U.S. Wireless operators Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and AT&T Mobility own millimeter-wave (mmWave) RF spectrum licenses and have deployed 5G wireless communications service using mmWave spectrum in some U.S. markets. But just because these operators are using high-band mmWave spectrum for 5G doesn’t mean that their deployment strategies are the same. Aurora Insight examined data that it collected from the Dallas market on the mmWave deployments of Verizon and T-Mobile and discovered that the two operators’ deployment strategies are very different.
What is mmWave?
Millimeter-wave spectrum is RF spectrum that is in the 24 GHz band and higher. The benefit of deploying 5G in mmWave spectrum is that if the signal is unencumbered, users can obtain connection speeds from 1 Gbps to 3 Gbps or higher.
However, mmWave spectrum does have limitations. For instance, mmWave signals cannot travel far. In fact, in some cases the signal will travel less than a mile depending on the transmitter power and antenna gain. In addition, mmWave signals are susceptible to signal attenuation from objects such as trees and buildings and by glass.
Verizon is a big proponent of using mmWave spectrum for 5G. The operator has deployed its mmWave 5G service, which it calls 5G Ultra Wideband, in about 35 cities. Verizon has also revealed that it plans to expand 5G Ultra Wideband’s reach to about 60 cities by year-end.
AT&T has deployed its mmWave 5G service, which it calls 5G Plus, in parts of 35 cities. And T-Mobile offers 5G service over mmWave spectrum in just six cities.
It is important to note that Verizon has said that its mmWave-based Ultra Wideband service is fundamental to the company’s 5G strategy. The operator also plans to deploy low-band 5G using its existing LTE spectrum coupled with dynamic spectrum sharing technology later this year to complement its mmWave-based 5G offering, but also it is investing heavily in the mmWave-based Ultra Wideband service.
During a recent Wells Fargo 5G Forum, Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile, said that the company is still evaluating its options when it comes to deploying 5G in the mmWave band. He also indicated that the company might use that spectrum for backhaul as well as providing 5G service.
Deployment Differences in Dallas
Aurora Insight used its proprietary network of sensors to measure RF spectrum and determine mmWave coverage in the Dallas area in March 2020. The company specifically looked at the 5G mmWave deployments of T-Mobile and Verizon. Its technology extracted detailed information at the cell site level and identified weak spots in the network.
Here are some of its findings from the Dallas market:
● T-Mobile has deployed 41 transmitters and serves approximately 302 people per transmitter.
● Verizon has deployed 76 transmitters and serves approximately 369 people per transmitter.
In Figure 1, the magenta-colored dots above represent T-Mobile transmitters that Aurora Insight detected in the Dallas area.
In Figure 2, the red dots represent Verizon’s 5G transmitters that Aurora Insight has detected in the Dallas area.
Verizon is able to serve more potential customers with its transmitters because it has deployed those transmitters in the more densely populated areas, particularly in North Dallas. T-Mobile, by contrast, has fewer transmitters in the North Dallas area. It is also important to note that T-Mobile offers low-band 5G service in Dallas using its 600-MHz spectrum. However, this 5G service does not deliver the high speeds that mmWave 5G service does. Verizon, meanwhile, only offers the mmWave 5G service in Dallas.
Why is there such a disparity in mmWave deployments?
One potential reason there is such a difference between Verizon’s 5G mmWave deployment and T-Mobile’s mmWave deployment in Dallas is because Verizon is using new infrastructure to support its 5G deployment while T-Mobile is using existing infrastructure for its 5G transmitters.
Photo 1 shows a Verizon mmWave transmitter in Dallas. Photo 2 shows a T-Mobile mmWave transmitter in Dallas.
T-Mobile is in the midst of integrating its network with the Sprint network and, as part of that process, it intends to reduce the number of towers it uses.
T-Mobile’s Ray told investors at the Wells Fargo conference that, with the acquisition of Sprint, T-Mobile has leases on about 110,000 towers. He said he would like to reduce that number to 75,000 or 80,000. Then, T-Mobile most likely will add between 5,000 and 10,000 new towers and cell sites to give the company a total of 85,000 sites when the integration is complete.
Ray added that the company is only adding new radios to existing sites at this time, but he also noted that the process of collapsing the two operators’ portfolios of tower and cell sites into one portfolio is a complex and time-consuming task that will take several months to accomplish.
Interestingly, Ray also said that he doesn’t anticipate deploying a lot of 5G small cells in T-Mobile’s network because he believes that the 5G macro network using 2.5-GHz spectrum will provide enough coverage and capacity.
This philosophy differs from Verizon, which is trialing different types of technologies to help boost its 5G mmWave signal. For example, the company revealed that it is testing low-power repeaters from Pivotal Commware and strategically placing them as a way to enhance and boost the company’s mmWave 5G signals and coverage.
5G Networks Will Differ Dramatically
Aurora Insight’s analyses of Verizon and T-Mobile’s mmWave deployments in Dallas are just one example of how differently operators are approaching their 5G network strategies. T-Mobile’s deployment of mmWave 5G using existing infrastructure is resulting in the use of fewer transmitters. It also means that T-Mobile is serving fewer customers in the Dallas area. In contrast, Verizon, with its new infrastructure, has deployed more transmitters and is able to serve more customers than T-Mobile.
Source: Aurora Insight. Visit https://aurorainsight.com or email email@example.com)