T-Mobile said this week that it will begin building a 5G network in 2019 and will complete the project in 2020. The network will differ from the direction of the other carriers; it will focus on wider coverage and ability of subscribers to manage multiple devices instead of extremely high speeds.
The 5G network will use spectrum that the carrier won at auction, says CNET. This is a big deal: Much of the buzz around 5G focuses on the use of extremely high millimeter frequencies. Technology capable of harnessing this spectrum is still in development. T-Mobile’s new spectrum is in the 600 MHz range from which broadcasters are being relocated. Technology to use it exists.
Thus, the underlying bandwidth and the resulting physical characteristics of T-Mobile’s plan differentiate its initiative both in terms of the network’s capabilities and its timing:
T-Mobile's embrace of the existing swath of spectrum that covers the nation could give it a significant advantage over its competitors because it will have access to the radio airwaves as soon as this year. But much of its could just be a matter of bragging rights, since much of the area will lack any speed boost.
Technical differences determine marketing battles. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray argued aggressively that AT&T introduced a network that is based on T-Mobile’s technology and is attempting to confuse subscribers. He added that Verizon’s 5G strategy is a result of the fact that the company is “getting their ass kicked so bad in wireless.”
To be fair, independent commentary did question the honesty of both AT&T and Verizon. In the big picture, what apparently is happening is that T-Mobile is assessing its strategy and adjusting its marketing to what won’t be quite as glitzy a final product. Ray wasn’t as dismissive of the carrier’s competitors when addressing industry insiders, according to a report from the Market Realist:
During the Citi European & Emerging Markets Telecoms Conference on March 21, 2017, Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer, spoke about T-Mobile’s progress in the 5G space. He said, “At this point in time I am not a huge believer in the Verizon model on 5G wireless fiber or the broadband distribution replacement. Obviously we are testing. We’ve done a huge volume of 5G testing. We have 5G radio, 28 gigahertz, all those pieces. We are trialing, testing, doing all the things.”
The lines are drawn. The sexiest elements of 5G are those that use multi-millimeter frequencies. At the same time, this approach requires new technology and is not nearly ready for prime time. By using a broader range of frequencies, T-Mobile can get to market more quickly. Its iteration of 5G seems likely to be a very useful addition to its tool chest. It doesn’t mean, however, that any company’s ass is being kicked.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.