T-Mobile plans to make its Ultra Capacity 5G service available to 100 million more Americans next year, and as the company’s President of Technology Neville Ray told investors today, it will have to expand its geographic coverage five-fold to achieve that goal, reaching many rural areas.
Ultra Capacity 5G is the name that T-Mobile uses for 5G deployed in mid-band spectrum, which is widely viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of range and speed. The service is currently available to 200 million Americans but reaching the next 100 million will require a lot more work, he said.
“Our big growth area is our rural America footprint,” Ray said in a question-and-answer session on an online financial conference today. Previously the company didn’t play in that market because its network didn’t cover those areas.
According to Ray, the other nationwide carriers AT&T and Verizon haven’t announced plans to deploy 5G to the areas T-Mobile is targeting for mid-band deployments next year.
“It’s a space AT&T and Verizon will have to defend and [it will be] tough to defend without 5G,” he said.
T-Mobile’s 5G plans include fixed as well as mobile service, and fixed wireless could be particularly attractive in rural areas that lack equivalent high-speed options.
According to Ray, the company will have 500,000 fixed wireless subscribers this year and is on track to reach seven to eight million by 2024.
Having sufficient network capacity to support fixed and mobile 5G customers won’t be an issue, he said. He noted that fixed wireless customers are using about ten times more than the 35 GB monthly usage that the company sees for its Magenta Max mobile offering.
Within a few years, T-Mobile expects to see average monthly mobile usage reach 70 to 80 GB, he said. Presumably, fixed wireless usage will increase commensurately.
In addition to expanding geographically, T-Mobile also expects to increase the amount of mid-band spectrum used for 5G from 100 MHz to 200 MHz by the end of 2023. The company has an average of 300 MHz of mid-band spectrum nationwide, which lies in four different bands, including the 2.5 GHz band, the AWS band, the PCS band and the C-band.
Other interesting data points from Ray’s session:
- The company is seeing coverage over distances of two to two-and-a-half miles, as well as good in-building penetration, using 2.5 GHz spectrum
- Beginning next year, the company expects to use carrier aggregation to allow mid-band and low-band spectrum to be used simultaneously by the same user, with the low-band spectrum serving as the upstream path.
- 5G offers a 50% spectral efficiency improvement over LTE.
- The company is close to having 50% of its cellsites upgraded to 5G.
Ray made his comments about T-Mobile rural 5G at the Oppenheimer 5G Summit.