5G over low frequency spectrum seems to be a waste of time

T-Mobile was able to claim the first US 5G network thanks to its 600 MHz spectrum, but it immediately started managing-down expectations, so what was the point?

Multiple reports are claiming TMUS has been telling its excited punters that the speed increase with 5G will be, on average, around 20%. That’s a pretty major anti-climax after all the hype suggesting 5G would be ten times faster and all that. As ever with the tendency of US operator marketing departments to massively over-promise, they have to confront the facts on the ground sooner or later.

Having said all that it’s important to stress that early tests of the TMUS 5G network have, at times, yielded speed increases far greater than that average (which also implies there are other times there will be now increase at all, or even a decrease). PC Mag has done a good job of initial testing and found results vary according to the expected factors such as distance from the cell and time of day.

PC Mag concludes that, while TMUS’s 5G does represent an upgrade over its 4G service, the improvement is neither so great nor consistent enough to get too excited about. Elsewhere VentureBeat, Cnet, and Slashgear offer similarly nuanced reports that all agree there’s a limited amount to get too excited about at this stage.

Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle was so underwhelmed it had a bit of a moan to TMUS and got the following statement in response. “In some places, 600 MHz 5G will be a lot faster than LTE. In others, customers won’t see as much difference. On average, customers with a 600 MHz 5G phone should see a 20 percent download speed boost on top of what T-Mobile’s LTE network delivers, and with the New T-Mobile they can expect that to get exponentially faster over time, just like we saw when 4G was first introduced.”

That’s all fair enough but it still feels like a pretty major climb-down from all the utopian noise we’ve been getting the US about 5G. TMUS even had the nerve to attack its competitors for over-hyping 5G earlier this week, only to then release the above statement. While there is some special sauce in 5G NR, the main bandwidth improvements are derived from simply using the fatter pipes available at higher frequencies.

The reason there’s all this spectrum available at higher bands is that it’s pretty rubbish for telecommunications. It has short range and poor propagation characteristics. So while the use of 600 MHz technically enables nationwide 5G, the kind of 5G that has been promised will only arrive once operators have added a zillion small cells to transmit higher frequencies and that won’t happen for a while.

T-Mobile launches America’s ‘first nationwide 5G network’

TMUS finally makes good use of its 600 MHz spectrum to be able to claim the country’s first 5G network with nationwide coverage.

The 5G network apparently covers 200 million people and a million square miles, which isn’t a bad effort. How much 5G wonder subscribers with get from the relatively small chunks of 600 MHz spectrum TMUS is using to achieve this first remains to be seen but, as ever the company itself concedes, it’s a ‘critical first step’.

“5G is here on a nationwide scale,” said TMUS CEO John Legere. “This is a huge step towards 5G for all. While dumb and dumber focus on 5G for the (wealthy) Few, launching in just a handful of cities — and forcing customers into their most expensive plans to get 5G — we’re committed to building broad, deep nationwide 5G that people and businesses can access at no extra cost with the New T-Mobile, and today is just the start of that journey.”

In his usual dry, understated style, Legere is presumably referring to AT&T and Verizon, although he doesn’t indicate which one is dumber. Being the seasoned telecoms exec he is, Legere realised he’d better also launch some compatible phones, so from the end of this week TMUS early adopters can get hold of OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren and the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G for $900 and $1300 respectively.

“The carriers have been over-hyping 5G for years now, setting expectations beyond what they can deliver,” said Neville Ray, TMUS President of Technology. “When Verizon says #5GBuiltRight, they must mean sparse, expensive and limited to outdoors only. Meanwhile at T-Mobile, we built 5G that works for more people in more places, and this is just the start.”

There was lots more noise from them, as you would expect, but you get the message. TMUS is great and everyone else is rubbish and duplicitous. It’s not the most subtle marketing strategy but it seems to be working, so who are we to scoff? It looks like the 5G service doesn’t come at a premium over 4G either, and there’s some kind of extra incentive for people to switch networks, so TMUS seems to be going hard on this one.

Here’s the coverage map and those crazy guys even did a vid.

Ericsson, T-Mobile and Qualcomm claim 600 MHz 5G first

A trio of telecoms trailblazers has claimed the world’s first low-band 5G data session on a commercial 5G modem.

T-Mobile US, Ericsson and Qualcomm were the operator, networking vendor and modem vendors involved, with T-Mobile chosen because the 600 MHz band forms a big part of its 5G plans. The demo was conducted at T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington, using Ericsson’s Radio System and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 modem.

“This modem will power devices that tap into the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we’ll use to blanket the country with 5G.” said TMUS CTO Neville Ray. “And we’re not stopping there. If regulators approve our merger with Sprint, we’ll have the crucial mid-band spectrum and resources needed to supercharge our network and deliver broad AND deep, transformational 5G across the U.S.”

“Today’s data call marks a significant milestone in 5G’s ongoing rollout across the United States, paving the way for the launch of commercial networks and devices on low-band FDD spectrum,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm President. “This call demonstrates the ability to dramatically increase 5G’s global footprint and we look forward to continuing our work with industry leaders like Ericsson and T-Mobile to unlock the full potential of 5G for consumers and new industries around the world.”

“Ericsson and Qualcomm Technologies have successfully tested and commercialized 5G globally across different spectrum bands, and together with T-Mobile we have now reached another major milestone as we are enabling 5G on low bands,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson. “This shows that our industry is now ready for building wider 5G coverage that will enhance end user experience.”

