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T-Mobile/Sprint Merger Promises Fake 5G Initially; Only Slightly Better Than 4G LTE

The head of T-Mobile USA claims a merged T-Mobile and Sprint will be the best positioned to quickly deliver 5G wireless service to Americans, despite claims from industry insiders Legere’s claim is little more than vaporware.

“Only the new T-Mobile will have the network and spectrum capacity to quickly create a broad and deep 5G network in the first few years of the 5G innovation cycle, the years that will determine if American firms lead or follow in the 5G digital economy,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere claimed during the April 29th merger announcement.

But the 5G network Legere is referring to is little better than T-Mobile’s existing 4G LTE network, and won’t be capable of delivering gigabit speeds or an in-home broadband replacement.

Broadband expert Dave Burstein characterizes T-Mobile’s audacious 5G claims as part of a campaign to “bamboozle D.C.” to win merger approval.

It turns out T-Mobile is not talking about the same 5G technology under development at AT&T and Verizon, which both use millimeter wave networks and small cell antennas.

T-Mobile’s version of 5G is a already appearing elsewhere around the world — a new definition incremental upgrade for 4G LTE, “70-90 percent slower than the good stuff — millimeter wave,” claims Burstein.

“Folks building LTE-speed networks wanted to be called ‘5G’ and take advantage of the massive hype,” Burstein wrote. “So they made ‘New Definition 5G’ with a PR campaign and a minor software tweak, dubbed ‘NR’ for New Radio. 4G LTE networks [suddenly] became ‘5G.’ Every engineer in the business knows this is a scam.”

T-Mobile’s version of ‘5G’ is likely to appear on its spectrum in the 600 MHz range, easily deployed from existing cell towers and relatively cheap and easy to launch. It won’t deliver anything close to the speed or capacity improvements being claimed by Legere and a few others in the industry.

“Legere is swearing to Washington the T-Mobile 640 MHz 5G NR network will be many times faster than LTE,” Burstein said. “That isn’t true, of course. It’s far more likely to be only 25%-50% faster, or perhaps less. It may even be slower than the 500 MHz LTE/LAA T-Mobile already has in Manhattan.”

China claims to be ahead of the United States — another issue being pushed by T-Mobile merger supporters to “regain” America’s “lead” on 5G — by deploying its own version of 5G similar to the ‘new definition’ version of 5G Burstein talks about. The Trump Administration has even contemplated nationalizing America’s 5G network infrastructure to share benefits among all leading wireless carriers, if only to speed deployment and generate new demand for network equipment produced in the United States — not China.

But a closer look at China Mobile’s version of 5G finds the company installing approximately two million “mid-band” 5G cellular antennas that will work at 3.7 GHz. It isn’t the millimeter wave 5G technology contemplated by AT&T and Verizon, and won’t deliver much faster speeds than China Mobile’s existing 4G LTE infrastructure. Instead, it will help China Mobile better manage its bandwidth demand with a network at least twice as large as that of AT&T or Verizon.

Critics of ‘new definition 5G’ call the technology “evolutionary, not revolutionary.”

What makes millimeter wave 5G technology superior is the wide swath of dedicated spectrum typically available for wireless broadband. Some companies will have 400 to 800 MHz of frequencies available to support millimeter wave 5G, while the maximum spectrum for LTE is around 100 MHz. That extra millimeter wave spectrum has delivered up to 20 Gbps speeds in the lab, and Verizon is contemplating selling gigabit speed service to its fixed wireless customers using the technology sometime this year.

Despite Legere’s boastful claims, Burstein warns politicians and regulators they need to learn that T-Mobile’s type of “5G” is no longer “a big thing in most cases.” Even seasoned regulators like Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai at the FCC have incorrectly confused new definition 5G with millimeter wave 5G. Others, including Andrus Ansip at the EU and several Chinese leaders, have made similar mistakes as part of boastful claims about future network performance.

Burstein says it is a case of not listening to network engineers, who know the difference.

“They have engineers at the FCC,” Burstein said. “If they listen to the engineers, they will know the [merger] deal is not in the public interest.”

Currently there are 2 comments on this Article:

  1. Ian Littman says:

    Counterpoint: mmWave based 5G is going to be a bear to deploy, to the point that 5G NR from T-Mo et al will likely have nationwide coverage before mmWave based 5G makes it out of downtowns of big cities. Same, to a lesser extent, applies to 5G over BRS/EBS that Sprint will be deploying…except with BRS/EBS (aka LTE Band 41) spectrum you actually have enough there to hit gigabit speeds.

    To be honest, 5G on ultra-high-band spectrum makes the most sense for fixed wireless use, where you can put an antenna somewhere unobstructed. Mobile use? You want < 6 GHz (LAA is at the top of this range, CBRS is below that, etc.) so our signal doesn’t disappear as soon as you step out of line of sight of a cell.

    “Just deploy a ton of small cells”. That takes time, plus a partnership with some backhaul provider who’ll give you a ton of high-bandwidth connections for cheap. Hence e.g. the Sprint + Altice deal. Hence Spectrum and Comcast (and Optimum) running WiFi off of their cable networks.

    In the mean time, if 5G NR gets me 100 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up everywhere a 500 MHz signal can go, that’s sufficiently impressive to be excited about.

  2. Paul Houle says:

    There is hope for fixed wireless, at least for me, since I have no hope for Frontier.

    I have investigated some wireless offerings from MVNOs and similar organizations that ride on the big wireless networks.

    There is a big cell phone tower that AT&T and Verizon are on at least which covers the next valley over but there is a lot of forest, rock, dirt (really hill) in the way. It is what they call “near line of site” as opposed to “line of site”.

    With a good radio, a directional antenna, and siting I was able to get 2 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up which is the same down I get with Frontier and a vastly better up. This was with a 5 MHz slice of 850 MHz spectrum. The big two carriers have much more 850 MHz spectrum than that in my area.

    If a carrier were to deploy more spectrum, change the antennas, apply software upgrades, and configure their plant accordingly they could deliver much better than 10 Mbps down at my spot, and possibly use technologies like MIMO to exceed the 25 Mbps broadband definition if they were doing it as a demo.

    LTE networks are challenged to manage both mobile and fixed terminals. My fixed terminal is plugged into the wall outlet and has an unlimited supply of energy as compared to a phone, plus it has a directional antenna that lets me throw maybe 100 times more energy at the tower than otherwise. The tower would usually want to hear my signal at about the same level as the others so it won’t have mine transmit as it’s maximum power under most circumstances.

    The tower has the choice however of allocating different times and frequencies for different users thus having some slot where mine can transmit at full power and upload faster (especially in terms of latency)

    As you see “it is complicated” but I think wireless carriers can beat DSL for another mile or two past the end of the cable if they put their wallet behind it.

    600 MHz spectrum would be great for this purpose, so power to T-Mobile. What I would see though is that many places have no 600 MHz licenses but also no working protocol for “white space” use.

    AT&T’s idea of putting together a sat TV service together with fixed wireless does not seem so crazy after all.

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