With a flourish and the accompanying trash-talk, T-Mobile turned on the first U.S. nationwide 5G network yesterday, covering more than 5,000 municipalities, 200 million people and 1 million square miles.
“Today’s launch immediately catapults T-Mobile into the leadership position as the country’s biggest 5G network, covering more than 1 million square miles, much of that in rural America,” T-Mobile said in a press release. “But today is just the start.”
That leadership position may be short-lived, however, according to Joe Madden, principal of Mobile Experts.
“I think all the carriers are going to have something they can call nationwide 5G in the bands below 2 GHz by the end of this year, in addition to whatever they are doing in the millimeter-wave bands,” Madden told AGL eDigest. “In the marketing wars, all three will talk about having nationwide 5G in the next few months.”
T-Mobile took advantage of the occasion to crow about the accomplishment, as John Legere, outgoing CEO, took some swipes at the competition.
“5G is here on a nationwide scale,” Legere said. “This is a huge step towards 5G for all. While Dumb and Dumber focus on 5G for the (wealthy) few, launching in just a handful of cities — and forcing customers into their most expensive plans to get 5G — we’re committed to building broad, deep, nationwide 5G that people and businesses can access at no extra cost with the New T-Mobile … and today is just the start of that journey.”
Carriers have taken paths to enter the 5G fray. AT&T and Verizon have led with high-band radio-fequency spectrum use. Sprint has staked out mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile has gone with the lightly loaded 600 MHz band. Each frequency band has its pluses and minuses.
“There are multiple ideas on what determines real 5G,” Madden said. “If you want high capacity and gigabit speeds, 600 MHz is not the right band. For low-latency automation applications, 600 MHz is very effective. It has excellent coverage and penetration into buildings. It might be ideal for internet-of-things applications.”
Neville Ray, T-Mobile president of technology, criticized Verizon’s 5G for having “sparse” coverage limited to outdoors only, while T-Mobile’s 5G works for “more people in more places.”
“Verizon and AT&T, won’t even say how many people they currently cover … because the real number has got to be so embarrassing,” T-Mobile’s press release reads.
Madden said that comparing the two deployments is not fair because T-Mobile’s 600 MHz nationwide network is a coverage deployment, while Verizon’s millimeter network is a capacity deployment. He expects Verizon and AT&T to turn on nationwide low-band networks in the near future.
“The focus for AT&T and Verizon so far has been on the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, which have a different form of 5G where the capacity is high and the coverage is spotty,” Madden said. “Upgrading from LTE to 5G [in the lower bands] will take a mere software upgrade of the existing base stations, which gives them, more or less, instant 5G coverage nationwide.”
AT&T to go Low Band with 5G
With the exception of Sprint, all carriers are either preparing to rollout or are busy rolling out 5G to additional cities in low band RF spectrum, as well as in high band spectrum. AT&T just announced plans to bring low-band 5G service to tens of millions of consumers and businesses this year, ahead of plans to offer nationwide 5G in the first half of 2020.
In the coming weeks, AT&T’s 5G network will launch using low-band spectrum in the Indianapolis; Pittsburgh; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; and San Diego market areas. It also plans to launch in several more markets, including Boston; Las Vegas; Milwaukee; New York City; San Francisco; Birmingham, Alabama; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Buffalo, New York; Louisville, Kentucky; and San Jose, California.
Low-band Transition to 5G Demands New Technology
In order to transition to 5G on existing spectrum with loaded networks, carriers must employ a new technology known as dynamic spectrum sharing, which allows 5G service to run on multiple spectrum bands, including those historically reserved for 4G LTE services.
“Dynamic spectrum sharing does not add capacity,” Madden said. “It just allows a graceful transition from LTE to 5G, while continuing to the use the same skinny channels.”
In a proof-of-concept demonstration, Verizon, Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies have successfully conducted trials of dynamic spectrum sharing.
“As market demands for our services shift between 4G and 5G, we need to be able to shift our resources to efficiently meet those demands,” said Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of network planning for Verizon. “Dynamic spectrum sharing will allow us to allocate those resources in real time so we use our current spectrum effectively while also providing our customers the precise experience they need.”
With dynamic spectrum sharing, when customers move outside Verizon’s 5G ultra-wideband coverage area, their 5G-enabled devices will remain on 5G technology using lower bands of spectrum.
“We will continue to focus on providing 5G over millimeter wave – especially in high-density areas like airports, stadiums and urban areas – in order to continue to deliver the unique experience customers associate with 5G and that are only possible on millimeter-wave technology,” said Koeppe. “However, with dynamic spectrum sharing, we will be able to supplement millimeter-wave deployments and accelerate the deployment of 5G in low- and mid-band spectrum for customers as we continue to build out our ultra-wideband network.”