Here's why T-Mobile and Sprint's combined 5G network could become an unstoppable force

Here's why T-Mobile and Sprint's combined 5G network could become an unstoppable force
Another comprehensive report has been put together to highlight the individual strengths and weaknesses of America's largest wireless service providers on their path to ubiquitous 5G, as well as the immense challenges faced by the industry as a whole while slowly transitioning from 4G LTE connectivity to the new gold standard in mobile download speeds.

After closely examining AT&T's network performance improvements on both 4G and 5G between the second half of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, RootMetrics is moving on to T-Mobile and Sprint today for a similarly rigorous analysis of cellular availability and speed across 55 markets. Naturally, the in-depth study relies on data collected before COVID-19 started becoming a problem at a US federal level, which RootMetrics is pitting against tests conducted throughout the last six months of 2019.

That makes it even more impressive to see how T-Mobile and Sprint have managed to progress in such a narrow window of time, especially considering how much the two carriers had on their plate in preparation for a merger that was finally completed on April 1, obviously not yielding any joint benefits while RootMetrics testers were performing their latest network evaluations.

Sprint made huge gains in dozens of markets

In case you've been living under a rock and are only now trying to comprehend why everyone is making a fuss about T-Mobile's acquisition of Sprint, these hot new test results should clarify everything. It's all about the "Now Network's" mid-band 5G spectrum, which can strike a remarkable balance between coverage and speed, unlike T-Mo's low-band and Verizon's mmWave technology.

Said balance is perhaps best illustrated by Sprint's numbers in Los Angeles, where 5G median download speeds exceeded 60 Mbps in the first months of 2020, with 5G availability also sitting at a solid 25.1 percent. The aforementioned mid-band spectrum allowed Sprint to deploy 5G in 20 of the 55 cities surveyed by RootMetrics, and speeds were "generally strong", occasionally doubling or even tripling the carrier's 4G LTE scores.

But Sprint actually gained more in the grand scheme of things from LTE network improvements, boosting its average download speeds in no less than 47 of the aforementioned 55 markets, three of which saw absolutely mind-blowing hikes of more than 20 Mbps year-on-year.

T-Mobile's stunning 5G availability numbers are not backed by significant speed upgrades... yet

If you're the least bit familiar with T-Mo's 5G rollout strategy, you shouldn't be the least bit surprised by the latest RootMetrics findings. The "layer cake" metaphor best describes Magenta's 5G network, with the first of three layers implemented "nationwide" late last year, the second being dedicated to the integration of Sprint's much-lauded mid-band technology, which has started shortly after the merger completion last month, and the third seeing "New T-Mobile" follow Verizon's suit by employing mmWave spectrum as the icing on the top.

Once again, the stats emphasize how T-Mo favored 5G coverage over speeds for the first phase in its grand 4G LTE-replacing plan, bringing a (mildly) improved signal in 42 of the 55 markets evaluated by RootMetrics.

The individual 5G availability results in these cities are for the most part absolutely spectacular, reaching as high as 60.3 percent in Boise, Idaho, 55.1 percent in Bakersfield, California, and 53.9 percent in Las Vegas, but the best 5G median download speeds are still below 50 Mbps, in a few places even losing out to T-Mobile's "outdated" 4G LTE network.

Overall, T-Mobile gained a lot less speed than Sprint in the last 12 months, but the sky remains the limit for what's to come in the next couple of years. That's because this new report only goes to show (for the umpteenth time) that T-Mobile and Sprint's 5G networks are essentially complementary, with the former's low-band spectrum taking care of the availability part of the equation and the latter's mid-band technology already improving speeds in places like Philadelphia and New York.

The missing piece of the puzzle is high-band mmWave spectrum, but T-Mobile is slowly enriching that part of its portfolio too. Besides, it doesn't look like Verizon's exclusively mmWave-based 5G network will be achieving ubiquity anytime soon. More on Big Red's specific struggles, by the way, will be revealed in a future RootMetrics report set to come out sometime in the next few weeks.

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