Count U.S. Cellular -- the fifth-largest wireless network operator in the United States in terms of customers -- as another player on the 5G landscape. The company announced plans to launch commercial 5G service sometime in the second half of 2019, making it the largest Tier 2 wireless company in the US to announce 5G launch plans.
U.S. Cellular said it will purchase equipment from Ericsson for the 5G launch. That's not a total surprise considering U.S. Cellular tested 5G technology with Ericsson way back in 2016, recording speeds up to 9 Gbit/s using 15GHz spectrum. Ericsson is also a major 5G supplier to the rest of the nation's top carriers, including Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
"We value our long-standing relationship with Ericsson and are impressed with their 5G-ready portfolio. We also know Ericsson is committed to meeting our deployment timeline in order to bring 5G to our customers in the second half of 2019," Michael Irizarry, the operator's CTO, said in a release.
So how exactly will U.S. Cellular deploy 5G? Apparently, the company's entire brain trust attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week, and therefore the company was unable to answer any questions about its 5G plans, including the value of the provider's new deal with Ericsson, the spectrum it will use for 5G, the coverage it expects to provide via 5G, and the 5G devices it plans to offer.
However, U.S. Cellular provided some insights into its 5G plans during its quarterly conference call with analysts last week. According to a transcript of the event, here are some key insights into U.S. Cellular's 5G plans:
U.S. Cellular isn't the only operator racing to 5G, nor is it the only operator deploying 5G on 600MHz spectrum; T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all disclosed 5G buildout plans, and much of T-Mobile's planned buildout will rely on the operator's 600MHz spectrum.
U.S. Cellular counts roughly 5 million US mobile customers. The company runs a wireless network in a handful of US states, including parts of Texas, Washington state, Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Tennessee and elsewhere. Its customers use its network roughly 90% of the time, but roam onto the networks of other providers when they travel outside of U.S. Cellular's relatively modest coverage area.