T-Mobile and Ericsson have conducted the first standalone 5G data session in the United States.
“This major 5G breakthrough is another example of how the T-Mobile engineering team continues to innovate and drive the entire industry forward. I could not be more proud of them,” said Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer at T-Mobile. “5G brings a new era in wireless, and if our merger with Sprint is approved, the New T-Mobile will bring together the resources and vision necessary to ensure America has a network that’s second to none,” he added.
Existing 5G networks are non standalone (NSA) and require a simultaneous connection to an LTE network. While a non-standalone architecture still offers better speeds and performance than just LTE, a standalone architecture makes sense for some new enterprise 5G services such as smart cities.
T-Mobile used Ericsson’s AIR 6488 radio and Baseband 6630. These products, from Ericsson’s Radio System portfolio, can become standalone with just a software update Ericsson says (we have our doubts).
According to Ericsson, Standalone New Radio (SA NR) – coupled with cloud-native 5G Core – will help to power exciting new applications such as mobile VR, cloud gaming, and connected cars. Such applications require almost real-time responses and reliable connectivity.
3GPP Release 15 “5G New Radio (NR)” is an OFDM-based global wireless spec for pre-standard 5G mobile networks.
It has two versions: Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G NR (widely deployed) and Standalone 5G NR (not deployed yet).
Accomplishing this standalone 5G milestone on a multi-vendor 5G next generation network was no small feat. To complete the successful data session in its Bellevue, Washington lab, T-Mobile enlisted the help of industry leaders Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco and MediaTek.
Standalone New Radio (SA NR) – coupled with cloud-native 5G Core – will provide better support for all use cases and unlock the power of next-generation mobile technology. It will supercharge applications that require real-time responses and massive connectivity such as mobile augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), cloud gaming, smart factories and meters, and connected vehicles.
T-Mobile has not specified what spectrum it used for the standalone 5G data session, but a spokesperson has confirmed it was sub-6GHz.
As part of concessions to win the Department of Justice’s approval for the proposed T-Mobile-Sprint merger, Sprint will divest its prepaid business to Dish. Dish will have access to T-Mobile’s network through an MVNO arrangement for seven years while Dish builds out its own 5G standalone network.
T-Mobile says it plans to introduce standalone 5G in 2020, but that will NOT be compatible with IMT 2020 which won’t be completed till the end of that year!
All of today’s 5G networks in the US are currently non standalone (NSA), based on 3GPP Release 15 5G NR in the data plane. 3GPP Release 16, together with parts of Release 15, will be 3GPP’s final IMT 2020 RIT submission to ITU-R WP5D.
3GPP has agreed revised completion dates for Release 16 – schedule shifted out by 3 months:
- Release 16 RAN-1 Freeze RAN # 86 December 2019
- Release 16 RAN Stage 3 Freeze RAN # 87 March 2020
- Release 16 ASN.1 Freeze RAN # 88 June 2020
- Release 16 RAN-4 Freeze RAN # 89 September 2020
Controlled by Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile USA said it added 1 million postpaid phone customers in the December quarter, accelerating its holiday period gains from 891,000 new subscribers a year ago. For fiscal 2019, T-Mobile said it expects to add 2.6 million to 3.6 million subscribers.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere sounded very optimistic on Thursday’s earnings call:
“We had the highest total customer net additions ever in Q4 and we followed that up with record breaking financials, which is a winning formula for our shareholders. T-Mobile led the industry in postpaid phone net adds for the fifth year in a row and we posted a Q4 record low branded postpaid phone churn. Both service and total revenues hit record highs in this quarter while adjusted EBITDA was our best Q4 ever. Our 2019 guidance shows our confidence for the standalone outlook for T-Mobile. We continue to meet the needs of wireless customers and translate that into incredible results. I feel good about the state of our business going into 2019.
