T-Mobile eyes 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi tests, cites FWA service

Given T-Mobile’s recent history of arguing for more licensed spectrum, it’s easy to forget how much unlicensed spectrum plays into its overall strategy.

But a recent application before the FCC serves as a reminder of that.

T-Mobile is asking for special temporary authority (STA) to operate on spectrum in the 6110-6190 MHz portion of the 5925-7125 MHz (6 GHz) band in and around the areas of Alexandria and Falls Church, Virginia.

The application lists an ideal start date of April 11, but that’s come and gone, and the paperwork remains pending at the FCC. The end date for the tests is listed as September 1, 2022.

In its application, T-Mobile reminded the commission that it has a long history of using unlicensed spectrum and Wi-Fi as “an essential component” of its network. T-Mobile has used unlicensed spectrum as a means to offload traffic, as many carriers have done to manage traffic and keep cellular networks from overloading.

It was also one of the first carriers to offer customers “cutting-edge technologies” like nationwide Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and next-generation Wi-Fi calling, the “un-carrier” told the commission.

Implications for 5G Home service

More recently, T-Mobile launched its 5G Home Internet service, which is currently available to more than 30 million households worldwide. T-Mobile noted that its 5G Home Internet service uses a 5G Gateway device that converts next-generation 5G signals to Wi-Fi and provides a Wi-Fi signal accessible by all devices in a customer’s home.

With that as the backdrop, T-Mobile wants an STA to evaluate additional Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and performance using the 6 GHz spectrum band. That will enable it to test and optimize its network to “ensure that any future use of the spectrum by T-Mobile for its Wi-Fi 6 services does not cause harmful interference to incumbents” while the FCC continues its process for authorizing Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) systems that will manage users in the 6 GHz band.

In addition, “it will allow T-Mobile to more promptly expand and enhance its Home Internet service, which is more important now than ever to meet the skyrocketing demand for broadband services created by the pandemic,” the operator stated.

Specifically, T-Mobile proposes to use a single fixed access point in two areas: the Southern Towers Apartments in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Cavalier Club Apartments in Falls Church, Virginia. The application notes that the power level T-Mobile plans to use falls “well below” the power level of other operators that have recently been granted STAs to operate in the 6 GHz band.

Before the FCC decided to make the full 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, T-Mobile was arguing that at least a portion of the 6 GHz band should be made available for licensed use.