T-Mobile is the third biggest network in the US, and is currently rolling out 5G across the country.
Although it has strived to exude confidence around its 5G plans, not all has been straightforward. That's largely thanks to a protracted merger with smaller rival Sprint that's already been two years in the pipeline but will be concluded on 1 April.
It's also not necessarily being true to the meaning of 5G itself.
That's because the company launched what it calls "America’s first nationwide 5G network in the fourth quarter of 2019 using 600 MHz spectrum". But that is using low-band 5G, which is essentially 4G with a few enhancements to make it quicker. T-Mobile rightly calls it a "foundational layer of its 5G network" and while that's true, it's not really full 5G.
The increased speeds do cover more than 200 million people and more than 1 million square miles across the US. T-Mobile - and it's outspoken CEO John Legere - have been critical of rival Verizon, accusing its rival of talking a big game about 5G.
Legere is due to stand down in 2020 and his replacement Mike Sievert is a little less outspoken versus his rivals.
That didn't mean the company won't say anything controversial though - at a January event in Las Vegas, T-Mobile's head of technology Neville Ray was bullish about the transaction with Sprint, T-Mobile current dependence on low-band spectrum - dismissed as "just the beginning" and rivals.
Ray said: "I want to be sitting here this time next year with you talking about this tremendous network which is literally kicking the ass out of AT&T and Verizon, because their plans cannot match what we can do with the combination with Sprint."
One thing's for sure - T-Mobile is still gaining customers at some speed. Figures from the fourth quarter of 2019 point towards a million 'postpaid' customers; people who pay a monthly bill. 77,000 pay-as-you-go or prepaid customers were also added over the period. All those who use T-Mobile's network stood at a remarkable 86 million including wholesale customers who use services from other brands.
According to the network, that means it has added 53 million users since 2013. Not surprising when you have had 27 successive quarters with over a million new users added.
What's going on with the T-Mobile and Sprint merger?
On 12 February a federal judge in the New York Court has ruled in favour of letting T-Mobile and Sprint merge. While the merger was reluctantly approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice last year, it then faced a legal challenge from 16 states concerned about rising prices for consumers.
Judge Victor Marrero seemed swayed by T-Mobile US' image as a dynamic player in mobile: "T-Mobile has redefined itself over the past decade as a maverick that has spurred the two largest players in its industry to make numerous pro-consumer changes.
"The proposed merger would allow the merged company to continue T-Mobile’s undeniably successful business strategy for the foreseeable future."
T-Mobile's 5G rollout plans depend heavily on the $26 billion merger going through because it wants Sprint's mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile says its 5G network capacity will increase by 14x.
The merger will conclude on 1 April.
📣ATTN: America 📣The moment we've been waiting for - we WON in Court!! The #NewTMobile is now 1️⃣ step closer to being finalized!! The new Supercharged Un-carrier will provide benefits for ALL customers & drive competition! We can't wait!🎉 key info: https://t.co/szV2VJEcxwFebruary 11, 2020
The combined network has had to concede that it will sell Boost Mobile (a Sprint-owned MVNO) as well as valuable spectrum assets to Dish, effectively ensuring that the US mobile market will gain a new fourth major competitor.
As part of the deal, Dish has been mandated by regulators that it must build a 5G network covering 70 percent of the US population by 2023. A key argument in the T-Mobile-Sprint federal court case was that Dish wouldn't actually go through with the plans and would effectively just keep hold of the spectrum as an asset which it would then sell on later. However, the judge dismissed these concerns.
T-Mobile/Sprint even has to support Dish's entry still further, running a Dish MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) for seven years while the company builds its own network. That's quite some commitment.
"Today was a huge victory for this merger," said current T-Mobile CEO CEO John Legere. "Now we are FINALLY able to focus on the last steps to get this merger done!
"We want to thank the Court for its thorough review of the facts we presented in our case. We’ve said it all along: the New T-Mobile will be a supercharged Un-carrier that is great for consumers and great for competition.