I want to reiterate unequivocally that prices will go down and customers will get more for less. We’re entering the final stages of our regulatory review process and it’s an important time to document the commitments that we’ve made from day one. This is another example of T-Mobile putting its money where its mouth is and backing up what we said in our public interest statement.
In summary, I am very, very pleased with the progress we’ve made on our merger and the process so far and I continue to expect regulatory approval in the first half of this year. Okay, to wrap it up I also couldn’t be more excited about the performance in 2018 and our guidance shows continued momentum in 2019. The combination with Sprint means that we will be able to create a future that is even more exciting for American consumers.”
Legere also said that he expects the acquisition of Sprint to be approved in the first half of this year.
“We continue to work through the regulatory review process with humility and respect for all parties involved. A number of major milestones have been completed and we remain optimistic and confident that once regulators review all the facts they will recognize the significant pro consumer and pro competitive benefits of this combination. We continue to have a productive dialogue with both federal and state regulatory authorities.”
On Monday, T-Mobile told U.S. Federal Communications Commission it would not increase prices for three years, with few exceptions, if it gets approval to buy Sprint for $26 billion.
In sharp contrast, MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said in a report published on Thursday: “A series of developments over the past few weeks have forced investors to consider the possibility that T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint may be in more trouble than previously appreciated,”
T-Mobile has just a 10 percent market share of business customers, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert during the call, giving the carrier opportunity for more growth. “Now that the network is there … we’re starting to see these kinds of customers come in, in historic numbers,” Sievert said. T-Mobile added network capacity in rural areas of the United States during the 4th quarter of 2018.
Legere summarized the wireless carrier’s progress and 5G and how the competition (mostly AT&T) responded:
“Our engineering team is hard at work furiously building out our 600 MHz and setting the stage for America’s first real nationwide 5G network next year. Our aggressive build out is on 5G ready equipment and we have made rapid progress in just one year since getting our hands on the spectrum. 2700 cities and towns in 43 states and Puerto Rico are live on 600 MHz and we already have 29 600 MHz capable devices in our lineup today including the new iPhones.
We have standards based 5G equipment deployed to six of the top 10 markets including New York and Los Angeles. We believe the 5G revolution should be for everyone, everywhere, and not just the few intense areas. While the other guys hyped 5G we continue to focus on real 5G using global standards based equipment, 5G NR that will light up and deliver for customers across the U.S.
How has the competition responded to our plans? Well, AT&T responded by trying to rebrand 4G as 5GE and we know the customers see right through their bullshit and Verizon by the way, their current standard pups, pre-standard 5G footprint covers what they even themselves call limited areas in four cities, while our 5G capable 600 MHz network already covers hundreds of thousands of square miles. Also we continue to expand our 4G LTE coverage and deliver industry leading network performance.
Our network now covers more than 325 million Americans with 4G LTE effectively matching Verizon’s population coverage. We now have 600 and 700 MHz low band spectrum deployed to 301 million people across the country and we continue to lead the industry in 4G LTE speeds. In Q4 our average download 4G LTE speed was 33.4 Mb per second once again ahead of all the competitors. We remain very confident in our outlook for 2019 and this is reflected in our guidance.”
T-Mo CTO Neville Ray, bragging about T-Mobile’s adding 600 MHz spectrum for both 5G NR and LTE, said that the uncarrier’s 600 MHz spectrum is deployed in more than 2,700 cities and is supported by 29 devices. It is “going to be the biggest and largest and most transformative piece as we move through ’19 and into ’20. We do not take our eye off the ball at all on capacity and performance…The 600 LTE rollout has been going incredibly strong. As we get our software matured and ready for primetime, we will light up 5G services on those same radios. The 5G story is coming on super strong.” If that wasn’t enough, Ray said:
“You can see an aggressive competitive response against 5G NR victory lap on the fastest LTE. AT&T especially trying to figure out how to not be second or third in that race for the coming couple of years. We’re going to be adding 600 MHz spectrum to the fight, both with LTE and with 5G NR and speeds and performance are going to continue to increase on this network into 2019 and materially more so in 2020 when we can reach our nationwide ambition on the 600 MHz 5G deployment……
Biggest focus right now is, as we’ve reference multiple times here is the 600 MHz build, that’s going to be the biggest and largest and most transformative piece as we move through ’19 and into ’20. I mean thousands upon thousands of new sites with 600 MHz capability coming on air, but we do not take our eye off the ball at all on capacity and performance. We’re at the best capacity performance in our company’s history right now, lowest congestion figures we’ve ever seen. We love to be that way.
