T-Mobile US has revved up 5G New Radio on its 600 MHz spectrum and will officially begin offering customers access on Friday, with two 5G devices available for pre-sale this week and coverage that spreads deep into suburban and rural areas of America.
T-Mobile US says that it has more than 1 million square miles of 5G NR coverage, extending to more than 200 million potential customers in more than 5,000 cities and towns. It is also making its 5G service available to its Metro by T-Mobile prepaid customers, if they purchase a 5G-capable device.
The carrier is kicking off its 5G service with a heavy focus on its use of its 600 MHz holdings for the network, contrasting that with the limited coverage from AT&T and Verizon’s millimeter-wave-based offerings. It has made available an interactive coverage map that overlays its dark magenta 4G coverage with a lighter-shaded layer of 5G that extends from the carrier’s home state of Washington across the country, with significant areas of coverage across the nation’s midsection. Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico and Mississippi appear to have particularly robust state-level coverage.
Mark McDiarmid, SVP of radio network engineering and development at T-Mobile US, told RCR Wireless New that the 600 MHz coverage launching this week is the “foundational layer of the 5G service that we’re building” — and just one part of the extensive 5G plans of the New T-Mobile, once it has officially merged with Sprint.
“What’s really unusual is that we will have spectrum free in all three bands,” McDiarmid said — meaning high-band, from T-Mo’s mmWave holdings, as well as Sprint’s 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum and T-Mobile US’ 600 MHz low-band. The mid-band spectrum, he referred to as providing “muscular capacity” that will help the carrier expand its suburban coverage, supplemented with hot-spots of millimeter-wave-based 5G coverage to provide additional speed and capacity.
“When you add those things together, you get the best of all three bands,” he said, adding that the spectrum is “new and unused,” meaning that “we’re not taking spectrum away” from existing LTE service in order to provide 5G and possibly disrupting LTE user experience in the process.
T-Mobile US is exploring specific use cases for mmWave-based coverage, possibly with large venue partners such as stadiums. In addition, McDiarmid noted, the propagation characteristics of 600 MHz mean that unlike mmWave-based 5G, T-Mo will have robust indoor penetration for 5G services.
McDiarmid said that while the carrier has used some of its 600 MHz holding for LTE, it has reserved a portion for 5G. T-Mo will be operating 10 megahertz uplink and 10 megahertz downlink for 5G New Radio. McDiarmid said that customers can expect to see, on average, a 20% increase in speed “and in some pleases, it may be vastly more than that” by leveraging Qualcomm’s latest-and-greatest 5G chipsets on the first two available devices.
The carrier’s first two 5G devices are OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren ($899.99(and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+ 5G ($1,299.99), which the carrier is making available for pre-orders starting today; they will be in stores as of Friday. Both devices, T-Mo noted, support both 600 MHz and Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum, so that when the two network operators officially combine, users will not have to change devices before they can take advantage of a combined New T-Mobile network.
T-Mo’s 5G announcement also gave a glimpse of what’s ahead for its 5G devices line-up, saying that it expects to launch “more than 15 new 5G smartphones with a variety of price points and features” in 2020. While it is not returning to the days of hefty device subsidies, T-Mobile US is offering its two 5G devices with significant discounts: customers who switch carriers can essentially get the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G for free (with 24 monthly bill credits) when they trade in an eligible phone, or existing T-Mobile US customers can trade in an eligible phone and get $300 off the OnePlus or up to half off the Note10+ 5G. The carrier is also not charging extra for 5G access in its service plans — although in its fine print, it does say that “while 5G access won’t require a certain plan or feature, some uses/services might.”
T-Mobile US’ announcement came with its usual punches at competitors, particularly targeting AT&T and Verizon.
“The carriers have been over-hyping 5G for years now, setting expectations beyond what they can deliver. When Verizon says #5GBuiltRight, they must mean sparse, expensive and limited to outdoors only,” said Neville Ray, T-Mobile President of Technology, in a statement on the launch. “Meanwhile at T-Mobile, we built 5G that works for more people in more places, and this is just the start. With the New T-Mobile, we’ll see 5G speeds follow the same path as LTE, increasing exponentially over time. Plus, real broad and deep 5G will unleash whole new categories of innovation that will touch almost every area of the economy. The 5G future is bright, and it starts today.”