T-Mobile says it will have thousands of 2.5 GHz sites live this year

T-Mobile executives believe the company can crush the home broadband market by offering a 5G fixed wireless service to areas that are currently underserved. And the wireless operator plans to do that by using its 2.5 GHz spectrum that it acquired through its purchase of Sprint.

Speaking today at the Oppenheimer Technology Conference, T-Mobile’s President of Technology Neville Ray said that his team is in the process of rolling out mid-band 5G on the company’s 2.5 GHz spectrum and at the same time deploying low-band 5G across its 600 MHz spectrum assets. Ray said that his team is in the midst of a “hyper-aggressive” upgrade and they are able to upgrade about 700 sites per week. But Ray wants them to be even faster and is hoping to get that number to 800 sites per week.

And while he admits that this is very aggressive, he notes that at least with the 600 MHz spectrum, his team isn’t building new towers, but instead hanging radios and adding antennas to existing infrastructure. With the 2.5 GHz spectrum, the process can be a bit more time consuming because with those sites team members are also adding power and in some cases backup power sources. “The work can be done in just under 10 business days depending upon the complexity of the site,” Ray said.

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For the 2.5 GHz mid-band 5G rollout, Ray said that the company has big ambitions to penetrate the home broadband business and become a supplier of broadband to rural America where the choices for home broadband services are “awful.” The total number of 2.5 GHz sites that T-Mobile plans to deploy is in the mid-50,000 range, and Ray said he believes the company can do that in the next 2.5 years. “I want to break the back of the 2.5 GHz spectrum in 2021,” he said.

Matt Staneff, T-Mobile’s CMO, said that the company has realized over the past six months with the Covid-19 pandemic and many people working and studying from home that the home internet market is critical and that the companies that can provide fast home internet connectivity are winning.  

T-Mobile has been eying the fixed wireless market for some time. The company announced in March 2019 that it would start a pilot of fixed wireless using its LTE network and in July it expanded that pilot to the Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area. It offers the service for $50 per month with no contract and no data caps and provides a home router for no extra cost. The company said that users will see average speeds of 50 Mbps. Staneff said that this pilot in Grand Rapids is getting great results and that customers are very satisfied.

T-Mobile’s interest in the fixed broadband market isn’t a surprise. The company promised regulators that it would make fixed wireless service available to 90% of the U.S. population within six years of its merger with Sprint. As part of the condition, the FCC said that two-thirds of the rural population would need access to 100 Mbps within that time frame.

And other companies are also seeing potential for fixed wireless residential services. Verizon is offering its 5G Home service using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in a handful of markets.