Nokia and Ericsson have both significantly increased their position in T-Mobile USA’s 5G networks, announcing deals of undisclosed size, but reported to be worth multiple billions of dollars.
Both companies will play a key role as T-Mobile embarks on its three-year network upgrade plan. It has already deployed 5G NR Non-Standalone very widely in its 600 MHz spectrum and has started to roll out 5G in some of Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum. The next stages are to accelerate that midband deployment (as well as the replacement of Sprint’s own 5G base stations), and to implement 5G NR Standalone with the 5G core. In the late weeks of 2020, TMO deployed its first 5G Standalone sites.
Nokia and Ericsson have been key suppliers to TMO for more than two decades and in 2018, they won its first-stage 5G contract worth $3.5bn in total, between them. Despite the prominence of new cellular vendors, often touting O-RAN credentials, there was little prospect that they would eat into the Nokia/Ericsson duopoly at this early stage. TMO has been less enthusiastic about O-RAN than its two main rivals, and has indicated it is too early to adopt the new architecture. And while Sprint – like Verizon and AT&T – had included Samsung as a third vendor in its 5G contracts, TMO did not follow suit, and is expected to replace Samsung’s 4G and 5G gear gradually as it migrates the Sprint networks to a single 5G TMO platform (with TMO’s own 4G RAN, rather than Sprint’s, providing coverage). That Sprint migration process will take place over the next three years alongside the 5G upgrade and expansion.
“These agreements with our long-standing 5G partners Nokia and Ericsson will help us take our 5G leadership even further, delivering ever-better experiences for our customers for years to come,” said the operator’s president of technology, Neville Ray.
Both vendors will supply macro base stations and Massive MIMO antennas while Nokia seems to have a bigger play on the small cells side and Ericsson on passive antennas.