The proxy for that in the marketplace is our fastest speed performance. And as I mentioned earlier, we continue to win on that front and look to maintain that lead. On the small cell piece, we are starting to see and introduce license assisted access, so LTE in the 5 gig space we’re seeing very positive results and returns from those investments and so a lot of opportunity to grow capacity in the urban calls. We’re not taking our eye off that ball, but big, big most major improvements coming on the 600 MHz side this year.”
On small cells: “(we have) just over 21,000 small cells in play today. We plan on continuing our march on small cells another 20,000 or so plan to come off as we exit ’19 and into ’20. And we continue to densify this network to prepare for obviously a tremendous capacity and performance future.”
T-Mo President Mike Sievert on incremental revenues and pricing:
“So, on pricing, the short answer would be, we have big aspirations for incremental revenues and growth from 5G, but not through pricing, through our current smartphone plans. So the incremental revenues come from more and more users picking wireless technologies instead of other technologies for their conductivity.
There is a big broadband business that we expect to build, there are big enterprise opportunities, there are IoT opportunities, there more devices per users, there are new capabilities being developed, all of which we can monetize with revenue growth. But we don’t have plans for the smartphone plans that you see today to charge differently for 5G enablement versus 4G LTE.”
Legere concluded his bragging about T-Mo’s (not yet deployed with paying customers) 5G network:
“Yes, so again, as I said from the very first day back in April going into the first week of May, I’ve been down here in Washington with the very same story that the 5G Network that’s going to be built with the $40 billion worth of investment and the breadth and the depth is going to be something that the country needs and has yet to see, it’s going to be super charging the uncarrier, capacity will go up precipitously and prices will go down and jobs will increase. And that’s been a dialogue that has gone from sound bite to tremendous modeling and conversation and depositions and hearings.”
References on T-Mo’s 5G at 600MHz:
In a prepared statement to the FCC intended to buttress the case for the T-Mobile merger with Sprint, current T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert laid out the company’s objectives for “5G” as a home broadband option.
The claim is that this new fixed BWA offers performance better than Verizon and AT&T while being able to realistically compete with cablecos/MSOs like Comcast and Charter (as well as other triple play service providers that offer download speeds in excess of 100Mbps).
Sievert didn’t say what technology and spectrum would be used, or mention that there are no standards for “5G” BWA and that fixed wireless is not even a use case for ITU-R IMT 2020 (real 5G) standard. IEEE decided not to submit 802.11ax or 802.11ay to ITU-R as proposed 5G BWA standards to complement IMT 2020.
In the absence of a standard, T-Mobile didn’t say what specification they are using for their “5G” BWA and really haven’t said much till now about their roll out plans for that offering. In August, T-Mobile said it would start deploying mobile 5G in 2019 with 30 cities named.
Sievert explained that most people in the U.S. have few options when it comes to in-home internet and that their choices often include high prices and slow internet speeds. With T-Mobile’s 5G fixed BWA, millions of U.S. households would be offered high speed internet and create a competitive environment that lowers prices.
