T-Mobile has been staking a claim for 5G network leader, largely thanks to a big head start on mid-band spectrum with 2.5 GHz acquired through its Sprint merger. New Opensignal results show just what a speed boost 2.5 GHz is delivering as T-Mobile deployed more of the spectrum and users connected to mid-band more often.
In Wednesday analysis, Opensignal broke out users’ average 5G download speed results on T-Mobile’s low-band 600 MHz spectrum, which provides a base for nationwide 5G coverage, and its higher capacity 2.5 GHz spectrum.
This year T-Mobile users connected to 2.5 GHz spectrum saw speeds increase significantly – by more than 40% – from 170.1 Mbps in March to 239.3 Mbps in September, according to the report.
On the low-band 600 MHz side, T-Mobile average 5G download speeds remained much slower and without much improvement during that period – 27.7 Mbps in March versus 29.5 Mbps in September.
In October Opensignal reported T-Mobile's average 5G speeds of 118.7 Mbps, which showed combined results for low- and mid-band 5G.
“This means that in our most recent analysis T-Mobile led by 62.7 Mbps over second placed Verizon and 67.2 Mbps over AT&T – with 5G download speeds more than twice as fast as those achieved by their competitors,” wrote Opensignal author Robert Wyrzykowski.
Today's analysis determined 2.5 GHz was providing the marked performance boost. Most of the 2.5 GHz speed increase happened between March and July, with stable speeds above 235 Mbps in the three months following.
“We observed that, not only T-Mobile expanded its use of the 2.5 GHz band over time, but the operator has also very likely increased the amount of spectrum capacity allocated for 5G in that band,” Opensignal noted.
The report pointed out that T-Mobile upped the amount of mid-band deployed to between 60-80 MHz, compared to 40-50 MHz it had used in late 2020. By the end of this year T-Mobile is targeting 100 MHz in many locations, with 200 million people covered by 2.5 GHz.
“Opensignal’s latest report validates what our customers already know – T-Mobile’s differentiated approach to 5G is delivering meaningful 5G experiences now with ever-increasing speeds and expanding coverage,” said Neville Ray, president of Technology at T-Mobile, in a statement. “Our two-year lead on building 5G will continue as we add even more Ultra Capacity coverage and expand it to reach 200 million people nationwide this year.
Last month, Ray said the operator has been upgrading hundreds of sites every week.
And it appears to be showing, with T-Mobile users connecting to 2.5 GHz more often. According to the results, in March the share of T-Mobile readings on 5G using the 2.5 GHz band was 8.8% compared to 91.2% on 600 MHz spectrum. By September that increased by more than three times to 27.2% of readings on 2.5 GHz in September, with72.8% on 600 MHz.
“This means that T-Mobile 5G users are able to access the 2.5GHz band more easily which further explains the increase in the overall 5G speed seen by T-Mobile users,” Opensignal concluded.
What wasn’t a major factor is T-Mobile’s deployment of a standalone (SA) 5G network, as the testing company found 2.5 GHz spectrum was primarily used with non-standalone 5G.
A focus of the analysis also centered on the fact that Verizon and AT&T are filling their own spectrum coffers with mid-band.
LightShed Partners last month noted that T-Mobile’s spectrum advantage is closing – from what was 127 MHz average depth over Verizon (and 70% larger than AT&T) at close of the Sprint merger, to just 45 MHz ahead of Verizon after two FCC auctions of CRBS (3.5 GHz) and C-band (3.7 GHz).
Verizon spent heavily to nab a trove of C-band licenses – including 60 MHz of spectrum that becomes available in top markets later this year – while AT&T spent about half that (still over $23 billion) on 3.7 GHz, including 40-megahertz of the earliest available batch.
T-Mobile still showed up at the C-band auction but was less aggressive, spending around $9.3 billion.
A large portion of the C-band won’t be available to use for a few years, with the remaining portions on later 2023 clearing timelines for satellite operators to vacate the spectrum.
In terms of coverage, AT&T is targeting 200 million people with C-band by the end of 2023 and Verizon is aiming for 175 million by then. T-Mobile hopes to cover 300 million people with 2.5 GHz by the end of 2023.
There’s also the ongoing 3.45 GHz auction, which all three carriers have qualified to bid, but where AT&T is expected to scoop up the most. As of Wednesday afternoon, Auction 110 was closing in on 68 rounds completed with gross proceeds of $20.7 billion.
T-Mobile dubs its service using 2.5 GHz spectrum as “Ultra Capacity 5G” while Verizon and AT&T have their own respective monikers of “Ultra Wideband” and “5G+” – for 5G using upper mid- and high-band spectrum.