T-Mobile today announced that its 5G network rollout now covers 287 million people with low-band 5G spectrum, using the 600 MHz frequency, and 125 million PoPs with mid-band 5G spectrum, using the 2.5 GHz frequency. Indeed, T-Mobile remains on-track to cover 200 million people or PoPs in the United States, with mid-band 5G by the end of 2021.
Mid-band 5G is critical because it can deliver speeds of 300 megabits per second, on average, with peak speeds of 1 gigabit per second. Notably, Verizon and AT&T will not have begun deploying their mid-band 5G spectrum holdings, acquired through the C-band auction, during 2021.
C-band Auction 107 – Results for T-Mobile
T-Mobile invested $9.3bn in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) C-band auction, selectively acquiring 27 MHz of national average mid-band spectrum depth. Verizon and AT&T spent $45.5bn and $23.4bn, respectively, in the C-band auction. However, T-Mobile maintains its leading position in mid-band spectrum, with over 250 MHz of depth.
Overall, T-Mobile secured C-band (i.e., 3.7 GHz to 3.98 GHz) spectrum in top markets nationwide. Specifically, the wireless carrier focused on markets including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. This is in-part because C-band functions best in urban environments, given it does not propagate as well as other mid-band frequencies, such as 2.5 GHz.
T-Mobile’s Mid-Band 5G Strategy – 2.5 GHz and C-band
In the mid-band range, C-band offers a strong mix of coverage and capacity (e.g., speed). However, there are important differences between C-band and 2.5 GHz, the mid-band 5G spectrum rollout that T-Mobile is currently undertaking. Most notably, C-band does not travel as far as 2.5 GHz from the cellular tower, from which it is broadcast.
T-Mobile engineers estimate C-band will require 50% more tower cell sites for meaningful and continuous coverage. Furthermore, densification requirements for in-building settings can be 4x higher for C-band than 2.5 GHz.
Overall, T-Mobile invested in C-band to supplement its much broader 2.5 GHz footprint. Specifically, T-Mobile acquired spectrum licenses in select urban and suburban areas, where it already has a dense network. This strategy will allow for C-band spectrum to quickly be deployed by T-Mobile to new PoPs. In turn, T-Mobile will be able to provide a more meaningful performance boost for its customers.
Future U.S. Spectrum Auctions – T-Mobile to Grow its Holdings Further
T-Mobile is unlikely to finish its mid-band spectrum purchases with C-band. Indeed, two important spectrum auctions in the United States are on-track to take place in 2021. Specifically, T-Mobile will have opportunities to supplement its mid-band spectrum holdings further through two auctions outlined below:
Auction 108 – 2.5 GHz Band
In 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is targeting an auction in the 2.5 GHz band, through Auction 108. Specifically, Auction 108 will offer up to 116.5 MHz of spectrum depth through three blocks of spectrum, in the 2496 to 2690 MHz frequency range. These blocks include Block 1 for 49.5 MHz, Block 2 for 50.5 MHz, and Block 3 for 16.5 MHz.
T-Mobile is currently the only wireless carrier using 2.5 GHz spectrum. Therefore, it is likely that T-Mobile will face minimal competition from Verizon, AT&T, and DISH Network in this auction. Indeed, T-Mobile may be able to supplement its mid-band spectrum holdings, at a much more economical cost than C-band, which yielded pricing of $0.94 per MHz-PoP.
3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz Band
An additional 100 MHz of 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz, will potentially go to auction in December 2021. Specifically, in August 2020, the White House and Department of Defense announced the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz band would be made available for auction by the FCC.
Future United States Spectrum for Commercial Use
Interested in future spectrum bands in the U.S. that could become available for commercial use in the next 12+ months? Check out our comprehensive report on future U.S. spectrum here.