T-Mobile’s in-home 5G BWA plans include 100Mbps download speeds out of the gate, but would increase those speeds to between 300Mbps and 500Mbps for 200+ million people by 2024. Sievert wrote in his FCC post:
New T-Mobile’s (merged with Sprint) 5G network will change this competitive dynamic by closing the speed differential between mobile and wired broadband. By combining the resources of TMobile and Sprint, the combined company will create the capacity and coverage to provide in home broadband services. Our business planning has confirmed that there is a large market for New T-Mobile’s in-home broadband offering at the anticipated pricing and service levels. New T-Mobile’s entry into the in-home broadband marketplace will cause incumbent providers to lower their prices and invest in their networks—benefitting all in-home broadband customers.
T-Mobile says that its 5G BWA will only be available in areas where network “capacity exceeds mobile requirements and is sufficient to support the in-home services.” That should mean coverage in at least 52% of US zip codes. T-Mobile says they could have 1.9 million 5G home internet customers by 2021 and 9.5 million by 2024.
T-Mobile also wants to make 5G home internet available without the need for installation of devices by a professional, which would mean eliminating expensive setup costs. Their goal is to allow customers the option to “self-provision the necessary in-home equipment.” That’s the opposite of how Verizon’s new 5G home service works.
T-Mobile 5G home internet will also be available without contracts or strict monthly data caps, according to Sievert.
T-Mobile will cover 64 percent of Charter’s territory and 68 percent of Comcast’s territory with its in-home broadband services by 2024. In addition, New T-Mobile expects to utilize caching and other network optimization techniques to increase the number of households that can be served. In sum, New T-Mobile will have the depth and breadth of network to deliver broadband speeds and capacity to consumers across the country.
New T-Mobile’s in-home wireless broadband offering will provide consumers across the country with average download speeds of 100 Mbps. By 2024, New T-Mobile will be able to cover more than 250 million people with data rates greater than 300 Mbps and more than 200 million people at greater than 500 Mbps.
5G hotspot as an in-home option: Sievert also talked about allowing customers to simply use their mobile 5G plan as their only home internet solution. He explained that “New T-Mobile will also enable consumers to use their mobile services as a substitute for in-home broadband.” My guess is that T-Mobile could have an option within their wireless plans that opens up data caps for higher usage.
Currently,, T-Mobile offers 4G wireless plans that can throttle users after 50GB of data use in a month and also limits hotspot usage in many cases. For a customer to be able to use their mobile 5G plans for home internet, they’d have to remove those caps or offer some sort of tier that expands them.
Summing up, Sievert stated:
The planned service area of New T-Mobile’s broadband services will also dwarf the limited service areas of wired broadband providers. These speeds and coverage areas will be offered at a significant discount to the prices of traditional broadband providers, with monthly prices planned to be generally lower than traditional services
T-Mobile knows that rural broadband and broadband competition are two hot-button issues within the FCC right now, so it’s positioning the merger as a magical solution to those problems, without showing how its new claims match up with statements it was making less than a year ago. It’s the same thing that the company has been doing with 5G, and with prepaid wireless during this merger process — saying whatever the FCC wants to hear, with the reality a distant second.
What do you think of this gambit? Please comment in the box below this article.
Ericsson has signed a $3.5 billion multi-year deal with T-Mobile to provide the “un-carrier” with “5G” network equipment. It’s the biggest 5G order that Ericsson has announced to date. That is in addition to the $3.5 billion “5G” agreement that T-Mobile inked with Nokia back in July.
As it moves from LTE Advanced (true 4G) to whatever it envisions as 5G, T-Mobile will use the Ericsson portfolio of products. Ericsson will be providing T-Mobile with 5G New Radio (NR) hardware and 3GPP-compatible software. Ericsson’s digital services like dynamic orchestration, business support systems and Ericsson cloud core will be used to help T-Mobile roll out “5G” services to its customers.
“We have recently decided to increase our investments in the U.S. to be closer to our leading customers and better support them with their accelerated 5G deployments; thereby bringing 5G to life for consumers and enterprises across the country,” Niklas Heuveldop, President of Ericsson North America, said in a statement. “This agreement marks a major milestone for both companies. We are excited about our partnership with T-Mobile, supporting them to strengthen, expand and speed up the deployment of their nationwide 5G network.”