"The broad and deep 5G network that only our combined companies will be able to bring to life is going to change wireless … and beyond. Look out Dumb and Dumber and Big Cable – we are coming for you … and you haven’t seen anything yet!”
Legere is characteristically outspoken as demonstrated by his characterisation of AT&T and Verizon in that last paragraph.
Sprint executive chairman Marcelo Claure said that "today brings us a big step closer to creating a combined company that will provide nationwide 5G, lower costs and a high-performing network that will invigorate competition to the benefit of all mobile wireless and in-home broadband consumers."
T-Mobile 5G cities
As we said above, T-Mobile launched its nationwide 5G service in December covering 200 million US citizens and as such it's the first US carrier to claim 'nationwide' coverage.
The latest places to roll out 5G services are Folly Beach in South Carolina, Lonaconing in Maryland, Old Fort in North Carolina, Reynoldsville, Mercersburg and Perryopolis in Pennsylvania and Tallulah in Los Angeles.
As ever that isn't the full story - it runs on the low 600Mhz band and not the shorter millimeter wave network (mmWave) which offers greater speeds but over a shorter distance.
It will still be able to get to speeds of around 450Mbps if conditions are at their best, although expect significantly slower speeds than that generally. Essentially, it is like a quicker form of 4G LTE.
T-Mobile's mmWave network has been rolling out a lot slower, but as with other mmWave networks is designed for high speed and capacity in urban areas.
T-Mobile has rolled its mmWave network out in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta - quite a limited roster at present. It's certainly true that other networks have more extensive lists of cities where they've launched at least some coverage.
While T-Mobile's 5G coverage is good in Manhattan in New York City, things aren't quite so comprehensive elsewhere, with very patchy coverage in the other launch cities. Los Angeles doesn't have huge amounts of coverage, while the others have fairly small areas of coverage inside their urban areas.
In Las Vegas, for example, the only coverage on the strip is near the Las Vegas Convention Center - according to T-Mobile's own map, not even its own T-Mobile Arena is covered by 5G currently.
T-Mobile 5G phones
T-Mobile originally offered the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and the OnePlus 5G before launching the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren on an exclusive in the US.
Like most other networks offering 5G globally, T-Mobile has now added the Samsung Galaxy S20 series to the list.
Samsung Galaxy S20 5G
Capable of 8K video recording and with a large 6.2-inch AMOLED display, the standard S20 is no slouch, powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 platform for the US market. Like the others in the range, it has super-fast charging, too.
Available in cloud pink, cloud blue and cosmic grey, it's only around in a 128GB version only.
There's a triple camera (not quad like the other S20s) and it has a 64 megapixel main sensor. It's also got a 30x digital zoom, too.
Samsung Galaxy S20+
The 6.7-inch S20+ is available in three colours - cloud blue, cosmic black and cosmic grey - and adds an extra storage size to the standard S20 in the form of 512GB in addition to 128GB.
Again it offers a 64 megapixel telephoto lens and 12MP ultra-wide camera setup, but the S20+ (and Ultra) offer quad-camera arrangements.
The price premium for the S20+ is not extensive over the standard S20 and as such is worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Slightly bigger - by 0.2-inches than the S20+ - the S20 Ultra clocks in at 6.9-inches and features an upgraded camera.
Storage capacities are the same as the S20+ at 128 and 512GB. However, the Ultra is only available in cosmic black or cosmic grey.
So what's better about the camera? Firstly there's the zoom - the S20 Ultra is capable of 100x (rather than 30x) while there's an extremely large 108 megapixel camera sensor to go alongside a 48 megapixel telephoto lens.
You won't find the 100x zoom that practical, but using it is fun.
OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition
The standard versions of the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro aren't 5G capable. There is a 5G version of the enhanced edition of the 7T Pro though which comes with McLaren branding to reflect OnePlus' affiliation with the FIA Formula 1 team of the same name. This phone is exclusive to T-Mobile in the US.
