T-Mobile appears to be on course to launch the first consumer-grade 5G network in the United States, at least not accounting for gimmicks, i.e. highly experimental solutions that aren't likely to amount to anything substantial. That's the latest prediction from industry analysts at BTIG Research who largely validated what the Bellevue, Washington-based telecom giant has been claiming in recent times, arguing it's the only one fully focused on "real" 5G technologies.
Next thing you know, 5G got low low low…
BTIG sees T-Mobile's low-band spectrum portfolio as a unique advantage in the industry and one that will allow the company to scale its 5G network much more swiftly and efficiently compared to what the rest of the sector has to work with. The advantage in question mostly comes down to the 600MHz band which by itself appears to be enough to support T-Mobile's 5G ambitions in the short term, regardless of how its attempt to merge with Sprint ends up.
Unlike millimeter-wave spectrum, low-band frequencies are much more forgiving when it comes to hardware as they're naturally capable of traveling over great distances and penetrating objects such as foliage and walls. On the other hand, mmWave is volatile to the point of being easily absorbed by foliage outside of last-mile delivery scenarios.
However, it's precisely mmWave that's now set to be the basis of the U.S. (and global) 5G revolution for two reasons. First, higher frequencies are capable of enabling much greater bandwidth, so they're the safest 5G bet when it comes to delivering substantial data speed improvements to customers. Secondly, due to how difficult it is to leverage, mmWave spectrum in the U.S. and other parts of the world is mostly unused, meaning it's by far the cheapest option for the wireless industry which is already investing tens of billions of dollars in 5G equipment on an annual basis and certainly isn't looking to spend more than necessary on the actual spectrum that hardware will be using in the future.
T-Mobile paid $8 billion for 30MHz of 600MHz spectrum in 2017 and most thereof has already been used for launching improved LTE services throughout the U.S. The company's latest LTE infrastructure has also been built with flexibility in mind and will eventually allow for non-standalone 5G networks, i.e. those that can serve both 4G and 5G simultaneously.
No Sprint, no long-term party
T-Mobile is planning to start rolling out experimental 5G services this year and has previously promised to achieve nationwide coverage by 2020. While the firm's spectrum portfolio is conducive to swift deployment, it's unlikely to be great for delivering massive improvements to network speeds, latencies, and capacities that the fifth generation of wireless connectivity. The $26 billion Sprint merger is meant to address that fact, providing T-Mobile with vast holdings in the 2.5GHz space.
Without that mid-band spectrum, T-Mobile would be forced to spend big on other bands in the future as it would be unable to compete with its rivals otherwise, as per BTIG's latest report. T-Mobile and Sprint previously claimed they'll deliver their own 5G networks but started saying they can't compete with Verizon and AT&T without combining their forces since they reached a preliminary tie-up agreement last April.
The duo is still aiming to have the consolidation approved by the end of June. While many analysts previously called that original timeline optimistic, the government review process of the merger attempt has been relatively straightforward so far, despite numerous concerns and opposition from unions, activists, and some industry veterans.