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T-Mobile CTO at MWCA: Sprint merger will accelerate 5G

5G access will arrive faster and be broader under a Sprint-T-Mobile merger, according to CTO Neville Ray, who also said talks with the FCC and Department of Justice have been 'very positive' on the transaction.

The T-Mobile merger with Sprint will mean a faster deployment of 5G services across the United States, Neville Ray has said, with the T-Mobile CTO still positive the transaction will be approved.

Speaking with ZDNet in an interview during Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) in Los Angeles on Thursday, Ray cited the "compelling" business case of the merger for consumers, society, and 5G advancement.

"The combination of T-Mobile and Sprint can put 5G really on the map in the US marketplace way faster that either company could do on their own, or AT&T and Verizon could do on their own quite frankly," Ray said.

Echoing comments from Sprint executive chair Marcelo Claure on Wednesday at MWCA that the US cannot win the 5G race without the merger, Ray said the combination of the two companies would "actually accelerate that push" for 5G.

While T-Mobile is currently focused on the 600MHz spectrum band, and Sprint is rolling out 5G across its 2.5GHz holdings -- while Verizon and AT&T both focus on millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum -- Ray said his company also holds spectrum in the 28GHz and 39GHz mmWave bands.

"You can't deliver a broad 5G experience with just millimetre wave; we've talked for much of the last 18 months about a multi-band 5G strategy, so millimetre wave for urban pockets, then mid- and low-band spectrum for everything from faster smartphones services and enhanced mobile broadband to broad coverage for IoT services," he said.

"A big part again of the Sprint transaction is this combination of multi-band spectrum assets that allows us to go after the full spectrum of 5G opportunities and use cases."

Ray is also unfazed by the Federal Communications Commission's note earlier this week that it will need more time in its deliberations on the merger, saying this is a common occurrence in transactions of such size and scale.

"We have to submit a lot of documentation and information to the FCC and the Department of Justice, but from the FCC's perspective, we just submitted high volumes of data on the network and the model and all those pieces, and they just said we need a little time out to process all of this information and data," Ray explained.

"But the progress so far is very good ... dialogue has been very positive with FCC and Department of Justice."

Speaking on how the merger will occur, Ray explained that Sprint's customer base will be moved onto T-Mobile's network.

"You'd expand and keep some of the Sprint sites where you need them for the capacity and coverage, but you'd effectively bring the customers over to the one network, that's the integration process," he explained.

"It's kind of a two- to three-year process to migrate that customer base across onto the one network. During that period, we're building out 5G at an accelerated pace that we couldn't do on our own or Sprint couldn't do on their own, so we free up a lot of spectrum in the combination for dedicated 5G services much faster."

On T-Mobile's $3.5 billion deal with Ericsson announced this week, and its $3.5 billion Nokia deal announced in July, Ray said it shows the carrier is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to 5G.

"That's all about getting 5G down on top of this 600MHz layer, so the gear we're deploying now is 5G capable, and we'll have the software capability on 5G as we look to the latter part of the year in '19, devices coming on in '19, and so 5G is finally starting to become very real. Our goal and objective is to build nationwide coverage by 2020," he said.

The Cisco deal for a virtualised packet core, meanwhile, is aimed at "preparing us for the future and agility on our services and capabilities".

Ray also lauded Verizon's efforts to bring more competition to the cable companies via its new 5G Home offering, saying a Sprint/T-Mobile entity would also be going after the fixed market.

"There is some displacement already ongoing based on the capabilities of the networks we have that will advance and continue with 5G for sure, but we're not averse ... especially with our Sprint combination, [there's] more opportunity to go after that fixed space more aggressively," he said.

With Sprint choosing its 5G markets of Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City while T-Mobile targets Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas, Ray said the carrier will soon announce more of its 30 5G deployment cities.

T-Mobile this week also announced that it now has 1,250 cities equipped with its 600MHz LTE coverage, which Ray said puts the carrier "way ahead". In total, 36 US states and territories are now on 600MHz, including Puerto Rico.

Ray also pointed out that all three new iPhones are 600MHz compatible, and also come with LTE licence-assisted access (LAA) and 4x4 Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (4x4 MIMO) technologies -- which he said T-Mobile has been encouraging Apple to do for three years -- making the Apple handsets a win for the carrier.

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