AT&T, Verizon Praying People Won’t Switch to T-Mobile’s Better 5G

The U.S. 5G market is T-Mobile’s to lose. The golden 2.5 GHz Sprint spectrum will give T-Mobile the best network in 40-60% of the U.S. over the next 4-9 months. Speeds will typically be 100-300 Mbps, occasionally higher. Verizon may have triple the speed in their millimeter wave network, but that’s only in about 10% of the U.S.

Currently, most U.S. 5G networks are lousy, but 3.4 million 5G Samsung Galaxy phones sold in Q1. That’s far more than I expected. Verizon expects explosive sales when the iPhone 5G ships. 30 million U.S. 5G phones in 2020 are possible, but I don’t have enough data.

DT CEO Timotheus Höttges just said he wants to be #1 in the U.S. If he gives Neville Ray the budget to build and Mike Sievert the marketing budget, his chances are good.  

Verizon and AT&T in most of the country will be using low band spectrum. AT&T has already deployed “low-band 5G” (850 MHz) which AT&T VP Gordon Mansfield confirms is often no better than their 4G. Open Signal found actual speeds of 62 Mbps, slower than most of AT&T’s own upgraded 4G cells. (Chart below.) That can quickly be deployed using dynamic spectrum sharing, which is reaching the field.

The 2.5 GHz spectrum has better reach than higher frequencies. Most of the country can be covered from existing towers. That’s fast and relatively cheap. TMO plans a major sales push in the late summer, hoping to get in front of Verizon & the iPhone 5G.

It’s ridiculous to call connections slower than 4G “5G.” But the marketing people in 2018 persuaded the world that adding “5G NR” software to 4G networks make them “5G” and wonderful.

NR software adds almost nothing to the performance below 2 GHz in low band spectrum. (That’s why everyone wants mid-band, 3.3-4.2 GHz. That will creep into the market over the next three years.)

So far, the regulators and most reporters have been bamboozled. It’s not clear whether users will care about the difference between 50 Mbps and 200 Mbps. It has little practical effect.

Verizon’s mmWave, the top line, is far faster than anything else. But it will be in a limited area, perhaps 10-15% of the country in 2020 and ~30% in two or three years. (Verizon refuses to provide details.)

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