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T-Mobile rolls out 5G Standalone on 2.5 GHz spectrum

T-Mobile is pumping up its 5G network by rolling out 5G standalone (SA) on the company’s 2.5 GHz spectrum. The result, according to T-Mobile President of Networks Neville Ray, is an improvement in the 5G experience, particularly in network latency.

Speaking at the New Street Research & Boston Consulting Group Innovation Conference, Ray said that T-Mobile first deployed an SA core in 2020 on the company’s 600 MHz spectrum. That initial deployment provided the company with some performance advantages in its low-band spectrum. However, by adding both the SA core and SA radio network to the operator’s mid-band spectrum, Ray expects to see a much bigger impact to the network’s performance and capacity because 5G SA is much more spectrally efficient.

“The more that we have traffic on a pure 5G lane, the more spectrally efficient we are,” he said, adding that 5G SA will also provide lower network latency.

The next step, according to Ray, will be to rollout Voice over New Radio (VoNR), which is what enables T-Mobile to offer voice services using 5G, nationwide. He expects that to happen in early 2023. “We’ve made real progress with VoNR,” he said, adding, “It isn’t easy.”

The company first launched VoNR in just two markets — Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah, last June and has slowly been deploying it across the country.

Ray touted the many advantages of having an SA network, and the fact that he believes that competitors are playing “catch up” to the operator. Indeed, AT&T told a group of reporters last month that it was in the process of deploying its SA core and Verizon also said in October that it was starting to move customer traffic onto its Verizon Cloud Platform (VCP) that will allow it to support an SA core.

Ray said that the benefits of having an SA network are that T-Mobile will be able to bring new 5G capabilities to life, such as network slicing. “At the heart of it, you need a 5G network to deliver on all the 5G promises we made,” he said. “You can’t do network slicing on an NSA [non-standalone] network. You can’t bring many of the dimensions that enterprises are looking for on an NSA network.”

And while some competitive operators have touted their partnerships with cloud providers as a way to deliver advanced services such as multi-access edge computing (MEC) to enterprises, Ray said that what he believes will drive services like MEC is to have an SA network coupled with capacity and coverage.

Ray also hinted that the company may consider using its milllimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. He said that it might extend its reach with mmWave but would not do it at the street level like Verizon is doing with its mmWave spectrum. Instead, he said it would consider building a macro network overlay in areas where it makes sense.

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