T-Mobile is 8 Months Behind U.S. Cellular in Its Plans to Disrupt 'Big Cable'

T-Mobile today released the details of its planned test of fixed wireless LTE -- and the offering is virtually identical to what U.S. Cellular launched almost a year ago.

Nonetheless, T-Mobile is seeking to position the action as a first step by the company toward "home broadband disruption," part of its attempts to "take the fight to Big Cable."

More broadly, T-Mobile's pilot of LTE fixed wireless technology is part of the operator's efforts to gain regulatory approval for its proposed merger with Sprint. And T-Mobile is making no secret about that: "Due to LTE network and spectrum capacity constraints, the T-Mobile Home Internet pilot is limited by invitation-only to existing customers in specific areas, with the goal of reaching 50,000 households by the end of the year -- or slightly less than 0.04% of U.S. households," the operator wrote in its press release. "But if T-Mobile's pending merger with Sprint is approved, with the added scale and capacity of the New T-Mobile, the Un-carrier plans to cover more than half of U.S. households with 5G broadband service – in excess of 100 Mbps – by 2024. And Americans stand to save billions."

In its announcement today, T-Mobile said that it is now sending out invitations to select customers in rural areas for its "T-Mobile Home Internet" service. The company said it expects to expand the pilot to a total of 50,000 households by the end of the year. The offering provides unlimited, uncapped in-home Internet services at around 50 Mbit/s for $50 per month with automatic payments. The carrier said the service carries no annual service contracts, no hidden fees and no equipment costs. T-Mobile will mail customers a router that they can install in their home; the router connects to T-Mobile's LTE network and broadcasts a WiFi signal inside the user's home.

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Aside from a few minor details, T-Mobile's "Home Internet" service is identical to one launched by U.S. Cellular in the summer. U.S. Cellular's fixed wireless service is available in rural areas of the company's LTE footprint, where the company has excess network capacity, and relies on a router that customers install inside their homes. Dubbed "High-Speed Internet," U.S. Cellular's offering costs $40 for 20GB of high-speed service per month, $50 for 50GB, $70 for 90GB, and $100 for "unlimited" service (U.S. Cellular's "unlimited" service is capped at 160GB). After customers exceed each of those monthly data allotments, their connection speeds are slowed to 2G speeds.

U.S. Cellular recently announced it is embarking on an expansion of its "High-Speed Internet" fixed wireless offering with plans to rely on receivers installed on the outside of customers' homes (instead of routers inside customers' homes) to increase the range and performance of the service. Multiple fixed wireless providers agree that such external installations generally improve customers' speeds.

U.S. Cellular counts roughly 5 million US mobile customers, making it the nation's fifth-largest wireless network operator. The company runs a wireless network in US states including parts of Texas, Washington state, Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Tennessee.

T-Mobile first floated its 5G fixed wireless plans in June 2018, shortly after it reached a merger agreement with Sprint. The company has said that, if it successfully merges with Sprint, it will be able to offer average speeds in excess of 100 Mbit/s to 90% of the country by 2024, and that it expects to garner roughly 10 million in-home Internet customers to the service by 2024. The argument is carefully geared toward convincing regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice that they should sign off on T-Mobile's merger with Sprint because it would be in the public interest.

But while it waits for regulatory approval, T-Mobile is moving forward with plans to test an LTE-powered fixed wireless offering outside of its Sprint merger. The company first announced those plans in February and then provided additional details on the plan earlier this month.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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