The New T-Mobile (with Sprint): Merging incompatible 3G networks and integrated 5G

At long last, T-Mobile closed its $23 billion acquisition of Sprint today (April 1, 2020) after a two-year effort to merge the two companies. The New T-Mobile also replaced long-time uncarrier CEO (cowboy) John Legere with his hand-picked successor Mike Sievert. T-Mobile now takes its place as an equal among the three major wireless carriers in the US.

The deal was the subject of protracted legal actions, opposition by 11 state attorney generals, lobbying before the FCC and the Justice Department, and other actions as consumer groups tried to find a way to block it.

The merger required Sprint to divest itself of Boost Mobile and the remains of Virgin Mobile, and it required a number of commitments by T-Mobile not to raise prices for three years, and to provide widespread wireless broadband. T-Mobile also had to help Dish Networks become a competitive wireless company as a way to quell fears that the merger would leave the U.S. with only three wireless telcos instead of four.

“During this extraordinary time, it has become abundantly clear how vital a strong and reliable network is to the world we live in. The New T-Mobile’s commitment to delivering a transformative broad and deep nationwide 5G network is more important and more needed than ever and what we are building is mission-critical for consumers,” said Mike Sievert, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “With this powerful network, the New T-Mobile will deliver real choice and value to wireless and home broadband customers and double down on all the things customers have always loved about the Un-carrier. T-Mobile has been changing wireless for good — and now we are going to do it on a whole new level!”

Sievert continued, “All of us at T-Mobile owe John an incredible thank you for everything he’s done to get this company to where we are today. He has changed what it means to be a CEO. Everything that T-Mobile has accomplished is the result of his vision for what a different kind of wireless provider could be. John IS what the Un-carrier is all about: advocating for customers at every turn, forcing us to think differently and always driving for more. He has always pushed the boundaries of what’s possible and pushed us to do the same. His leadership has made us what we are today, and we will take that into the future. Thank you, John, for everything you’ve done for wireless consumers and for our beloved employees!

I also want to thank Marcelo Claure and the entire Sprint leadership team for their hard work to get us to this huge day! We did it!… and I’m looking forward to welcoming Sprint employees into Team Magenta, and to working with you now as a member of our Board of Directors.”

This quantum leap forward can only be achieved by using T-Mobile and Sprint’s combined low-, mid- and high-spectrum bands — and only the New T-Mobile will have the resources to do it quickly.

  • The network will have 14 times more capacity in the next six years than T-Mobile alone has today, enabling the New T-Mobile to leapfrog the competition in network capability and experience.
  • Customers will have access to average 5G speeds up to eight times faster than current LTE in just a few years and 15 times faster over the next six years.
  • Within six years, the New T-Mobile will provide 5G to 99% of the U.S. population and average 5G speeds in excess of 100 Mbps to 90% of the U.S. population.
  • New T-Mobile’s business plan is built on covering 90% of rural Americans with average 5G speeds of 50 Mbps, up to two times faster than broadband on average.

“The network is at the core of everything we do as a business, and it’s critically important for keeping customers connected to each other, their communities and the world,” said Neville Ray, president of Technology at T-Mobile. “The supercharged 5G network that we’ll build as a combined company will be a huge step forward, transforming wireless, fueling innovation and delivering new experiences for customers all across the country that we can’t even imagine today.”

Impact on Users:

For users, the merger will initially be a non-event.  Sprint is now a subsidiary of T-Mobile and will operate as a separate company. The transition will occur in stages, and while T-Mobile isn’t commenting on that, a highly placed source at T-Mobile said on background that customers of both companies will find that they have access to the other’s network in areas where they need better coverage.

However, many Sprint 3G devices (CDMA) can work on the T-Mobile’s 3G network (GSM), especially for voice calls or if 4G LTE mobile data access is not available.  T-Mobile plans to use the model it used when it acquired MetroPCS, which was also an incompatible network. In that merger, T-Mobile replaced incompatible handsets as the old network was decommissioned.


Pundits Weigh In:

Keith Pennachio, EVP and chief strategy officer at SQUAN, a network infrastructure company serving both T-Mobile and Sprint, said that he expects to see growth in network infrastructure. “We’ll see network consolidation, networks convergence for some sites and for moving traffic,” he said.

“I expect T-Mobile to take advantage of spectrum assets where T-Mobile didn’t have assets previously,” Pennachio said. “What you’ll start to see in markets where Sprint had a decent footprint, T-Mobile may opt to supplant some equipment to their own.” This will mean that in areas where T-Mobile didn’t have a great signal, the company will use Sprint’s sites and frequencies to improve things.

As the merger progresses, T-Mobile will update the programming on some cell sites so that Sprint customers with compatible phones will be able to use them. T-Mobile will also begin using Sprint’s 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum to build out its network.

“I think they’re going to be very busy integrating the business, the networks and the employees,” said Brandon Parris of Morrison & Foerster, “and start in earnest their upgrades and their focus on 5G.” Parris led the team that advised Sprint and and its owner Softbank on the merger with T-Mobile.

“Whenever you have two huge industry giants it takes time,” Parris explained, “but they will go through the process of making sure the technology is integrated, and then adding 5G. You have to integrate everything from office space to compensation arrangements. It’s huge undertaking.”


Deploying 5G:

According to a FAQ press release, “the new TMobile will build a transformative nationwide 5G network that will drive innovation and connect every American. With TMobile’s low-band, Sprint’s mid-band, and other spectrum, the highest capacity nationwide network in U.S. history will be built—400MHz+ on average nationwide.”

T-Mobile is starting its 5G buildout “almost immediately”
T-Mobile has long said that the primary driver for its merger with Sprint is its desire to combine its 600MHz spectrum with Sprint’s 2.5GHz spectrum for a 5G network. Indeed, in its press release Wednesday the New T-Mobile promised its forthcoming network would have 14 times more capacity in the next six years than T-Mobile alone has today. The operator added that it expects to provide average 5G speeds above 100Mbit/s to 90% of the US population within the next six years.

In comments to CNBC, incoming CEO Sievert said the operator is going to start on the construction of the network “almost immediately.” He said the company would use equipment from its existing suppliers Nokia and Ericsson to build “the world’s best 5G network.”

A key factor in in the integration of the two networks, will be the speed at which T-Mobile can begin rolling out its use of Sprint’s mid-band spectrum, which is critical to its 5G success.

While T-Mobile already has nationwide 5G with its 600 MHz low-band frequencies that feature much longer range than can exist in higher bands, the low bands have lower speeds. Mid-band spectrum is considered a perfect compromise between the speeds in the millimeter wave bands and the lower speeds in the low bands.

“With its lead in customer care and cost of service, T-Mobile is well positioned to bring that winning culture to its new family members, both the employees of Sprint as well as its customers,” said Ian Greenblatt, TMT head at J. D. Power. “The only 5G nationwide network is notable (despite being 600MHz only – it’s still faster than the fastest 4G-LTE) and will be even more capable with the addition of Sprint’s mid-band spectra.”

CTO Neville Ray told CNET that the operator would turn on its new 5G network first in Philadelphia, and that other cities would go live “rapidly” in the coming weeks.


According to Pennachio, T-Mobile’s culture will play a critical role in the success of the merged companies. “The culture of T-Mobile is very different,” he said. “Now it creates this third competitor that’s strong from a spectrum but with a culture that’s more in line with technology companies.”

T-Mobile’s “in your face” culture, which has been compared with that at many Silicon Valley startups, could play a significant role in how the company impacts the wireless business.