T-Mobile said today that it had completed “the world’s first 5G data transmission on low-band spectrum (600 MHz) on a live commercial network” in Spokane, Wash. According to the company, a single 5G 600 MHz cell tower will be able to cover “hundreds of square miles.” That’s dramatically greater coverage in comparison with towers deployed in the millimeter wave band, which according to T-Mobile, cover less than a square mile.
The broad coverage areas that 600 MHz can support will enable T-Mobile to deploy the first nationwide 5G U.S. network, the company said – a goal the company expects to achieve in 2020. Tellingly, however, the T-Mobile announcement today says nothing about the speeds achieved.
5G 600 MHz Vs. Other Bands
The reference to millimeter wave deployment is T-Mobile’s jibe at AT&T and Verizon, both of whom are initially deploying 5G in millimeter wave spectrum bands above 24 GHz. The reason those carriers have focused on that band is that the band includes broad swaths of spectrum that can support higher speeds in comparison with lower-frequency spectrum. AT&T, for example, has said that it has achieved mobile speeds of 1 Gbps using millimeter wave spectrum
In comparison, T-Mobile and Sprint have said that if allowed to merge they would be able to achieve average mobile 5G speeds of 450 Mbps nationwide and 100 Mbps to 90% of Americans using Sprint’s mid-band spectrum holdings. Sprint has a wide swath of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band throughout a large portion of the U.S. The speeds that T-Mobile will be able to deliver using its own low-band 600 MHz spectrum likely are lower.
Of course, 5G isn’t just about data speeds. Standards for 5G also call for other capabilities — notably substantially lower latency in comparison with existing cellular networks — and lower latency should be achievable in any 5G spectrum band.
It’s also worth noting that T-Mobile has the opportunity to obtain millimeter wave spectrum in the 28 GHz auction currently underway and in the upcoming 24 GHz auction and that both AT&T and Verizon have said they expect to deploy 5G in lower-band spectrum, all of which suggests that all carrier 5G networks eventually may look quite similar, with 5G operating in multiple spectrum bands
Nevertheless, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, quoted in today’s press release, was his usual boastful self. “The Un-carrier is focused on delivering 5G for everyone everywhere, while the other guys focus on 5G for the few – reaching just a few people in small areas of a handful of cities,” said Leger. “We’re building truly mobile 5G so everyone can benefit from the 5G revolution. And with Sprint, we’ll be able to supercharge 5G with incredible capacity and speed!”
T-Mobile’s news today is the latest example of the ongoing PR war carriers are waging over who was, or plan’s to be, first with an ever-broadening array of 5G capabilities. Verizon said it would be first to launch a 5G network, which it did – although that network currently only supports fixed service. AT&T said it will be the first to launch mobile 5G before the end of this year – although that network initially won’t have smartphones to support it but instead will rely on mobile hotspots. Sprint said it will have the first 5G smartphone – although how the company could claim to know the launch dates of all potential smartphones on all other carrier networks is unclear.
T-Mobile’s biggest 5G first claim – that it will have the first nationwide 5G network — also is one that hasn’t been achieved yet. Based on the 5G 600 MHz coverage data from today’s press release, though, it would seem likely that T-Mobile will indeed be the first to offer service nationwide. As with the other carriers’ biggest “first” claims, however, that achievement also comes with a caveat: What speed the network will support is unclear.