T-Mobile’s 600 MHz fast track enabled by 3GPP-approved specs and work with broadcast industry

While T-Mobile announced last week that it will be testing the first sites using its 600 MHz spectrum this summer, the operator’s VP of radio network technology and strategy provided some insight into just how it’s able to move on the spectrum so fast.

T-Mobile was the top bidder in the 600 MHz incentive auction that ended in April, agreeing to pony up nearly $8 billion, and the operator said last week it will begin testing its new airwaves in the coming weeks.

“From a spectrum position standpoint, I think we have really, really good starting point. We also don’t just sit on spectrum, we put it into use,” said T-Mobile’s Karri Kuoppamaki at a Wells Fargo Securities forum today. “AWS-3 is a great example. We were the first one to deploy in that space.”

It's true that T-Mobile moved on the AWS-3 spectrum faster than AT&T and Verizon, even though they got more spectrum in that space. “We always put spectrum very quickly into good use, and we look at doing the same with 600," he added.

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A lot of people figured it would take a few years before the 600 MHz spectrum would be put into practical use; broadcasters need to move out of the spectrum before wireless can move in. But T-Mobile was able to work on some things before the auction ended, even though some other work clearly had to wait until after the auction and the quiet period ended.

“We didn’t just focus on the auction itself,” he said, outlining four key action areas. T-Mobile worked on standards and approached the 3GPP soon after the auction, ascertaining approval relatively quickly on specifications in May. It also worked with infrastructure and device vendors so they would have products ready this year, and it’s already conducted testing in the lab, with field tests to begin this summer.

In addition, the “uncarrier” worked with the broadcast industry to understand their needs and even invested in production capacity broadcast antennas so that the transition to new frequency bands on the broadcast side could happen as quickly as possible and make clearing easier, he said.

In addition, T-Mobile worked on sites and identified some 1.2 million square miles that could be cleared and be ready to deploy this year. It’s already deploying dual-band low-band antennas today that can support both 700 MHz and 600 MHz, making the introduction of 600 MHz spectrum in areas where it has 700 MHz spectrum a little bit easier, according to Kuoppamaki.