T-Mobile’s Ray underscores next phase of 5G CA: 2.5 GHz beyond 100 MHz

T-Mobile’s Neville Ray responded to a range of questions on his first live Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Monday, including: When is T-Mobile going to take small cells and millimeter wave (mmWave) seriously and what’s next for 5G carrier aggregation?

His answer to the first question was pretty straightforward: “We absolutely take mmWave and small cells seriously,” said Ray, president of Technology at the Bellevue, Washington-based carrier. “Today we have tens of thousands of small cells across our network. And we’ve deployed mmWave in multiple cities and key locations like stadiums, traffic hot spots etc.”

He added a familiar refrain, however: MMwave isn’t how you build a nationwide 5G network that can support mobile applications. “Our competitors made the wrong bet on mmWave and now they are course correcting years later and following our low and midband strategy for broad coverage,” he said.

Ray didn’t name Verizon specifically, but its mmWave strategy has been the target of endless jabbing from T-Mobile, which stresses the “layer cake” strategy that other carriers also use but T-Mobile has hyped it the most, going so far as incorporating real cakes (and cake mixes) into its marketing.

As for a possible ETA on nationwide standalone N41 (2.5 GHz) 5G and nationwide carrier aggregation (CA) for 5G, Ray didn’t hold back there either, though many of his AMA answers clearly passed the corporate test of addressing readers’ questions while not giving too much away.  

“We’re on track to begin delivering NR CA to more customers by the end of this year,” he said, reinforcing what T-Mobile executives recently told Fierce. “The next phase of NR CA will focus on increasing our 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum beyond 100 MHz. With N41 channels of 120-140 MHz, customers will experience a significant boost in throughput. This capability will initially be available to customers with iPhone 13 and will expand to additional devices in Q1.”

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Indicative of the medium, the questions from Redditors targeted everything from T-Mobile’s transition to VoLTE and Voice over New Radio (VoNR) to the evolution of its views on open RAN.

Again, Ray didn’t deviate from his prior answers to these types of questions but reinforced where they’re going. “We’re leading the industry on VoNR and we’re conducting extensive testing, seeing very promising results. We plan to launch VoNR as soon as we meet our own stringent performance targets. Our number one priority is to ensure an exceptionally high-quality service but at the end of the day if our customers don’t notice they’ve transitioned to VoNR then that’s a very good thing. The real benefit of VoNR is evolving our network to a full 5G architecture removing our dependency on LTE."

RELATED: T-Mobile chases voice in 5G - Verizon, AT&T not so much

T-Mobile’s stance on open RAN has been mostly neutral-to-tepid. “We continue to be supportive of Open RAN but as an industry there are still aspects to work through and it’s going to take some time for the ecosystem to mature and coalesce,” Ray said.

As for technologies that he’s most excited about, Ray said a few are top of mind: “Home Internet – using our 5G network to disrupt the status quo for millions of people across the country who for decades have dealt with subpar Internet access – and Wearables – smart apparel, biometric devices, AR/VR glasses and headsets etc.”

Some questions revolved around careers in wireless and Ray’s own experience at T-Mobile. The most influential decision that led to where he’s at today? “Deciding to come to the US in 1995 on a 90 day consulting contract!”