On Friday, T-Mobile announced it is partnering with multiple spectrum holders to add a significant amount of additional 600 MHz spectrum to its network, for the next 60 days. It also said Sprint customers will get expanded roaming access to the T-Mobile network.
As network operators around the world brace themselves for extreme traffic spikes on their 4G and 5G networks, due to the increase of people self-isolating, social distancing and working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, this certainly seems sensible, generous and will most certainly boost public image.
T-Mobile customers in the US will have data caps removed, more hotspot data added, free calling to severely impacted countries and they’ll be expanding data access for EmpowerED schools.
“We plan to expand capacity for customers with compatible devices for 60 days by deploying 600 MHz spectrum from multiple companies, including Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, DISH, Grain Management affiliate NewLevel, LLC, LB Holdings and Omega Wireless, LLC in the markets where it can be quickly deployed,” read the statement.
Awaiting FCC approval
The extra lowband LTE roll-out is awaiting approval from the Federal Communications Commission but T-Mobile has stated it expects to “rapidly place this additional spectrum into service within days.”
Indeed, FCC Chairman Pai has led the way for an industry-wide response with the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and as T-molies unprecedented proposal helps to address critical broadband needs during this pandemic, we can’t see any circumstances under which it wouldn’t be approved.
The FFC already granted approval for T-Mobile to deploy the spectrum on Sunday. "This temporary authority will help T-Mobile better serve customers who, like all of us, are making significant adjustments to their daily lives to minimise in-person interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.
“In trying times like this, we understand how important it is for people to remain connected – to family and friends, to resources and information, to their jobs via teleworking or schools via virtual classrooms. And we take our responsibility to keep our customers connected incredibly seriously,” said Neville Ray, President of Technology for T-Mobile.
“We can’t thank these partners and the FCC enough for coming together to provide people across the country with the critical connectivity they’re relying on right now,” he continued.
New Street Research described T-Mobile’s imminent spectrum borrowing as a "genius move” in a note to investors yesterday. The analysts also wrote: "T-Mobile's network is as good as AT&T and Verizon's and it is going to get better."
"The step was taken as the nation responds to the spread of COVID-19," Dish Network said its own statement. "Dish's 600MHz spectrum will enhance T-Mobile's network nationwide as wireless users increasingly turn to mobile networks for work and personal use."
Analysts at New Street Research have suggested that Dish, and the other companies that T-Mobile will borrow from, could begin charging for the spectrum use after the specified 60 days. "It could make sense for both sides if they do," they stated.
T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular are the only two major wireless network operators in the US that are currently using 600MHz 5G for their cellular offerings.
T-Mobile and Sprint merger implications
T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint is expected to close within weeks now. As part of the merger, worth $59bn, T-Mobile will acquire Sprint's extensive 2.5GHz spectrum holdings.
Under the merger Dish network will become a mobile virtual network operator of T-Mobile, which eventually build a 5G network with its own vast spectrum holdings.
However, as the merger agreement between T-Mobile, Sprint and Dish contained a clause that read: “negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement" that would allow T-Mobile to "lease some or all of Dish's 600MHz spectrum licenses for deployment to retail consumers," it looks like T-Mobile could gain long-term access to Dish's 600MHz holdings.
Assuming this were to happen, Dish would be able to use its other spectrum holdings for its own 5G network.