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BARCELONA—Neville Ray always gives it to me straight. T-Mobile’s CTO has been struggling with when the company’s 5G network is going to launch, giving some mixed signals that led to some confusion.
“We’d like to do something in the first half [of 2019],” Ray said. “We’re still trialing and experimenting.”
The reason for the date confusion has to do with spectrum licenses and chipset availability. During the first half of the year, the only cell phone chips available won’t support T-Mobile’s long-range 600MHz network. But they will support its limited 28GHz, short-range millimeter-wave spectrum holdings.
T-Mobile has millimeter wave in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Ohio, and a few other places; they can potentially cover about 100 million people, Ray said. And T-Mobile will have the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, although Ray said the company hasn’t made a decision on the LG V50.
But Ray is holding back from giving a hard date, the way Sprint has pledged to launch four cities in May, because he says the available millimeter-wave base station hardware is still working out the kinks. He was baffled when AT&T supposedly launched in December with the same hardware T-Mobile had, he said.
“Software quality was incredibly poor, propagation was very limited, and the number of customers that you could support on a given radio was de minimis,” he said. “There’s been software coming out every two to four weeks, and it doesn’t mature until the end of this quarter.”
AT&T hasn’t let any independent testers see or use its 5G hotspots, and it has said that it will make the network publicly available at retail around the end of this quarter. So that checks out.
But Ray also cut into AT&T’s and Verizon’s refusals to offer coverage maps, saying he wants to launch 5G in a broad way that would actually encourage plenty of people to use it.
“We can do stuff in the first half. We’re going to have devices and we’re going to have network. But how material is it?” Ray mused. “I don’t think anything from AT&T or Verizon will be material until the time frames we’re putting out,” he added, meaning later this year.
T-Mobile’s low-band launch will come by the end of this year, but maybe not much before. When pressed, Ray would only say he’d launch when phones are available on Qualcomm’s upcoming X55 chipset, which would be “second half,” according to him.
I’ve been hearing whispers here at MWC that “second half” may be as late as November, but Ray wouldn’t say anything other than “second half.”
A firmer pledge he was willing to make: 5G service plans will be unlimited, and they won’t be more expensive than T-Mobile’s existing 4G service plans, at least for three years. That means an unlimited 5G plan will cost no more than $70 per line. AT&T also plans to charge $70 to use its 5G hotspot, but it has a 15GB data cap.
Ray’s pledge clarifies T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s pledge not to raise rates for three years, by making it clear that the pledge also applies to 5G plans.
Will it be unlimited? “Absolutely,” he said.
This article originally published at PCMag