T-Mobile USA: national 5G from 2020 and 28,000 small cells now

Like Sprint (see above) T-Mobile USA has also been talking about its 5G and small cell plans. Its CTO Neville Ray claims it is taking a more ambitious route to 5G, even though AT&T and Verizon will get to the commercial market first with their plans for fixed wireless services in millimeter wave bands from late 2018.

However, TMO is more interested in broad national coverage, using low frequency spectrum – specifically its 600 MHz holdings, which it acquired in the recent incentive auction of former broadcast airwaves.

“We’re committed to drive a 5G roll-out by 2020 across the nation, and neither AT&T nor Verizon have stepped up to that challenge,” he told a recent investor conference in Barcelona, Spain. “There’s been a lot of discussion of millimeter wave and the kind of surgical, tactical deployments of 5G, and we’ll be there too. But we’ll deploy in the 600 MHz for 5G as we move into the next decade.”

In August, TMO turned on its first 600 MHz site in Cheyenne, Wyoming and will use the spectrum for 4G, mainly for rural and suburban coverage expansion, and later for 5G too.

“We have to have a strong midband 5G story for the US marketplace,” Ray said. “I think the discussion has moved away from the early, Verizon-led millimeter wave story … Millimeter wave will play a role but we’re pushing hard on the other end, low band.”

And at the Next-Gen Wireless Networks Summit, Ray’s colleague Karri Kuoppamaki, TMO’s VP of network technology and strategy, was talking about nearer term challenges, in 4G densification.

“Densification is really about moving from that macro into the small cells dimension,” Kuoppamaki said. “We’ve already deployed thousands of small cells and we’ve contracted 28,000 small cells to be deployed in the short term.”

Kuoppamaki made it clear that TMO will look for fiber partners rather than buying up its own assets as its larger rivals have been doing. “I think we have a little bit of a different approach when it comes to small cells.We found the best way to do that is to partner with fiber providers… that not only build and bring that fiber to you, but also build those small cells for you. And that is a very efficient way to actually get to the point when you go from having a few to having tens of thousands in the network.”

Enlarging on the 600 MHz plans, Kuopamakki said: “In the summer we built the first sites in our mass deployment of 600 MHz, and we expect by the end of the year we’ll have access to about 1.2m square miles of clear [600 MHz] spectrum. I think this is the fastest that spectrum has been brought live anywhere in the world…. It is a proof point that when you do things right you can bring spectrum to life very quickly and efficiently.”