Noting that much of the Educational Broadband Services (EBS) portion of the 2.5 GHz band was under-used for years, the FCC in July voted to adopt rule changes, including dropping the educational-use requirement for licensees. At the time, the FCC described it as an important move to advance the United States in 5G and implementing the FCC’s 5G FAST plan.
Indeed, the U.S. needs to find mid-band spectrum where it can. The C-Band—which correlates to 3.7-4.2 GHz—is the subject of continued debate, although analysts at New Street Research in a recent report said it could end up for a vote by the FCC by November or December. The band is currently used by satellite operators that in turn offer it to cable operators and content providers like NPR, CBS, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN for broadcasting to consumers. The satellite operators have held firm on being able to release up to 200 MHz, but 5G stakeholders say 100 MHz per operator is more like what they’re going after—or the whole 500 MHz in the band.
There are other places being eyed for mid-band opportunities as well and T-Mobile’s regulatory team has been embroiled in many of these discussions even though the carrier stands to gain all that 2.5 GHz spectrum that Sprint holds if its deal goes through. If the merger goes down in flames, it’s going to need to turn somewhere for mid-band for 5G, so it might as well pursue all the potential sources at its disposal.