T-Mobile US Inc.'s rollout of next-generation 5G wireless service provides an unprecedented look at how the new technology is being deployed not city by city but rather on a street-by-street basis.
T-Mobile plans to launch 5G service in parts of six cities on June 28, and the company has provided detailed coverage maps to illustrate exactly where customers can expect to receive a 5G signal. New York City, for instance, is one of the six markets and offers more widespread coverage than the five other urban areas getting service. But even there, coverage is limited to certain pockets. For instance, while the Lower East Side and Financial District in Manhattan all have 5G coverage, the 5G signal cuts off at the Williamsburg Bridge, Manhattan Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge. It also does not extend north to most of Central Park, Harlem or Morningside Heights.
T-Mobile's initial 5G service relies on high-band millimeter-wave spectrum. The wide bands of this spectrum enable operators to carry significantly more traffic at higher speeds, though the spectrum's higher frequencies mean it cannot travel far distances and it has trouble penetrating various surfaces.
When fully implemented, 5G is set to offer download speeds many times faster than the current 4G LTE networks, as well as greater opportunities for connectivity, enabling a new era of the internet of things where billions of devices in homes and factories will be connected at all times.
T-Mobile said it is using multiband technology to aggregate its existing 4G LTE service with the new 5G service. This allows customers to supplement their 4G LTE service with "a 5G boost in a few cities," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a June 25 announcement.
Beyond New York, the five other cities where T-Mobile will offer 5G service are Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
If T-Mobile's pending merger with Sprint Corp. is approved, T-Mobile has promised regulators that within three years of closing its deal with Sprint, the combined entity will deploy a 5G network that covers 97% of the U.S. population. Within six years of the deal's close, the 5G network would cover 99% of the population.
Sprint has thus far launched 5G service in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City. This year, it also intends to serve Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
By comparison, AT&T Inc. has launched 5G mobile service in parts of 19 cities, while Verizon Communications Inc. has launched mobile 5G service in only three as of June 27 — Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver — as well as 5G home broadband service in a handful of early markets. By the end of the year, however, Verizon intends to offer mobile 5G service in 30 markets.
With its 5G rollout, T-Mobile is not only looking to compete on the mobile front, but it is also looking to move into the in-home broadband market.
Legere has previously noted that 45% of U.S. households either have no high-speed service or only one option to choose from. "With our nationwide 5G network, we can change this dynamic!" Legere wrote in May.
T-Mobile has promised regulators that within three years of the Sprint deal closing, the combined entity will market in-home broadband service to at least 9.6 million eligible households. Within six years of closing, that number will grow to at least 28 million eligible households.
Looking at the current top two residential broadband providers in each of T-Mobile's initial 5G markets, AT&T is among the top two in four of the cities, according to MediaCensus data from Kagan, a research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. Charter Communications Inc. is the top provider in three of the markets: Cleveland, Dallas and Los Angeles. Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Altice USA Inc., CenturyLink Inc. and Verizon also make the list in one market apiece.
The Sprint/T-Mobile deal, which has support from the Republican majority at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, is still awaiting federal regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. At the state level, however, it is facing a legal challenge from multiple attorneys general.