T-Mobile has said it is “the only adult in the room on 5G” as it takes Verizon, and to a lesser extent AT&T, to task over 5G claims.
T-Mobile and Verizon have taken drastically different paths to their 5G rollout. T-Mobile has emphasized a multi-layered approach, initially focused on its low-band, nationwide 5G network, based on the company’s 600 MHz spectrum. Low-band 5G provides broad coverage, comparable to 4G LTE, although its speed is only marginally better.
T-Mobile also started deploying its high-band, mmWave spectrum in cities. mmWave offers speeds measured in gigabits, although it’s hampered by extremely poor range and building penetration. Since its merger with Sprint, T-Mobile has also been deploying Sprint’s 2.6 GHz spectrum for its mid-band 5G network, offering speeds in excess of 1 Gbps. Most experts believe mid-band is the sweet spot for 5G, providing the best combination of speed, range and penetration. Thanks to the merger, T-Mobile has an unrivaled wealth of this spectrum.
In contrast, Verizon initially focused almost exclusively on its mmWave deployment. This was largely because the company lacked the low or mid-band spectrum to roll out a network with broader coverage. As a result, at least initially, Verizon had bragging rights on having the fastest 5G network in the country, although its mmWave network only offers coverage 0.6% of the time.
Coinciding with the iPhone 12 release, Verizon unveiled its nationwide 5G network. The company still does not have the spectrum to roll out a dedicated low-band network, as T-Mobile did, forcing Verizon to rely on Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to share its spectrum between 4G and 5G. The company still does not have the mid-band spectrum to take advantage of 5G’s sweet spot, although the company is expected to be the biggest bidder at the mid-band FCC auction in December.
According to T-Mobile’s Neville Ray, the company’s comprehensive approach makes it “the only adult in the room on 5G.”
We’ve always considered ourselves to be the adult in the room on 5G. Our goal is to build 5G the right way and do right by our customers. And from what I’ve seen, that isn’t as true for our competitors. From AT&T’s misleading “5G E” that wasn’t even real 5G to Verizon claiming they have “5G Built Right”, it’s time to shed some light on the truth.
Ray also highlighted the toll Verizon’s lack of spectrum and reliance on DSS has taken on the network’s speed.
As of the beginning of October, Verizon still had incredibly fast speeds on mmwave but that changed when they launched their broader 5G footprint. While the speeds of Verizon’s millimeter wave (or “Ultra Wideband” as they market it) look impressive these speeds aren’t useful if they aren’t broadly available to customers. Round a corner or move a few feet putting an obstacle between you and the tower and the millimeter wave speed is gone. How useful is that – yep – not very useful at all!
So Verizon turned to Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to add some kind of meaningful coverage to its 5G footprint. It allows both 4G and 5G to share the same spectrum and splits the capacity so each technology gets part of it, which can make things slower for everyone. Without adding new spectrum, Verizon’s nationwide 5G is going to perform very similar to LTE. If you don’t believe me, just ask Verizon’s CTO who said their nationwide 5G speeds are “most of the time, on par” with 4G. DSS has its place in 5G, but it should be used in limited scenarios — not to provide an entire nationwide footprint. Our analysis of the Ookla data shows this: Verizon now has the slowest median 5G download speeds in the industry since October 2020.
Ray then pointed out how T-Mobile is doing things differently.
Our 5G strategy couldn’t be more different, and we’ve been clear and transparent about it from the start. In early 2018, I first talked about the spectrum “layer cake” and how 5G requires dedicated spectrum across all three layers to deliver the best 5G experience — low band for broad coverage indoors and outside, mid band for coverage and blazing fast speed and high band for super-fast speeds in defined spaces, like campuses and stadiums. This “layered” approach, using multiple dedicated – not shared – spectrum bands, is the key to unlocking the transformational power of 5G with both coverage AND speed. Customers want fast and reliable speeds on the go, everywhere they go. Not just 0.6% of the time. And right now, T-Mobile is the only one in the US building 5G with both broad coverage and fast speeds.
It’s clear that, at least for the foreseeable future, T-Mobile is the US company to beat in the 5G wars. Its investment in 600 MHz spectrum and its merger with Sprint have given it a competitive advantage that won’t soon be overcome.