The partnership with Ericsson implies that T-Mobile’s installed base of Ericsson Radio Systems will be able to run 3GPP release 15 spec. 5G NR with a remote software installation.
Ericsson increased its market share of the mobile networks market in the second quarter, partly due to faster network upgrades in the North American, where it ranks as the biggest supplier ahead of Nokia.
T-Mobile, the third biggest U.S. mobile carrier, said in February it was working with Ericsson and rival network vendor Nokia of Finland to build out 5G networks in 30 U.S. cities during 2018.
“While the other guys just make promises, we’re putting our money where our mouth is. With this new Ericsson agreement we’re laying the groundwork for 5G – and with Sprint we can supercharge the 5G revolution,” said Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s Chief Technology Officer. (Note that the FCC says it needs more time to review the T-Mobile-Sprint merger).
In an earlier announcement, T-Mobile says it has deployed 600 MHz (Band 71) Extended Range LTE in 1,254 cities and towns in 36 states, including the island of Puerto Rico. The Un-carrier’s furiously paced deployment of 600 MHz LTE is expanding network coverage and capacity, particularly in rural areas, and lays the foundation for nationwide 5G in 2020 with 5G-ready equipment.
T-Mobile’s Extended Range LTE signals travel twice as far from the tower and are four times better in buildings than mid-band LTE, providing increased coverage and capacity. The Un-carrier has already deployed Extended Range LTE to more than 80 percent of Americans with 700 MHz (Band 12), and rapidly began deploying it with 600 MHz (Band 71) last year to expand coverage and capacity even further.
In April 2017, T-Mobile made its largest network investment ever, tripling its low-band spectrum holdings by purchasing spectrum sold in the US government’s 600 MHz auction. Those licenses cover 100% of the US, including Puerto Rico. Immediately after receiving the licenses, T-Mobile began its rapid 600 MHz Extended Range LTE rollout. To accelerate the process of freeing up the spectrum for LTE, T-Mobile is working with broadcasters occupying 600 MHz spectrum to assist them in moving to new frequencies.
The announced merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers in the nation, answers many of the scale questions that have dogged the two companies over the past several years. But in creating a carrier with about 100 million customers and valued at a combined $146 billion, the deal bypasses what many had considered to be T-Mobile’s more perfect match: Dish Network.
With a large swath of wireless spectrum, 11 million satellite TV subscribers and 2.2 million customers for its over-the-top video service Sling TV, Dish was seen by many to be a logical target for T-Mobile. Combining the No. 3 wireless carrier, which has obvious video aspirations through its January purchase of Layer3 TV, with Dish would in many minds have created a strong competitor in the ongoing wireless-OTT-traditional video wars.
Investors apparently believed so too. Shares in Dish fell 3% ($1.19 each) to $33.55 per share on April 30, the first trading day after T-Mobile and Sprint announced their deal. The stock has continued to slip in subsequent trading, closing at $33.09 on May 3.
Video Plans ‘Ratchet Up’
On a conference call to discuss first-quarter results shortly after the Sprint deal was announced, T-Mobile chief financial officer Braxton Carter said the transaction “ratchets up” the wireless provider’s video plans by allowing the combined company to provide customers with an IPTV service via wireline and wireless broadband.
The combined company will be controlled by T-Mobile management: CEO John Legere will continue that role in the new entity, as will T-Mobile chief operating officer Mike Sievert. T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom will own 42% of the combined company, with Sprint parent Softbank owning 27% and the remaining 31% held by the public. The deal is expected to close in the first half of next year.
This is the two companies’ third time on the merger dance floor together. They scrapped talks in 2014 over regulatory concerns and in 2017 over control issues. While the two have managed to work out their control issues, some analysts are skeptical that the current deal will sail easily through the regulatory process.
