T-Mobile turned on its super-fast 5G mobile network on Monday, finally catching up with rivals AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. But T-Mobile is following a different strategy than the rest of the industry, emphasizing broader coverage over achieving the fastest download speeds. Here is an explanation of how T-Mobile’s 5G network works and where T-Mobile 5G service is available.
Where is T-Mobile 5G available?
Unlike its three main rivals, T-Mobile decided to start offering 5G service across a broad swath of the country. While Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint rolled out 5G months ago, they each announced coverage in less than a few dozen cities at first, with wider coverage coming later in 2020. By contrast, T-Mobile says its 5G service immediately will cover 5,000 cities and towns where about 200 million people live. And unlike competitors, T-Mobile’s 5G service should also easily reach inside of buildings. The carrier also published detailed maps of its 5G coverage on Monday.
The service runs in the 600 MHz airwave band, which was formerly used for television broadcasts. T-Mobile, which spent $8 billion for rights to the band in 2017, says there are a few delayed sections in its 5G network where TV stations haven’t moved off the band yet (but should within the first half of 2020). Parts of North and South Carolina, parts of Florida, and the area around San Francisco will be delayed, the carrier says.
How fast is T-Mobile 5G?
T-Mobile’s wider coverage comes with one big trade-off. The longer reach of the 600 MHz airwaves offers lower transmission data capacity than higher spectrum bands known as millimeter wave. Rival 5G networks are hitting speeds of 1 gigabit per second, which is 10 or more times faster than the average 4G LTE speed. But T-Mobile’s starting 5G service will be only 20% faster on average than 4G.
“This is not the gigabit speed that millimeter wave enables but, of course, those are only available over very short ranges and very limited spaces,” Mark McDiarmid, senior vice president of radio network engineering and development at T-Mobile, explains.
T-Mobile is seeking to merge with Sprint. If the deal closes–it’s facing opposition from a dozen or so state attorneys general–the carriers say they’ll be able to combine their airwave holdings and offer 5G that’s both widely available and even faster.
What phone do I need for T-Mobile 5G?
While T-Mobile turned on its 5G network on Monday, customers will need a new 5G compatible phone to get the faster speeds. Those don’t arrive until Friday. Two models, both fairly expensive, will be available initially. Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+ 5G retails for $1,300. And the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren sells for $900. T-Mobile will also have installment payment plans, rebates, and trade in offers on both devices. Later next year, the carrier says more 5G compatible phones at lower prices will hit the market. Existing phones will still work with 4G service.
Which T-Mobile plans get 5G?
In another difference from rivals, T-Mobile said it would make its 5G network available to all of its customers, including those on lower priced prepaid plans, if they buy a compatible phone. Competitors are only including 5G with higher-end unlimited data plans or adding a 5G surcharge of $10 per month.