While U.S. carriers have long been in a cutthroat race in their quest to be the first to offer 5G, November has been a particularly busy month. Earlier this month, Verizon announced it has completed its first 5G transmission using the Moto Z3 and forthcoming 5G Moto Mod. A week later, T-Mobile completed the world’s first 5G transmission on low-band spectrum (600 MHz), using its commercial network in Spokane, Washington.
While the nation’s two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, are relying heavily on millimeter wave (mmWave) for their initial 5G rollouts, T-Mobile is betting heavily on low-band spectrum. In fact, the carrier purchased 45 percent off all low-band spectrum sold at auction by the Federal Communications Commission in 2018, making it the largest holder of unused low-band spectrum in the U.S.
Apparently, 5G transmission at 600 MHz manages to solve a major problem other carriers are experiencing with mmWave. Put simply, low-band spectrum can reach more customers, and requires less hardware to do so. In fact, T-Mobile claims “low-band airwaves will provide 5G coverage across hundreds of square miles from a single tower,” while mmWave sites cover less than a square mile.
T-Mobile’s low-spectrum holdings across the U.S. means it may be the first carrier to offer 5G service to rural areas. In its latest announcement, T-Mobile CEO John Legere reiterated this, stating: “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.”
And while low-band spectrum will give T-Mobile an edge in the race to dominate the 5G market, it’s network will ultimately provide 5G in all spectrum bands. Such a multi-band approach will allow T-Mobile to use its midband spectrum to provide consistent capacity and speed, and its mmWave spectrum for ultrahigh speeds in dense areas, said Karri Kuoppamaki, T-Mobile U.S. vice president of radio network technology deployment and strategy.
This has been a very busy year for T-Mobile. In April, the carrier announced its plans to merge with Sprint in 2019. And in July, T-Mobile signed a $3.5 billion dollar deal with Finnish manufacturer Nokia to supply hardware for its national 5G network build-out.