Massive MIMO to play role in T-Mobile/Sprint 5G readiness

One of the things that will enable T-Mobile and Sprint to move fast with their 5G integration is a not-so-little thing called Massive MIMO.

Of course, it’s business as usual for each company while they make their case before regulators, but Sprint CTO John Saw said one of the things that will make for a faster integration is Massive MIMO, something Sprint has been working on for some time.

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“With Massive MIMO we are able to actually upgrade existing towers,” Saw said during the companies’ conference call on Sunday. So they don’t need to look for new sites and towers, which is more efficient in terms of acquisition and zoning. With Massive MIMO, they're upgrading existing 2.5 GHz sites, basically enabling them to broadcast LTE and 5G at the same time, he said.

“You kill two birds with one stone,” Saw explained, saving both time and money. ”We can move really, really fast. That technology will be used in a combined company. That’s one of the ways that we can move fast, by upgrading the combined towers and many of the 85,000 towers will have Massive MIMO capability that will allow us to cover big territories with 5G.”

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The past year or so has seen a lot of talk around Massive MIMO, which is considered foundational to 5G. At the inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas in September, Sprint and Ericsson unveiled results of 2.5 GHz massive MIMO field tests conducted in Seattle and Plano, Texas, using Sprint’s spectrum and Ericsson’s radios. Ericsson also has worked with T-Mobile on Massive MIMO trials using midband FDD spectrum.

Much of Sunday’s conference call was focused on how the combined entity will put the U.S. back in the leadership position in 5G. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who happens to be chairman of CTIA, mentioned the research that CTIA recently presented showing that China and South Korea are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to 5G readiness.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray agreed with Claure’s comment that the combination of the two companies presents the opportunity that neither company could do on its own in 5G.

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As the two companies move forward, every dollar is going to be a 5G dollar, Ray said. “We’re blessed in terms of timing,” on the transaction where they're now deploying 5G-capable equipment. By the time the deal is potentially sealed in 2019, “we will be deploying 5G-capable gear with software by that time at a pretty furious pace. The integration presents an incredible opportunity” for the combined entity to drive investment into 5G.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere said he and Claure have talked with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other FCC commissioners briefly about their merger plans and are hopeful they will keep an open mind. The leadership team will be in Washington, D.C., this week to further expand on their plans and talk with anyone who has an interest in the proposed transaction.