The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has “proposed changes to the rules governing the 3.1-3.55 GHz band, which would be the first step to making spectrum in this band available for advanced commercial services, including 5G.”
The spectrum in question—3.1-3.55 GHz—is considered mid-range spectrum, in contrast to the low-band 600 MHz spectrum that makes up T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network, or the mmWave spectrum that is slowly rolling out in various cities. Low-band spectrum has the benefit of extremely long range and good building penetration, but at the cost of speed. Initial tests show it to be, at most, two to four times faster than LTE, a mere 20 percent faster in other cases. In contrast, mmWave has speeds measured in gigabits rather than megabits, at the expense of range and penetration.
Carriers plan to use the mid-range spectrum to bridge the divide between low-band and mmWave, providing a balance between speed, range and penetration. Sprint’s vast portfolio of mid-range spectrum, specifically 2.5 GHz, was one of the primary motivations for T-Mobile’s bid to buy the fourth largest U.S. carrier.
Some analysts have begun to doubt whether T-Mobile will able to complete the merger, as a result of the court case aimed at stopping it. If the merger fails, T-Mobile will need to look elsewhere for mid-range spectrum and these new bands may well be the answer.