T-Mobile lights up long-awaited 2.5 GHz licenses from Auction 108

  • T-Mobile won 7,156 of the 8,017 licenses offered in Auction 108

  • AT&T challenged T-Mobile’s winnings, arguing that granting the 2.5 GHz licenses would exacerbate a 5G spectrum imbalance

  • The FCC concluded that T-Mobile’s acquisition of the 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses will promote the public interest – and this week, T-Mobile is lighting up that spectrum

Over the next few days, T-Mobile is lighting up “massive amounts” of new 5G spectrum won in Auction 108 – spectrum it’s been waiting a long time to deploy. Customers in rural areas in particular will see a performance boost.

T-Mobile in 2022 invested $304 million in the FCC’s Auction 108, winning 7,156 licenses covering mostly rural areas. But the licenses got hung up in government bureaucracy, as well as being the subject of an AT&T petition challenging T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum treasure trove.  

Finally, after an act of Congress and a decision by the FCC, T-Mobile took possession of the licenses. The FCC released its decision about a week ago, with the condition that T-Mobile divest 20 megahertz of spectrum on the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Maui.

On a roll

T-Mobile President of Technology Ulf Ewaldsson recently told Fierce that T-Mobile was ready to turn up the spectrum as soon as it was awarded the licenses. It’s just a matter of changing some software on gear that’s already deployed on existing sites. The rest will be deployed as new towers are built out.

“Thanks to years of planning, T-Mobile is ready to put this spectrum to use right now for millions of our customers, delivering game changing Ultra Capacity 5G to more people and increasing speed and performance for others,” said T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert in a statement Wednesday.

Perception catching up  

The Auction 108 spectrum was only mentioned briefly during T-Mobile’s appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference earlier this week. During the event, T-Mobile executives were asked about the customer perception of the T-Mobile network and how fast that’s catching up to all the awards the carrier is reaping due to its newfound network prowess in 5G.

“We've made a lot of progress,” said Mike Katz, T-Mobile president of Marketing, Strategy and Products. “If you look back just a few years, the gap that existed particularly between us and who is perceived to have the best network, which is Verizon, has been cut in half. We're substantially the same as where AT&T is [at and] that was a big gap just a couple of years ago, and we cut the Verizon one in half.”

The good news for T-Mobile is progress has been made. “But it also suggests that there's more opportunity in front of us and more work to do,” Katz said.

T-Mobile boasts a lead of a couple years relative to AT&T and Verizon in the 5G network realm and it intends to maintain the lead two years from now, Katz said.

As for network perception, that’s very much influenced by friends, family and neighbors and T-Mobile will continue to do things like let people try out its network side by side with their incumbent network so they can see for themselves, according to Katz.

The fine print on its free three-month trial deal notes that coverage is not available in some areas. Besides boosting 5G coverage with the newly awarded 2.5 GHz licenses, T-Mobile is banking on satellite coverage with SpaceX to help improve the perception about its network.

“We see satellite as a contributor to helping our position there because the reality is there’s still a lot of this country that’s not covered by anybody,” Katz said. “It’s in those moments of truth when people really need their wireless service and it doesn’t work that I think satellite is going to be really well equipped to handle for us. I think it will be a part of our tool set” to address the network perception challenges.