T-Mobile seeks OK to use 2.5 GHz in Philadelphia

T-Mobile is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to use spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area, where it’s currently licensed or leased to Sprint or a Sprint affiliate.

“Grant of this application will permit T-Mobile to begin to assess how best to evaluate the use of 2.5 GHz spectrum in its current Fifth Generation New Radio (5G NR) operations,” the “un-carrier” told the commission in a Thursday filing, which was spotted by wireless industry consultant Steven Crowley.

T-Mobile explained that granting the special temporary authority (STA) – and the ability to test 2.5 GHz equipment with T-Mobile's existing network in Philadelphia – will enable T-Mobile to more quickly integrate the use of 2.5 GHz spectrum into its operations throughout the country once the transaction with Sprint officially closes. Some analysts expect the closure could happen by April 1. The FCC approved the proposed transaction in October.

“Further, the testing will allow T-Mobile to consider real-world data from existing consumer devices capable of using the 2.5 GHz band,” the operator said.

T-Mobile noted that it has begun to introduce 5G New Radio (NR) equipment capable of combining LTE technology using PCS and AWS-1 spectrum for which it is licensed. T-Mobile also operates on other spectrum in the Philadelphia area that doesn't currently support 5G NR capabilities. 

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The application material states that Sprint has agreed to T-Mobile’s use of the spectrum and will notify its lessees of the proposed operation by T-Mobile. The application proposes to use radios from Ericsson and prototypes from various manufacturers.

T-Mobile’s technology team, led by President of Technology Neville Ray, has made no secret of their desire to put Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum to use as soon as physically possible once the merger closes.

The company announced about two weeks ago that Sprint’s CTO, John Saw, will join the New T-Mobile as executive vice president of Advanced and Emerging Technologies, reporting to Ray. Saw has extensive experience with 2.5 GHz since his days dating back to Clearwire.

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An estimated 70%-80% of T-Mobile’s base already use handsets that are compatible with Sprint’s 2.5 GHz Band 41; about one-third of the base should have access to carrier aggregation by this summer, and substantially all of the legacy T-Mobile base will see 2.5 GHz by the end of 2021, analysts at MoffettNathanson noted in a report earlier this week.

Fully deploying 2.5 GHz is a heavier lift for the new company, but handset compatibility is not much of a problem, they said.