T-Mobile gets closer to launching nationwide 5G on low-band spectrum

T-Mobile hit a key milestone with Qualcomm and Ericsson; meanwhile, Sprint continues its own 5G rollout as merger talks continue

T-Mobile, in coordiation with Qualcomm and Ericsson, hit an important milestone in its efforts to roll out a nationwide 5G network on low-band spectrum. The three companies achieved the first-ever low-band 5G data session on a commercial 5G modem. 

The data session was conducted in T-Mobile's lab in Bellevue, Washington on 600 MHz -- the spectrum on which T-Mobile plans to launch its nationwide network. It used a mobile test device powered by the second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem, which offers advanced multi-mode support for effectively any combination of spectrum bands and modes, including mmWave, sub-6 GHz, standalone and non-standalone. The demo also relied on Qualcomm's RF transceiver and RF Front-End (RFFE) solution, as well as commercial 5G radios from Ericsson. 

The 600 MHz band is said to offer regional areas access to 5G speeds, as the signals reach farther than higher-band frequencies. Low-band spectrum is also able to penetrate buildings and is unaffected by line-of-sight issues that hinder mmWave 5G deployments. T-Mobile says its low-band deployment strategy will help it leverage existing 4G LTE assets and infrastructure to speed up its 5G rollout.  

"This is a key step toward achieving our vision of 5G for All," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said in a statement. "This modem will power devices that tap into the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we'll use to blanket the country with 5G. And we're not stopping there. If regulators approve our merger with Sprint, we'll have the crucial mid-band spectrum and resources needed to supercharge our network and deliver broad AND deep, transformational 5G across the U.S."

Sprint and T-Mobile in April 2018 announced an all-stock, merger and acquisition deal worth $26 billion, but the deal has been slowed down in negotiations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the two companies plan to extend their merger agreement past its July 29 deadline. Regulators are concerned the deal would shrink the number of major wireless carriers in the US from four to three. Consequently, Sprint and T-Mobile plan to divest assets to Dish Networks, satellite-TV provider that has its own spectrum licenses, to ensure there's at least one more company to go up against Verizon and AT&T. 

In the meantime, Sprint is moving forward with its own 5G rollout. On Thursday, it launched its mobile 5G service in parts of Chicago, covering about 700,000 people. Sprint's 5G service is using Massive MIMO technology running on 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum. 

In addition to Chicago, Sprint 5G is currently available in areas of Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City. The company is expected to launch service in areas of Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks. That will cover approximately 2,100 square miles and 11 million people total across all nine market areas, which Sprint says will be the largest initial 5G coverage footprint in the US.

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