BTIG telecom analyst Walt Piecyk gave the merger a less than 40% chance of passing regulatory muster, primarily because he didn’t believe the deal, which will reduce the number of wireless competitors to three from four, will pass the antitrust smell test.
“It doesn’t look like a competitive market right now, and that’s what the regulator may focus on,” Piecyk told CNBC.
Columbia Law professor Tim Wu wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times urging regulators to block the deal, adding that having four separate competitors has been most beneficial to wireless customers, leading to free unlimited data plans and lower prices. Transforming the wireless business into a “triopoly” like the airline business will only serve to raise prices and lower service.
“Competition has actually worked the way economists say it is supposed to, forcing firms to improve quality or face elimination,” Wu wrote in the Times. “But it takes competitors to compete, which is where blocking mergers comes in.”
Pivotal Research Group CEO and senior media & communications analyst Jeff Wlodarczak has said in research notes over the past year that pairing Dish and T-Mobile would “immediately vault the most disruptive U.S. wireless player into the leading U.S. spectrum position,” and at worst would force rival wireless company Verizon Communications to pay more for the satellite asset. For now, though, it looks like Dish will remain on its own. Other scenarios see the satellite company being acquired either by another wireless service provider, like Verizon, or even by the new T-Mobile. The latter scenario wouldn’t take place for at least another year. Dish has struggled over the past several quarters as the satellite business has dwindled. In the fourth quarter the company lost more than 100,000 satellite-TV subscribers and added 160,000 Sling TV customers.
Dish Misses Out on Buildout Relief
For Dish, a purchase by a wireless carrier would mean relief from its obligation to build its own wireless network. As a result of its success in bidding on spectrum in several of the government’s wireless auctions, Dish faces a March 2020 deadline to build out wireless service in 70% of the market territories it won.
Dish chair Charlie Ergen has said the company will spend about $1 billion on that initial phase, which will be more geared toward IoT services.
For T-Mobile, a Dish purchase would give it an instant video base through the satellite-TV offering, programming contracts with cable networks and the largest OTT service in the country, Sling TV.
But not all analysts believe that a T-Mobile-Dish deal is more palpable. In a research note in November, after T-Mobile and Sprint ended merger talks, MoffettNathanson principal and senior analyst Craig Moffett wrote that he never saw any synergies in combining those companies, other than as a source of additional spectrum.
The argument that the dissolution of the merger was bad news for Dish is equally compelling in that, if Dish does build its wireless network, it would become the fifth player in an already-crowded market, he added.
“However bad one might have imagined the ROI (Return on Investment) for network building, it has to be worse if the industry is more fragmented than expected,” Moffett wrote in November.
Dish’s Spectrum Yet to be Deployed:
Dish has quietly worked to cobble together a significant amount of spectrum via spectrum auctions and secondary-market transactions. The company’s first spectrum purchase was made through EchoStar’s relatively minor purchase of E Block licenses for $700 million in the FCC’s 700 MHz spectrum auction in 2008. But Dish in 2011 spent $2.77 billion to acquire 40 MHz of S-band satellite spectrum from bankrupt TerreStar and DBSD North America. Then, in 2014, Dish was the only bidder in the FCC’s H Block spectrum auction, essentially walking away uncontested with 10 MHz for around $1.6 billion. In 2015, Dish spent roughly $8 billion on AWS-3 spectrum licenses, and then just two years later it committed a whopping $6.2 billion to buy 486 licenses in the FCC’s 600 MHz incentive auction.
Dish recently outlined plans to build a NB-IoT network using its spectrum to provide connectivity to a wide range of devices other than traditional tablets and smartphones. Some analysts remain skeptical, though, believing that Dish plans to either sell or lease its spectrum, or partner with an existing service provider to join the wireless market.
Dish has to comply with Federal Communications Commission requirements that a network using the spectrum it owns be deployed by 2020, Josh Yatskowitz, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said last November.