T-Mobile debuts gigabit fiber pilot in NYC

T-Mobile US dipped its toes into the fiber broadband market, piloting a symmetrical gigabit fiber service in New York City.

PCMag was the first to spot a website for the service, which currently offers a single gigabit speed tier to customers in parts of Manhattan with a Wi-Fi 6 router included. According to the site, users can expect median symmetrical speeds of 940 Mbps, with average speeds coming in a bit lower between 775 Mbps and 940 Mbps. It states latency will typically not exceed 5 milliseconds within a metro area.

A T-Mobile representative told Fierce the service is part of a “very limited” residential fiber pilot program, which uses an unnamed local provider’s network and is designed to complement its fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband service. The representative added its FWA product “will continue to be our flagship home internet offering,” with more details about the fiber product to be revealed “when and if we move from pilot to commercial launch.”

While T-Mobile did not name its local partner, PCMag noted a sign-up website for NYC-based business internet provider Pilot Fiber now redirects to T-Mobile’s fiber page. Pilot Fiber did not immediately respond to Fierce's request for comment.

As it’s now doing with fiber, T-Mobile initially debuted its fixed wireless access service as a pilot in March 2019, expanding it from an invitation-only offer to 20 million households in October 2020. It launched a full commercial version of the service in April, just over two years after the pilot began.

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The decision to partner with a local broadband provider is in keeping with T-Mobile’s well-known strategy of leasing rather than building fiber for its cell sites. At a UBS investor conference in June, T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray reiterated that the operator has no interest in owning its own fiber assets for the time being.

He explained “it's because we can secure great rates in the marketplace. And so the economics is a simple equation for us, Batya. We look at do we want to run and run fiber, do we want to light it, do we want to take all those costs into our business ourselves? Or can we buy those services cheaper in the marketplace? And right now, I can assure you that math works for us.”

A move to launch its own fiber offering could allow T-Mobile to better compete on the broadband front against rivals AT&T and Verizon, which are expanding their fiber footprints, as well as cable players such as Comcast.

Its choice of New York City as a starting point for fiber is interesting given some recent broadband policy moves there. Notably, the city government in March issued a request for proposals for its Universal Solicitation for Broadband project, which includes a workstream focused on creating open access broadband infrastructure to help operators deliver connectivity to more people.

An RFP for the project closed in April, with the results yet to be announced.