That’s about it really, but it’s a Friday in the middle of Summer so news is thin on the ground, alright? As you can see from the canned quotes, ‘firsts’ like these largely exist to give the parties involved a bit of publicity and make them look ahead of the game. Someone had to do 5G over 600 MHz first, we guess, so well done chaps.

Rivals get Rogered in Canadian 600 MHz spectrum auction

Canada made 70 MHz of 600 MHz spectrum available nationally in a recent auction and Rogers got nearly half of it.

Low frequency spectrum such as this is especially handy in huge countries such as Canada due to its long range. Canada split the band, which covers 614-698 MHz including the guard band and duplex gap, into seven chunks of 10 MHz. Each of those in turn was divided into 16 regions, making 112 licenses in total. As you can see in the table below Rogers got 52 of those, dropping C$1.725 billion for the privilege.

Canada 600mhz auction

“We are proud to make leading and meaningful investments to build the 5G ecosystem in Canada and to help drive our country’s global competitive advantage,” said Joe Natale, CEO of Rogers Communications. “This 5G spectrum is a precious and scarce resource that will benefit Canadians and Canadian businesses across the country.”

It’s interesting that this is being positioned as 5G spectrum. Unlike millimetre wave, for example, there’s nothing uniquely 5G about low frequency spectrum, so we can only assume the Canadian government made the spectrum available on the condition that it’s used for 5G. Having said that the quote further down from Shaw appears to contradict that.

In distant second place in terms of spend was Telus. “The acquisition and deployment of this spectrum is critical to the advancement of our national 5G growth strategy and to the global-leading network quality, speed and coverage we provide to Canadians,” said Telus CEO Darren Entwistle. “As the demand for wireless data continues to grow, the acquisition of 600 MHz spectrum will enable Telus to deliver enhanced urban and rural connectivity to our customers on Canada’s fastest and most reliable network.”

Shaw Communications subsidiary Freedom Mobile seemed to get a good deal by paying half as much as Telus for more population coverage. “We have made significant investments to improve the wireless experience for Canadians, becoming a true alternative to the incumbents, with a differentiated value proposition,” said Brad Shaw, Shaw CEO. “The addition of this 600 MHz low band spectrum will not only vastly improve our current LTE service but will also serve as a foundational element of our 5G strategy providing innovative and affordable wireless services to Canadians for years to come.”

Conspicuously absent from the process was Bell, which seems to think it didn’t need any because it’s already sorted for low frequency spectrum. “Bell leverages each new generation of wireless network technology to drive renewed innovation and productivity growth, and with 5G we’ll take connectivity further than ever before with smart cities, connected vehicles and other revolutionary service advancements for both consumers and business users,” said Bell’s CTO Stephen Howe. “Bell looks forward to participating in upcoming federal auctions of the mid band 3500 MHz and high band millimetre wave spectrum that will be required to drive the Fifth Generation of wireless.”

So while Rogers got loads more licenses than anyone else, Freedom Mobile could be viewed at the big winner in terms of cost per population covered. According to Ovum’s WCIS Freedom only accounts for around 5% of Canadian mobile subscribers right now. Judging by the outcome of this auction it has ambitions to significantly increase that share in the 5G era.

T-Mobile US breathes a sigh of relief as first phone to support 600 MHz is launched

The new LG V30 is the first phone that can use the 600 MHz band, which is especially handy for TMUS following its latest piece of premature triumphalism.

A couple of weeks ago the magenta army started banging on about how big its spectrum is thanks to winning some nice, long-range 600 MHz band in the recent auction. At the time this was an especially pointless piece of posturing – even by Legere’s lofty standards – since there were no devices that supported that band.

Now LG has come to the rescue with the launch of its new flagship smartphone – the V30 – at the IFA consumer electronics show, which is the first to support the band. Typically TMUS has had the nerve to claim even this as a victory by trying to infer that the two week wait for a single supporting phone is some kind of herculean achievement. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that the V30 is still months away from finding its way onto US shelves.

“We’re lighting up our new super spectrum for LTE and laying the foundation for 5G so fast we’re making the other guys’ heads spin – and with the LG V30, everything is coming together in record time,” ranted TMUS CEO John Legere. “While the carriers try to fake their way to 5G and back off unlimited to keep their networks from caving even more, the Un-carrier’s building the future of wireless and a bigger, better, faster, future-proof network.”

“They said it wouldn’t be possible,” raved TMUS CTO Neville Ray. “They said it wouldn’t be quick. Clearly, they don’t know T-Mobile. Smartphones are coming, we just lit up another location with LTE on 600 MHz and we’re laying a foundation for nationwide 5G at the same time. The carriers must get tired of T-Mobile continually running circles ‘round them!” And breathe.

TMUS also threw Ericsson a bone by acknowledging its role in a claimed 5G network rollout Ray first shouted about at an Ericsson event at MWC this year. Ericsson is specifically providing the kit for 5G over 600 MHz. “The US has hit another milestone with the historic rollout of 5G-ready technology in record-breaking time,” effused Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “The work we’re doing with T-Mobile on its low-band spectrum is paving the way for 5G in rural America and nationwide.”

Ericsson is also making sweet, sweet 5G with Softbank in Japan, issuing an especially short and inconsequential press release today saying they will do a proof of concept trial over the 4.5 GHz band in urban areas once Softbank gets a license to do so. Why that warranted a special announcement all of its own is not clear.