The “Uncarrier” announced this week that its Ultra Capacity 5G network now reaches 200 million people across the U.S., delivering true 5G speeds to more people than ever — and it’s managed to accomplish this about six weeks ahead of schedule.
T-Mobile has long boasted the widest 5G availability of any U.S. carrier, with over 308 million folks in the U.S. covered by at least some flavour of 5G, thanks to its aggressive early rollout of low-band 600MHz 5G technology.
Unfortunately, while 5G still provides some advantages even in the 600MHz frequencies, it doesn’t provide the best possible speeds. In fact, it’s only marginally better than LTE — although at least T-Mobile’s 5G speeds are measurably faster, unlike some of its rivals.
T-Mobile accomplished this even for its low-band 5G by building out a true “standalone” 5G network across the country, rather than trying to piggyback 5G signals on existing 4G/LTE towers. Even so, this was only the first phase of T-Mobile’s plans for 5G domination.
The second part was to build out a new “Ultra Capacity” network, based on the mid-band spectrum. While other carriers like Verizon and AT&T have bet on the extremely fast but very short-range mmWave frequencies, T-Mobile already owned a good chunk of 2.5GHz spectrum from its merger with Sprint. It also grabbed a chunk of 3.5–4GHz C-band spectrum earlier this year, from the same pool that Verizon and AT&T already spent billions on.
T-Mobile had a big head start, thanks to the spectrum it already had under its belt, so while AT&T and Verizon aren’t expected to roll out their mid-band service until early next year, T-Mobile has been forging ahead with its mid-band deployments to even more U.S. cities.
The secret to T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G – the 5G that delivers super-fast speeds to a lot of people – is mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum. When other U.S. operators went all in on millimeter wave (mmWave), T-Mobile executed a multi-band spectrum strategy using low-band Extended Range to blanket the country and Ultra Capacity to bring fast 5G speeds to the maximum number of people – now covering 200 million.
To be clear, while T-Mobile now claims that it covers 200 million people, it’s worth noting that this is a theoretical number that reflects the total population in those areas where its faster Ultra Capacity network is available. After all, the carrier only has slightly over 100 million subscribers in total, and it’s fair to say that most of those customers likely don’t even have 5G-capable smartphones.
Since these numbers are based on population, it’s also fair to say that T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity coverage remains confined to major urban areas, but that’s still more than Verizon’s mmWave coverage. While T-Mobile hasn’t offered any specific numbers this time around, it was already reaching 410 cities a year ago, back when Verizon’s mmWave service was only available in 57 cities.
Further, since it uses mid-band frequencies, T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity service can reach much further, meaning that it extends out into the suburbs. By contrast, the extremely short-range mmWave, where each transceiver can only cover a couple of city blocks, is limited to the downtown core in those few places where it is available. In fact, a recent study showed that more than 99% of Verizon’s customers almost never see mmWave speeds.
While both Verizon and AT&T will almost certainly offer a better experience once they get their new C-band spectrum up and running, analysts say that T-Mobile is already more than a year ahead of its rivals, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
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