Super fast charging and a pop-up front-facing camera are the headline features on top of the 6.67-inch QHD+ OLED display and a triple camera on the rear boasting a 48 megapixel sensor among its lenses..
There has been some noise about this device not supporting an unlocked bootloader through T-Mobile. Some users like to unlock their devices so they can install other, non-standard, software builds on them. But T-Mobile has warned that users who dot this will no longer get software updates via the network. In other words, it most definitely is not recommended.
Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
Common to all the US 5G networks is Samsung's first 5G phone. It's an extremely powerful device and it sizeable, too, with a 6.7-inch display making it more like the recently-announced Note 10 series.
It's even larger than the 6.4-inch S10+, which itself is supposed to be the larger version of the standard Galaxy S Series phone. The advantage of a bigger phone is that there's more cooling, and certainly that's an advantage for the first wave of 5G phones.
The Galaxy S10 5G is powered by Samsung's own Exynos 9820 platform and 5G modem and has a large 4,500 mAh battery, too. You also get a quad-lens rear camera including wide, telephoto and ultrawide lenses.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
The latest Galaxy Note series debuted in the late Summer of 2019, but this time it faces competition from Samsung's own Galaxy S Series, too. The S10 5G above is almost the same size; this is a 6.8-inch phone.
As always with the Note series the main difference from other Samsung devices is that it has the S Pen stylus so you can select and move objects on screen, write on the display and use it as a remote clicker. The S Pen slots into the phone - if you're thinking you don't need it then plump for the S10 Series instead.
T-Mobile 5G coverage
T-Mobile is primarily using 28 Ghz mmWave (millimetre wave) for its 5G rollout, just as Verizon is. That means excellent download speeds, but a more difficult blanket rollout. That's because the shorter wavelength signals don't travel so far and are easily blocked in urban areas or by external walls - so you need loads of 5G nodes.
You only need to look at T-Mobile's current coverage maps to show the issues around mmWave deployment - it's extremely patchy.
So T-Mobile is also opting to use low-band 600Mhz spectrum. Low-band spectrum can also carry 5G signals inside.
Before the T-Mobile launch of low-band 5G, Sprint was leading the way with low-band and it's one of the reasons that Sprint and T-Mobile feel they will build the best US 5G network when they merge. It certainly feels that T-Mobile's rollout is banking on the boost in spectrum from the merger.
As with Verizon, you should get current speeds around the 400-500Mbps mark, but of course this will depend where you are.
Despite what others say in light of the Sprint merger talk, T-Mobile says it is continuing with rollout, expanding LTE coverage "while simultaneously laying the foundation for broad, nationwide 5G in 2020. That hasn’t and won’t change." And now, of course, we have a 6 December date for a full launch.
T-Mobile 5G deals
In terms of SIM-only, T-Mobile 5G will offer service plans at $15 for 2GB (not enough, in our opinion), and $25 for 5GB. The plans also offer 100GB of free monthly home internet to 10 million American families. And if that wasn’t enough, the company is also planning to give free wireless service to every first responder in America.
Currently Samsung Galaxy S10 5G is available on T-Mobile from $31.25 a month on a 24 month deal providing you put $349.99 down plus tax. You can also buy it outright from the network for $1,099.
T-Mobile 5G business and home internet
Unlike Verizon's 5G Home Internet, here are no currently announced plans for a 5G home or business service from T-Mobile. However, in its statements about 5G on its website, it does mention home broadband as a future growth area for 5G, so we'll join the dots on that one.
T-Mobile 5G for business
Like the other big US networks, T-Mobile sees big opportunities for businesses willing to invest in 5G, especially around the internet of things and remote connectivity.
Currently, T-Mobile offers various business-orientated plans under its Magenta brand including Magenta Plus for Business, with 20GB of mobile hotspot data and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi.