T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here’s everything you need to know

T-Mobile has launched its 5G network in select areas of six cities, including New York City and Los Angeles, but it’s not the big 5G launch of the year we’re expecting from the “un-carrier.” Its initial rollout uses a different type of spectrum instead of the 600MHz frequency the company has been accumulating and touting for some time. Expect the full launch — with a host of 600MHz 5G devices — toward the end of the year.

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. Select cities in the U.S. this year already have areas supporting 5G service, but more comprehensive launches are expected in 2020. For its part, T-Mobile worked diligently in 2018 to build out a massive 5G network, and started a limited launch on June 28.

Here’s everything you need to know about T-Mobile’s 5G rollout.

T-Mobile 5G availability: Major U.S. cities

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Mobile 5G

Thankfully for customers, T-Mobile’s 5G plans aren’t all that different from its current 4G plans. T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said 5G plans will be unlimited and won’t cost more than the current $70-per-month rate (for a single line).

The initial 5G launch utilizes millimeter wave (mmWave), which is the high-band spectrum used by Verizon in its 5G launch. With mmWave, you’ll see super-fast download speeds and low latency, but range and building penetration is poor. You’ll frequently rely on 4G LTE, but small pockets of cities (think blocks) will deliver up to 1Gbps 5G speeds. Digital Trends has tested Verizon’s mmWave 5G network in Chicago, and the experience should be similar on T-Mobile’s mmWave network.

This launch is tied to the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G on T-Mobile, which is also available now. With the Galaxy S10 5G, you’ll be able to use 5G in parts of Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.

T-Mobile, however, has also begun testing 5G on its low-band 600MHz spectrum. The company announced its first 5G session on 600MHz using the new Snapdragon X55 5G modem, which supports 600MHz and will be available in smartphones starting later this year, like the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G.

“This is a key step toward achieving our vision of 5G for All,” said Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer at T-Mobile, in a statement. “This modem will power devices that tap into the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we’ll use to blanket the country with 5G. And we’re not stopping there. If regulators approve our merger with Sprint, we’ll have the crucial mid-band spectrum and resources needed to supercharge our network and deliver broad and deep, transformational 5G across the U.S.”

The 600MHz spectrum is low-band, which means it won’t deliver as fast speeds as mid-band (Sprint) or mmWave (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile), but it can cover a much larger area and can penetrate buildings well. It’s how T-Mobile is planning to deliver nationwide 5G by 2020.

With this low-band, paired with more mmWave spectrum scattered in key areas, along with the mid-band from Sprint if the merger goes through, T-Mobile is well positioned in the 5G race.

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 offer slightly faster speeds with lower latency. With the two networks working together, customers should see more robust 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. It should be noted that previously, T-Mobile claimed 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.

5G Hardware

T-Mobile’s 5G hardware is slim pickings at the moment, but it’s slowly growing. Right now, the Galaxy S10 5G is the only device available on T-Mobile that supports 5G, however the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G will eventually be available too — and it’ll be the first to support T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum.

  • Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G costs a whopping $1,300, but T-Mobile is also offering it for $31.25 per month (with a $550 down payment) for 24 months.

We’ll update this section when more 5G devices support T-Mobile’s network.

Updated on March 3, 2020: Added map showing 5G availability.

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