T-Mobile has been talking a big game when it comes to 5G, but we haven’t seen what it can really do yet. That’ll change next month, though. The carrier will light up its nationwide 5G network on December 6th, promising coverage for 200 million Americans in over 5,000 cities and towns at launch. It’s also announcing several new initiatives most likely aimed at increasing support for its upcoming acquisition of Sprint which some states are still fighting.
T-Mobile’s 5G numbers sound impressive compared to the 5G rollouts we’ve seen so far, but that’s because it’s focusing on coverage rather than speed. Verizon has only rolled out 5G in a handful of cities, and coverage is middling even in areas with 5G antennas on every street corner. Meanwhile, AT&T’s network is smaller and it won’t even sell a 5G phone to consumers yet.
T-Mobile is leapfrogging the larger carriers in coverage because it’s starting its 5G deployment on its existing 600MHz spectrum. Both AT&T and Verizon use super-high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum to deliver very fast data with very poor range — T-Mobile toyed with millimeter wave in a few cities, but that’s not the backbone of its “real” 5G network. T-Mobile’s 5G will cover much larger areas, but the peak speeds will be far below the 1-2Gbps possible with millimeter wave.
The carrier also promises its recently approved acquisition of Sprint will allow it to provide free 5G service to first responders via its Connecting Heroes Initiative. It promises first responders will have access to this free 5G service for at least 10 years. T-Mobile also pledges to roll out reduced cost 5G service to 10 million low-income households (it calls this Project 10Million) over the next five years.
Finally, T-Mobile has a new entry-level plan called T-Mobile Connect. For $15 per month, you get unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data. It includes 5G service, but 2GB of 5G data is, well, almost nothing. The included 5G is just a way to show off — this plan is only useful for people who are very light users.
Of course, this all assumes there are no further issues with the Sprint deal. The FCC has given the green light for the merger, but several state Attorneys General still object to the deal. The carrier’s plan is to fully integrate Sprint’s 2.5GHz 5G spectrum into its network next year, giving it more 5G speed to go along with its expansive 600MHz coverage.
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