Last week, T-Mobile announced that it would be launching the first nationwide 5G network in the U.S. on December 6th. The nation's third-largest carrier plans on using a combination of its low-band 600Mz spectrum (which travels over large distances and penetrates structures), its ultra-high mmWave spectrum (which features large capacities and faster data speeds) and the mid-band spectrum it hopes to acquire in the Sprint merger.
T-Mobile announced that it will have 200 million Americans covered by its 5G signals in less than a month, and about 5,000 cities and towns across the U.S. will be able to take advantage of faster download data speeds. Surely Big Red has an answer for this aggressive foray by T-Mobile into the next generation of wireless connectivity, right? Uh, not really. Using only mmWave airwaves, Verizon hopes to double the number of markets it is currently serving with 5G from 15 to 30 by year's end.
Verizon says that its slower 5G rollout is "5G Built Right"
According to FierceWireless, Verizon EVP and CFO Matt Ellis spoke at the Morgan Stanley European Technology, Media & Telecom Conference 2019 in Barcelona. There, the executive said that the carrier's 5G buildout, which it calls "5G Built Right," is moving ahead with no surprises. Verizon is sticking to ultra-high mmWave even though the signals travel only short distances and do not easily penetrate structures. These characteristics of the spectrum are why the carrier will be well behind T-Mobile by the end of this year.
While T-Mobile has taunted Verizon about its lack of a coverage map, Ellis said that "We think it’s important … when you move from one generation of technology to another, the improvement in performance, it shouldn’t be a 10% improvement in performance, it should be a 10x improvement in performance." Verizon's CFO added, "We’re focused on building out 5G using millimeter wave and doing it the way you see us doing it." This doesn't mean that Verizon doesn't plan on using some mid-band airwaves. It currently is looking at employing some 3.5GHz spectrum that is part of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). It also joined U.S. Cellular, AT&T, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless and the C-Band Alliance in signing a letter written to the FCC requesting that the regulatory agency auctions off 280MHz of mid-band spectrum in 20MHz slices. The FCC has been considering such an auction of airwaves in the 3.7GHz to 4.2GHz range. Verizon says that if such an auction is held, it will participate. The agency will publish its December agenda next week and we should know by then whether it plans on releasing some mid-band spectrum. The FCC has a meeting on November 19th during which it will not discuss this auction. The FCC's meeting next month will take place on December 12th.
Mid-band signals can travel over long distances and also offer low latency. But the wireless industry does not have enough mid-band holdings and an auction could generate as much as $80 billion for the U.S.
5G is the next generation of wireless connectivity and can provide download data speeds 10 times faster than LTE. For example, during its announcement last week, T-Mobile President Mike Sievert said that T-Mobile's 5G service will hit data speeds as fast as 450Mbps by 2024 compared to the 25Mbps-40Mbps delivered by LTE. The faster speed should lead to new businesses and industries and help the global economy get a shot in the arm. We also might see self-driving automobiles and other technological marvels that depend on 5G service. Users will also be able to download an HD movie in seconds rather than the minutes that such a task now takes.