T-Mobile execs talk up 5G prospects while merger trial proceeds

After more than 18 months of wrangling, T-Mobile's executive team is still proclaiming the $26.5 billion merger deal with Sprint would enable it to create the best mobile network in the US.

When the T-Mobile team arrived in Manhattan on Tuesday morning to talk at a UBS analyst conference, the trial against the carrier's planned merger with Sprint entered its second day just across town. In direct contrast to T-Mobile's messaging, 13 state attorney generals said this merger would be bad for the US consumer.

Mike Sievert, T-Mobile's chief operating operator (COO) who soon will replace John Legere as CEO, told USB attendees the trial judge "wants to wrap up" the legal hearing as early as December 20 or December 23.

There is still the potential for settlement with state attorneys right up until the verdict comes down, Sievert stresses. The verdict is expected to be announced several weeks after the trial ends.

The carrier's network ambitions for 5G, however, are -- as yet -- undaunted by any trial proceedings, executives stressed.

"We're going to create the best damn network in the US by a country mile," says the newly appointed president of technology, Neville Ray, during the UBS event.

The key task when, and if the merger closes, will be to roll out 2.5GHz Sprint midband spectrum on T-Mobile's cell sites, Ray says. He says that construction will take around 12 months, as T-Mobile completes all the permitting issues around the 2.5GHz technology. "We have a lot of permits ready to roll," says the longtime technology chief.

By combining T-Mobile's newly launched near-nationwide 600MHz 5G footprint with Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum holdings, plus T-Mobile's limited millimeter wave, the new T-Mobile will create a mobile network that averages 400 Mbit/s nationwide over the air. The 600MHz network is the largest 5G deployment in the world so far, with 200 million Americans already covered, Ray claims.

"Not [just] on some street corner in Manhattan," sniffs Ray, alluding to the WiFi hotspot-like distances of about 1,000 feet or so covered by Verizon's current millimeter wave 5G technology so far. Verizon has not revealed yet when it will launch a commercial nationwide 5G network, but it is expected to have dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) -- which can run both 4G and 5G signals within the same frequency band sometime next year.

"[It's] incredibly expensive, incredibly difficult," Ray says of Verizon's 5G millimeter wave rollout so far.

T-Mobile's lowband 5G is way slower than the gigabit download speeds reached by mmWave, when you can find a highband signal to connect to! Currently the lowband tops out at around 100 Mbit/s, but covers millions more potential customers than mmWave.

Beyond the here and now, the T-Mobile executives expressed interest in a C-Band (3.7GHz-4.2GHz) as an upcoming global midband frequency for 5G. The execs expect that an auction will take place around 12 to 18 months from now, with spectrum from that auction coming online another year to 18 months after that.

"The US needs to move on this," Ray commented.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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