T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here is everything you need to know

T-Mobile says its 5G plans will be unlimited, won't cost more than current plans

First, schmirst. Every telecom company around the globe is working on a 5G network, and with the buzz and billions being lavished on the new technology, the question of who’s first out of the gate becomes moot. The real question is: Which one will be best — and which one will be best for you?

But wait, what is 5G, anyway? The fifth generation of wireless networks, or 5G, has been nearly a decade in the making, and it’s finally becoming a reality. Promising dramatically faster speeds, instantaneous communication, and the ability to network everything, 5G has incredible potential. A limited rollout of the service began in select cities in 2018, and mobile 5G will start appearing in cities around the U.S. in 2019, with much more comprehensive rollouts expected in 2020. For its part, T-Mobile worked diligently last year to build out a massive 5G network. And while it will not be able to claim the title of the first carrier to offer 5G, expect T-Mobile to light up its 5G network, which the company tested successfully in early January, in cities across the country in 2019.

If you want all the details about T-Mobile’s next-generation mobile network, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.

Mobile 5G

Thankfully for customers, T-Mobile’s 5G plans won’t look all that different from their current 4G plans. In an interview with PCMag, T-Mobile Chief Technology Office Neville Ray said that 5G plans will be unlimited and they won’t cost more than the current $70-per-month rate.

Originally, T-Mobile had hoped to get the first legs of its mobile 5G network ready in early 2019 — but it now looks like that won’t be happening. In another interview with CNET, Ray said that T-Mobile won’t be launching 5G service in its first 30 cities until the second half of 2019. As far as we know, T-Mobile is still aiming to deliver nationwide 5G by 2020.

Of course, the delayed rollout may not really matter. The fact is that only a few 5G-capable handsets are even available, and once the second half of 2019 does roll around, they’ll be much more prevalent.

Merger with Sprint

If T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint succeeds, expect to see the New T-Mobile’s 5G network deploy at lightning speed. While T-Mobile has been busy at work creating a massive low-band network, Sprint’s mid-band coverage will likely offer faster speeds with lower latency. With the two networks working together, customers should see solid coverage across the country, especially in rural areas.

According to a prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the merger could result in the so-called “New T-Mobile” having a  5G capacity three times the size of what the two companies have today.

“By 2024, the New T-Mobile network will have approximately double the total capacity and triple the total 5G capacity of T-Mobile and Sprint combined, with 5G speeds four to six times what they could achieve on their own,” T-Mobile said in the filing.

Thankfully, T-Mobile is vowing not to raise prices as a result of the merger. T-Mobile CEO John Legere has said that if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approves the merger, it’ll take price hikes off the table for three years. Of course, that’s not necessarily great news. Previously, T-Mobile claimed that the merger could result in prices being lowered.

Once the merger goes through, T-Mobile will be much better positioned to take on the likes of Verizon and AT&T but we’ll have to wait and see if it makes for faster 5G deployment.

Mobile Hardware

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T-Mobile is the only carrier that has yet to announce any 5G consumer hardware. We do, however, expect to see at least a handful of phones from the carrier in 2019.

Despite that it hasn’t announced any true 5G device, the company revealed a range of devices that take advantage of T-Mobiles 600MHz frequency band. Most recently, the company announced the Coolpad Surf hotspot, which supports 4G LTE Bands 2,4, 12 and 66 and 3G Bands 1,2 and 4. While it is the 29th device that takes advantage of the frequency, it’s the first hot spot to do so. The hot spot is available for $3 per month for 24 months, and data plans start at $10 per month.

What we can almost certainly promise you will not see in 2019, or any time soon, is a T-Mobile 5G hot spot. Legere has publicly lambasted all of the other networks with their 5G pucks. And in December 2018, the Un-Carrier mocked AT&T’s newly announced pucks with an “AT&T 5Gish Puck Gift Guide.”

Network

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While AT&T and Verizon are racing to roll out 5G on mmWave, T-Mobile is taking an entirely different approach. The Un-Carrier will initially use low-band spectrum to launch its 5G network.

Compared to mmWave, T-Mobile’s low-band (600MHz) has some real benefits. Low-band spectrum covers a much larger area, and can easily penetrate through buildings and vehicles. A downside, however, is that low-band spectrum cannot offer the same fast speeds you’ll find on mmWave networks.

That said, T-Mobile’s low-band network is here, and very much real. In partnership with Ericsson, the company announced at CES 2019 that it had completed the world’s first 5G data and video call on 600MHz. The company also completed a 5G video call on multiple bands — 600MHz, 28GHz, and 39GHz.

That’s because, in addition to its low-band network, T-Mobile is also aggressively building out on 28GHz and mid-band spectrum. This combination should offer excellent coverage throughout the country, with quicker mmWave pockets in metropolitan areas and busy public spaces, Legere said.

“While the other guys focus on 5G millimeter wave on a handful of blocks in a handful of cities, we’re building 5G for everyone, everywhere! And together with Sprint, we’ll add much-needed spectrum depth, creating a truly transformative 5G network!” he added.

Fixed 5G

When it comes to fixed 5G, it looks like T-Mobile wants to be one of the biggest players in the industry. The carrier submitted a statement to the FCC in late 2018 about its fixed 5G plans. In the statement, T-Mobile predicts it will be in more than 1.9 million homes by 2021. And by 2024, the Un-Carrier plans to be a fixed 5G option for more than half the ZIP codes in the U.S., making it the fourth largest in-home ISP.

T-Mobile has actually already started its home internet rollout, but it’s not starting with 5G — it’ll start by rolling out a home version of LTE. The LTE home service will be coming to select markets soon, with a 5G version of the service to launch later.

Fixed Wireless Hardware

T-Mobile’s fixed 5G hardware has yet to be announced, but the company claims installation will be so easy, you won’t even need a service technician to swing by the house. “Unlike other in-home broadband offerings, the wireless nature of the offering will also provide customers with the choice of avoiding installation appointments and related charges, as they will be able to self-provision the necessary in-home equipment,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert in a fall filing with the FCC, according to Fierce Wireless.

Updated on April 4, 2019: Added information about T-Mobile’s home internet rollout. 

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