T-Mobile’s network build is continuing and on track despite the COVID-19 crisis. In fact, it’s looking to “immediately begin deploying” more mid-band spectrum across the U.S.
“Our network build is continuing and on track – thanks to our heroic teams that are working so hard to keep pushing forward,” a spokesperson told FierceWireless in a statement. “We continue to conduct necessary network activity to both maintain our network and expand network capacity – be that LTE or 5G.”
Team members have “already hit the ground running and are looking to immediately begin deploying more mid-band spectrum across the U.S. so we can bring the world’s most transformative 5G network to the U.S. as fast as possible,” the spokesperson added.
When T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint closed on April 1, questions immediately surfaced about whether the COVID-19 crisis would adversely affect T-Mobile’s ability to get the permits it needs to change out equipment and reap the benefits of the merger.
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during an interview with CNBC that the coronavirus wasn’t going to slow it down, noting that what it offers is considered an essential service, and individuals attending to towers can do so from a safe distance from one another. However, he hinted at possible cell site permitting issues. “This crisis might affect permitting,” he said. “Governments and localities are operating at less than capacity.”
The government's approval of T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint was contingent on Dish Network setting itself up as a fourth facilities-based national carrier. But there remains a big question mark as to whether Dish will be able to build a 5G network that covers 70% of the U.S. population by June 2023. With markets in turmoil, the source of financing to back that plan isn’t crystal clear.
A Dish spokesperson declined to comment earlier this week on Dish’s wireless network buildout plans, but in a statement emailed to employees, Dish CEO Erik Carlson said the company is being strategic and optimistic about opportunities. “We are committed to entering the wireless business, bringing full, standalone 5G to America, and delivering unparalleled innovation that will benefit U.S. consumers,” he stated.
At the very least, it would seem likely that Dish could get more time to meet buildout requirements given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the pandemic. The FCC already has extended some buildout deadlines (PDF) after the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) asked for more time to satisfy construction requirements.
The extension came after the EWA described significant supply chain delays that affect the availability of wireless telecom equipment and the unavailability of employees to prepare the equipment, deliver it and put it into operation. Not only are employees’ movements restricted during the pandemic, EWA explained, but those employees who are available must prioritize critical communications services, particularly those used by public safety entities and medical providers.