T-Mobile refarms PCS, now reaches 260M people with Ultra Capacity 5G

T-Mobile is relying on an old standby to boost its 5G Ultra Capacity coverage, converting its 1.9 GHz PCS spectrum to do the job on 5G.

It’s an old standby because 1.9 GHz was the spectrum that T-Mobile’s predecessor VoiceStream Wireless PCS originally used when it offered mobile services back in the day. Unlike incumbents AT&T and Verizon, it didn’t have low-band 800 MHz spectrum to establish a layer of coverage across the country. Hence, T-Mobile started off at a coverage disadvantage in that respect.

Now it’s come full circle, boasting the best 5G coverage in all the land. For its lower band 5G, which it calls “Extended Range,” it’s using 600 MHz and reaches 323 million people. For what it calls its “Ultra Capacity 5G,” T-Mobile is using 2.5 GHz and other spectrum, including this new layer of 1.9 GHz, now covering 260 million people with the speedier and overall better version of 5G.

T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray has talked during recent investor events about adding more layers of spectrum to 5G, including PCS at 1.9 GHz. Certainly in the new year for 5G, “we will reach nationwide capability on PCS spectrum,” he said at a New Street Research event last month. Today’s announcement shows they beat that schedule.

A T-Mobile spokesman confirmed that the 1900 MHz spectrum was re-farmed from 3G and 4G as traffic has migrated to 5G. The re-farm occurred after they integrated the two networks from Sprint and T-Mobile, so it’s a combination of those assets.

The “un-carrier” has stated that its goal is to cover 300 million people with Ultra Capacity 5G by the end of 2023. The Ultra Capacity 5G also includes millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum that T-Mobile possesses, which is often reserved for venues like stadiums but increasing is being eyed to help boost capacity for fixed wireless access (FWA) that support its 5G Home Internet services.  

Of course, T-Mobile isn’t going to miss an opportunity to dig the nails in a little deeper at Verizon, and included with today’s press release is a chart once again comparing T-Mobile’s 5G coverage with Verizon’s. T-Mobile’s map appears to cover most of the country with magenta while Verizon’s 5G coverage, illustrated in red, looks spotty.

Last week, Verizon announced that it reached one of its milestones ahead of schedule, now covering more than 175 million people with its 5G Ultra Wideband service, which is the speedier variety compared to its 5G Nationwide service and akin to T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G. Verizon said it will take its Ultra Wideband service nationwide in the first quarter of 2023.

T-Mobile capacity inroads

T-Mobile also said it’s begun lighting up three-carrier aggregation — combining three channels of mid-band 5G spectrum — which in tests produced peak speeds topping 3 Gbps on T-Mobile’s 5G standalone (SA) network.

Not everyone is able to get the benefits of it just yet, but T-Mobile said customers with the Samsung Galaxy S22 are leveraging the capability in parts of the network now.

Three-carrier aggregation will expand nationwide and be accessible by additional devices “in the near future,” according to T-Mobile.