T-Mobile has deals to deploy 28K small cells 'in the short term'

DALLAS—T-Mobile has contracted to deploy tens of thousands of small cells to densify its network in advance of 5G, T-Mobile’s vice president of network technology and strategy said Wednesday.

“Densification is really about moving from that macro (tower) into the small cells dimension,” Karri Kuoppamaki said here at the FieceWireless Next-Gen Wireless Networks Summit. “We’ve already deployed thousands of small cells and we’ve contracted (for) 28,000 small cells to be deployed in the short term.”

And while T-Mobile’s larger rivals are making blockbuster deals to acquire fiber companies to lay the foundations for the 5G networks, T-Mobile looks to partner with fiber companies that also operate small-cell businesses.

“You can do small cells in so many different ways, and I think we have a little bit of a different approach when it comes to small cells,” Kuoppamaki continued. “We found the best way to do that is to partner with fiber providers… that not only build and bring that fiber to you, but also build those small cells for you. And that is a very efficient way to actually get to the point when you go from having a few (small cells) to having tens of thousands in the network.”

Like its competitors, T-Mobile is looking to densify its network to better leverage mid- and high-band spectrum, which can carrier large amounts of data quickly but doesn’t propagate as well as lower bands. Meanwhile, it’s moving quickly to leverage the 600 MHz it won at auction early this year as it expands into some rural and suburban markets, expanding on a network footprint that had long priority densely populated areas.

The carrier lit up some of those new airwaves in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in August, and is various stages of rolling out 600 MHz in small to medium-sized markets in Maine, Pennsylvania, Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle and elsewhere.

“In the summer we built the first sites in our mass deployment of 600, and we expect by the end of the year we’ll have access to about 1.2 million square miles of clear (600 MHz) spectrum,” Kuopamakki said. “I think this is the fastest that spectrum has been brought live anywhere in the world…. It is a proof point that when you do things right you can bring spectrum to life very quickly and efficiently.”