There’s a new 5G network in the US starting today, and you might actually be able to get a signal on it. T-Mobile has flipped the switch on its “nationwide” 5G network a bit earlier than expected. It calls this a nationwide network to differentiate this type of 5G from the millimeter-wave signal the company rolled out last summer. T-Mobile’s new 5G covers about 200 million people, but it won’t offer the same blazing-fast speeds we’ve seen on previous 5G deployments.
All four US carriers have deployed some millimeter-wave 5G because the first round of 5G modems focused mainly on those bands. Only AT&T and Verizon have been keen to sing the praises of millimeter wave, showing off speed tests that cross into the gigabit range. Indeed, millimeter wave can offer extremely high speeds, provided you have line-of-sight to the cell site. The high frequencies carry a lot of data, but they don’t pass through obstacles. Even standing at the wrong angle can block a millimeter-wave signal.
With this deployment, T-Mobile makes good on its promise to lean heavily on “low-band” spectrum as the backbone of its 5G network. T-Mobile laid the groundwork for this move when it picked up a chunk of 600MHz spectrum covering all of the United States in the FCC’s 2017 auction. It deployed some of this spectrum as LTE band 71, but it reserved a large slice of it for 5G. That means T-Mobile doesn’t have to refarm spectrum or use new technology like dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) to get 5G operating on its 600MHz airwaves.
As you can see from T-Mobile’s new coverage map, it has 5G covering most major urban areas, but there is substantial 5G in rural regions as well. This 600MHz spectrum is uniquely suited to beaming 5G signals over long distances to get more people covered. Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint are focusing on urban areas where their shorter-range signals can do some good. While Sprint’s 2.5GHz band is better for range than millimeter wave, it’s still not as good as 600MHz.
The speed boost from low-band 5G is still unclear, though. There are just two phones on sale that use T-Mobile’s new 5G network: the $900 OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren 5G and the $1,300 Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G. Both will ship on December 6th, at which time customers will get to try T-Mobile’s 5G. Over at PCMag, Sascha Segan predicts that 600MHz 5G will boost speeds by about 50Mbps over 4G devices. That’s not huge, but T-Mobile plans to add more 5G bands down the road. Sprint’s 2.5GHz spectrum could give T-Mobile’s 5G a big boost if it can complete the merger.
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