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Get ready for 5G: T-Mobile joins AT&T and Verizon with 5G testing plans

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T-Mobile, not to be outdone by its cellular rivals, will soon begin conducting tests of its high-speed, next-gen data network this year. That’s according to company network chief Neville Ray, who spoke with Recode on Wednesday following the company’s Q4 2015 earnings report.

The carrier will begin field testing its 5G technology in the next few months, Ray said, but it’ll be a few years before T-Mobile subscribers can take advantage of 5G. The company doesn’t expect to deploy service before 2020.

T-Mobile’s commitment to 5G comes on the heels of similar statements from AT&T and Verizon executives. In September of last year, Verizon chief information and technology architect Roger Gurnani said the carrier would begin field trials of 5G wireless ahead of deployment in 2017. Assuming the carrier sticks to that timeline, it’d be the first in the United States to do so. AT&T released a roadmap in February outlining its 5G build-out strategy: the company will begin lab tests of the tech in partnership with Ericsson and Intel in the second quarter of this year, and in the summer start field trials in Austin, Texas.

5G promises impressive improvements over 4G LTE. Verizon says its next-gen tech is 30 to 50 times faster than its current network, speedy enough to download an 25 GB Blu-ray movie in three minutes, and AT&T says the new standard has the potential to reduce latency — the amount of delay that precedes downloads — to as little as a millisecond.

Field tests in other countries have been promising. Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo, in partnership with Chinese phone maker Huawei, reached a peak download speed of more than 3Gbps during 5G trials earlier this year. And in 2014, Samsung researchers in South Korea managed 5G downloads of up to 1Gbps. And it’s theoretically capable of ever faster speeds; Korea Times reports that some implementations of 5G can reach up to 20Gbps, fast enough to download a 4K movie in about 10 seconds.

The International Telecommunications Union has set the date for commercialization of 5G for 2020, but regulatory roadblocks could prolong adoption. The 3GPP, the international body that establishes network standards, is in the process of hammering out the details of 5G. Phase two is scheduled to be completed in the first half of 2018, and some members are calling for changes to intellectual property and spectrum allocation rules.

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