T-Mobile said it is aiming to offer customers super-fast, next-generation mobile service starting in 2019. The planned nationwide 5G network will let customers download high-definition movies on-the-go within seconds, use online virtual reality applications on their smartphones, and connect more smart home devices.
“Our plan here is to go build a big, fat freeway right across America for 5G,” Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s network chief, tells Fortune.
The 5G plan announced on Tuesday by the third-largest wireless carrier stands in start contrast to the emphasis from bigger competitors Verizon (VZ) and AT&T, which are both running trials for fixed wireless Internet service using 5G to serve homes and businesses.
“We’re hugely unexcited about that,” Ray says, recalling the long litany of failed startups over the past two decades that have tried to make a go at offering similar high-speed Internet or cable TV-like services wirelessly. Some of the spectrum licenses the bigger carriers are planning to use, including those owned by tiny Straight Path Communications (STRP), have been tossed and turned though bankruptcies and failed deals for years.
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T-Mobile also veered from prior industry plans with an a desire to include the 600 MHz spectrum it just won at a federal auction in its 5G service. AT&T (T) and Verizon’s trials use much higher frequencies: 28 GHz and 39 GHz. The so-called millimeter wave bands can carry far more information, but the radio waves in the bands do not travel as far and can be more easily blocked by physical obstacles like trees. Using 600 MHz spectrum will let devices connect more easily, and with lower latency and less battery strain than today’s 4G networks, Ray said.
And Ray was dismissive of the combination of using the high frequencies for home and business services. “Its capabilities for wide-scale deployment, they’re not (just) limited, they’re effectively impossible,” he says.
T-Mobile (TMUS) ultimately plans to combine a variety of spectrum bands for its 5G mobile service, Ray explains. The carrier owns millimeter wave band rights covering 100 million potential users, including in big cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, and New York. That spectrum will be used add capacity to T-Mobile’s 5G network in dense urban areas. The 600 MHz will provide broad coverage for 5G all over.
Eventually, some mid-band spectrum and unlicensed spectrum available to carriers will shift from 4G LTE to 5G technology as well.