T-Mobile on Monday unveiled yet another wireless demo aiming to prove millimeter-wave spectrum isn't a prerequisite for the fifth generation of mobile networks. As part of its appearance at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, the third-largest wireless carrier in the United States revealed that it recently managed to conduct the world's first data and video calls using the 600MHz band, the latest addition to its spectrum portfolio. Both were achieved using the company's live commercial network and an experimental setup designed and created in collaboration with Intel and Ericsson, T-Mobile said.
Besides the new milestone accomplished with a setup compliant with the latest 5G New Radio standard from the 3GPP, T-Mobile today also confirmed a successful attempt at organizing a tri-band video call leveraging the new wireless technologies. Much like its name implies, the call involved three users connected via three different spectrum bands – 600MHz, 28GHz, and 39GHz. The Bellevue, Washington-based company is describing the second experiment as being equally significant, primarily due to the fact that its vision for the future of telecommunications involves simultaneous utilization of everything from low- and mid-band spectrum to mmWave frequencies.
"I did it my way"
Whereas the latest commercial release of the 5G NR configuration is rather specific in terms of what constitutes true 5G, the standard is also rather broad, allowing for a wide variety of implementations, as well as research and development approaches. T-Mobile's plans for the fifth generation of connectivity is relatively unique, at least in the stateside wireless industry, seeing how the company isn't solely looking at mmWave technologies which will otherwise serve as the basis of most other 5G deployment efforts, both in the U.S. and abroad. While the company isn't ignoring high-band frequencies, it also isn't keen on letting its vast 600MHz portfolio expanded less than two years ago go to waste and will instead be using it to accelerate its 5G initiative.
Low-band spectrum is significantly more easier to deploy and maintain, though the performance of wireless speeds utilizing such frequencies is also unlikely to come anywhere close to that of mmWave solutions. As a result, while T-Mobile may initially be focused on the 600MHz range when it comes to its first wave of 5G deployments, it's likely to eventually shift its resources toward higher-band spectrum while seeking to improve the overall effectiveness of its 5G network. The second part of its plan is largely reliant on the company's proposed merger with Sprint being approved seeing how it needs additional spectrum resources as much as Sprint needs to find a solution for continuing the revival of its overleveraged business.
Greater than the sum of its parts
Sprint and T-Mobile previously said their consolidation would create a "New T-Mobile" which would bring "5G to everyone," deploying it in a swift and non-discriminatory manner. By utilizing technologies such as carrier aggregation, the company may also be able to combine the unprecedented bandwidth and latencies of mmWave frequencies with the consistency of low-band spectrum, or at least allow client devices to seamlessly switch between the two on a case-by-case basis, i.e. depending on their technical demands at any given moment. Wireless convergence should also play a role in the future network's ability to penetrate buildings, windows, rain, and foliage, something mmWave-only solutions struggle with.
Verizon and AT&T's 5G plans are currently almost exclusively focused on mmWave technologies, with the two largest carriers in the country planning to offset their shortcomings through countless small cell stations meant to form a massive network of edge-computing and last-mile signal delivery services. T-Mobile previously said it intends to offer a 5G-ready Android smartphone to its customers as early as the current half of the year, having most likely referred to the most expensive variant of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ which is rumored to sport a wide variety of industry firsts. The initial wave of 5G handsets in the U.S. will exclusively be powered by Qualcomm's snapdragon 855 system-on-chip paired with the Snapdragon X50 modem, as well as accompanying antennas. Those products will most likely have to make some significant compromises in terms of design, battery life, or both, though the wireless industry believes it will iron out those issues in no time.