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T-Mobile has unveiled the world’s first 600 MHz LTE sites in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which it switched on just yesterday using Nokia equipment. While T-Mobile recently topped the rankings for fastest LTE network in the US in OpenSignal’s recent report, the newest low-band network will be a noticeable step up from the standard 700 MHz LTE deployed by major US carriers today and paves the way for the coming 5G rollout. The 600 MHz sites should also help reduce congestion and boost 4G coverage throughout the US, including indoors and in underserved rural markets, in the near term, which gives T-Mobile a major leg up in its competition with Verizon.
“To work with T-Mobile in lighting up the world’s first 600 MHz LTE network is a momentous achievement,” said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia. “We knew this spectrum would be key for covering wide areas, providing bandwidth in hard-to-reach places, augmenting capacity and improving data speeds, so we began testing and readying 600 MHz network infrastructure equipment and software long before the incentive auction was over.”
Moreover, the self-described Un-carrier has vowed to establish similar sites in 10 additional states by the end of this year, including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Kansas. While this is great news for T-Mobile subscribers, it’s prudent to note that it may be some time before devices that can leverage the network won’t hit the market just yet. T-Mobile noted in its press release that it expects LG and Samsung to ship 600 MHz-capable phones in the fourth quarter of this year, the timing of which suggests that the phones may be the Galaxy Note 8 and V30 lines. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray also stressed that “as T-Mobile gets more partners and devices, there will be a tidal wave of [600MHz compatible devices] in 2018.”
What’s also notable about the deployment is the aggressive timeline leading up to it. Ray boasted that 600 MHz LTE rollout condensed “what would normally be a two-year process” into six months. Verizon, for instance, purchased 700 MHz spectrum in 2008 and switched on the network in 2010. One of the obstacles T-Mobile faced is the fact that TV stations use 600 MHz spectrum in most cases, forcing the carrier to pay expenses out-of-pocket to move them to different frequencies.
And it bears noting that up until earlier this year, T-Mobile lagged behind its rivals in terms of the quantity of low-band spectrum. That all changed at the conclusion of the FCC’s 600 MHz spectrum auction in April, where T-Mobile snapped up 45 percent of all the low-band spectrum– which provides increased coverage and penetration into buildings using fewer towers. The $8 billion purchase quadrupled T-Mobile’s low-band holdings and left it with 31 MHz of 600 MHz licenses. The low-band spectrum haul gives the wireless carrier plenty of breathing room to expand, take on new customers, and build out its 5G network. A few months later, T-Mobile is on track to increase its total LTE coverage to include 6 million more Americans.