5G and Beyond

US Cellular Plots 600MHz 5G in Iowa & Wisconson in Early 2020

The fifth-largest mobile carrier in the country, US Cellular, will be one of the first operators to lauch lowband (600MHz) 5G.

The operator plans to launch 600MHz 5G in the first quarter of next year using hardware from Ericsson and Nokia. The deployment will be across rural and urban areas in Iowa and Wisconson, which US Cellular says are its key markets.

In Iowa, the cities getting 5G will include Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque and Waterloo. In Wisconsin, parts of Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Racine will see 5G service.

The infrastructure upgrades will include new 5G-ready 600MHz LTE basestations. To improve coverage, US Cellular will move radios to the top of the towers during the upgrade.

The operator says that 5G will deliver faster data speeds, a better mobile experience and the ability to connect more devices to the network.

Signals on the 600 MHz band can travel far greater distance than mmWave, which is another band that telcos use for 5G. But it's a tradeoff -- 600 MHz is not as fast as mmWave.

The company hasn’t given any concrete data on 600MHz mobile speeds yet. They are generally expected to be in the several hundred megabits per second download range, rather than the 30-Mbit/s range that top 4G networks in the US achieve today.

US Cellular also has spent $256 million on 24GHz and 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in the FCC auctions. In August, the operator’s CTO Michael Irizarry told Light Reading that these frequencies will provide "small cell coverage zones" for a wider 5G network. It is not yet clear when the mmWave 5G from US Cellular will roll out.

US Cellular could turn out to be one of the first US operators to deploy lowband 5G. T-Mobile has said it will deploy 5G nationwide in 2020, but Light Reading reported recently that the carrier has been slowing down its 600MHz efforts.

AT&T has said it will rollout lowband 5G nationwide in the first half of next year. This is expected to be on the 700MHz band.

Of course, lowband 5G devices will need to be available to actually get consumers on the network. Chipmaker Qualcomm has said that it will support 600MHz low-band FDD (frequency division duplexing) towards the end of 2019.

US Cellular will have 600MHz 5G devices in the first quarter of next year.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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