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On May 2nd, T-Mobile announced that not only would it use the 600MHz it won in the recent FCC spectrum auction for LTE, but that it will use that spectrum for 5G as well. The US mobile operator plans to start deploying the 5G network in 2019 with the help of its two incumbent RAN vendors Ericsson and Nokia. So, while 600MHz won't give T-Mobile the network capacity of 5G deployments in mmWave bands, it does give T-Mobile something others have yet to announce – a nationwide 5G network.

T-Mobile's focus on network coverage will fuel 5G uptake and device ecosystem

The focus of 5G networks until now has been on mid- and upper-spectrum band deployments such as 3.5GHz and 28GHz. These bands are great for providing the capacity needed to deliver multigigabit speeds, but are horrible for building out a nationwide footprint because they have limited propagation. Ultra-low-band networks like 600MHz, however, are great for coverage.

So, while T-Mobile's 600MHz 5G network doesn't have the spectrum capacity to support multigigabit speeds, it will be an improvement over LTE and will support the low-latency and massive machine-type communications that will be part of the 5G new radio (NR) standard. The most important thing for T-Mobile and 5G is that this network will be nationwide. This puts T-Mobile out front in terms of 5G coverage and it will certainly help boost the 5G ecosystem. Network coverage will create end-user demand, which will accelerate the sales of 5G devices, and that in turn will bring down prices and fuel even more 5G uptake. It also gives T-Mobile a distinct advantage when it comes to consumer 5G services over other US competitors that can't match its network footprint. One of the hallmarks of successful mobile service has always been coverage.

All of this isn't to say that T-Mobile has ignored the importance of network speeds. The operator does have access to spectrum in other bands that it can use to increase its 5G network capacity. Furthermore, its long-range 5G focus isn't just better consumer mobile broadband – enterprise services and new wireless service models require network coverage as well. Also, T-Mobile's announcement should force other mobile operators to put greater emphasis on 5G coverage.

In Europe, 700MHz is expected to be used for 5G. In the US, AT&T and Verizon already use 700MHz for LTE; but, with the advent of dynamic spectrum-sharing technology, they could put 5G there as well. However, it won't be as simple as what T-Mobile is doing, because it is working with greenfield spectrum.


Further reading

Spectrum Requirements for 5G, TE0007-001111 (February 2017)

5G Service Provider Tracker: 1Q17, TE0014-000452 (April 2017)

5G: The Role of Mid-Range Spectrum Bands, TE0006-001349 (April 2017)


Daryl Schoolar, Practice Leader, Next Generation Infrastructure

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