T-Mobile boasts standalone 5G data session with multiple vendors

Even before Dish Network has a chance to collect responses to its newly-issued RFP and RFI, T-Mobile is boasting about its ability to complete a standalone 5G data session with a multi-vendor core 5G network. T-Mobile said it’s the first standalone 5G transmission of any kind in North America.

The vendors involved in this feat are Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco and MediaTek. The data session was conducted in T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Washington, lab.

“This major 5G breakthrough is another example of how the T-Mobile engineering team continues to innovate and drive the entire industry forward. I could not be more proud of them,” said T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray in a statement. “5G brings a new era in wireless, and if our merger with Sprint is approved, the New T-Mobile will bring together the resources and vision necessary to ensure America has a network that’s second to none.”

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T-Mobile in its press release didn’t identify which spectrum it used for the standalone 5G data session, but a spokesperson said it was not 600 MHz; it was sub-6 GHz, however. 

The company said it plans to introduce standalone 5G in 2020. The standalone version will enable faster speeds and lower latency, the spokesperson confirmed.

Most operators in the U.S. are launching 5G first with the non-standalone version of the 5G standard, which uses LTE as an anchor. The standalone version does not rely on a legacy network like LTE, which explains why Dish is going straight to that version.

As part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval of the merger, Sprint will divest its prepaid business to Dish, which will get to use T-Mobile’s network through an MVNO arrangement for seven years while Dish builds out its own 5G standalone network. Dish executives said on Monday that they’ve already issued an RFI and RFP for the network.

In announcing Dish’s plans to become a fourth national facilities-based carrier in the U.S., Chairman Charlie Ergen said Dish will disrupt incumbents and their legacy networks with the nation’s first standalone 5G broadband network. Dish has its own 600 MHz and other spectrum it has acquired over the years and as part of the deal, if finalized, will acquire 14 MHz of Sprint’s nationwide 800 MHz spectrum.

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On T-Mobile’s second-quarter conference call last Friday, CEO John Legere reiterated that T-Mobile’s 600 MHz spectrum will be the foundation for its nationwide 5G network, which it expects to be ready next year. T-Mobile already launched 5G in six markets using millimeter wave spectrum. Phones compatible with T-Mobile’s 600 MHz footprint are expected later this year.

Ray also reiterated on the call that T-Mobile will use the “layer cake” strategy of tapping low-, mid- and high-band spectrum for 5G. T-Mobile spent $842 million to quadruple its millimeter wave spectrum in the 24 GHz auction. While T-Mobile has made hay of Verizon's millimeter wave strategy for 5G, Ray said millimeter wave can be used where there are large concentrations of population density, which has always been part of T-Mobile’s plan, but it doesn’t make sense economically to try to cover the entire country with millimeter wave.

Of course, T-Mobile's merger with Sprint remains in flux. When the DoJ’s support of the proposed merger was announced last week, the coalition of 14 attorneys general that filed suit to block the deal said they remained concerned about what it would mean for competition in the U.S.

T-Mobile executives insist that the terms of their transaction as worked out with the antitrust authorities and DoJ should allay many of the states’ concerns, and their discussions with the states are expected to continue.