T-Mobile outlines plans to use unlicensed 5GHz spectrum in trials “in the near future”

data strong

In a blog post published earlier today T-Mobile’s network chief, Neville Ray outlines the company’s plans to integrate new spectrum in to the company’s existing arsenal of airwaves. And while 2014 was the year of 700MHz low-band spectrum, seamless handover between VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling and wideband LTE, 2015 is something new.

As we wrote about in a post just a few weeks ago, T-Mobile is looking at how it can use 5GHz unlicensed spectrum to bolster its network. The plan is to use it to help improve network speed and quality.

Neville Ray explains the technology as follows:

Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) is a new and emerging LTE technology that shows promise by combining licensed and unlicensed spectrum more seamlessly. This technology increases higher peak and average data speeds to smartphones and mobile broadband devices with reduced packet latencies. Importantly, LAA brings all of LTE’s efficiencies – sophisticated Quality of Service controls and robustness – to the unlicensed band in a way that compliments Wi-Fi yet provides far greater coverage performance. As the technology matures, we plan to use it in our continuing efforts to evolve and improve our Data Strong network and provide our customers with superior mobile broadband performance.

LAA will allow T-Mobile to use licensed and unlicensed spectrum together, and the carrier has already started working with its chipset, radio and device partners and will kick off production trials “in the near future”. Tests done elsewhere have shown promising results for the technology, so it will be interesting to see exactly how T-Mo utilises it, and how it benefits its customers.

Source: T-Mobile

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  • Ky

    Cam, could you provide a little background on the coverage range of this technology? My 5Ghz at home barely cover 30 feet with 1 wall between the router and client. Should we expect similar range or something totally different?

    • I’m no RF Engineer but… I suspect that 5GHz over LTE is different from 5GHz over 802.11 based networks…

      Who’s to say these wouldn’t be small base stations they would put near shopping malls or stadiums or subway stations for example? To provide better coverage to smaller/more contained highly trafficked areas.

      • Ky

        Subway, Train stations, etc. Sounds great.

        I was hoping that the coverage would be substantially better than 5Ghz wifi.

        • milanyc

          5GHz has it’s propagation characteristics and that isn’t going to change, but the benefit is that you can deploy lots of indoor LAA picocells that will substantially increase user experience.

        • Eric

          T-Mobile will have to deploy thousands of these cells on 5 GHz to cover the events and venues.

        • Boblahblah

          That’s kind of the point. It’s cheaper to deploy lots of small cells that overlap in crowded spaces so they can reuse the spectrum and take the burden off it’s traditional network. I never have a problem getting signal at stadiums/large events, just that all the bandwidth is saturated.

        • Nerd_Baller

          But they need to overcome the limitation of seamless transition from cell to cell otherwise they’ll run into the same problem people using wifi calling at hospitals do: they walk from router to router and they drop a call or face reconnection lag

        • Boblahblah

          It’s not WIFI! Why do people keep thinking it’s wifi. It’s simply cellular over an unlicensed band. A properly tuned network will work seamlessly just as it does today. How do you think phone calls are currently transferred from tower to tower?

        • Fabian Cortez

          I know it’s rhetorical but I’ll answer it: make before break/soft handoff (or handover).

        • Jay Holm

          “thoudands”? Really?

        • Daniel Marchand

          I have an Asus ac68u and 5ghz covers my whole house and even outside… Inside at worst it drops to 4/5 bars. I don’t know what type of router you have or if it has beamforming tech, etc. It may be a setting issue or maybe it’s a defective or cheaply made router or there is significant interference from something?

          Not to mention the equipment T-Mobile will use would most likely be higher power commercial grade stuff not a residential grade 5ghz capable router.

        • monkeybutts

          airports which t-mobile hasn’t been the best at for speed.

    • milanyc

      It’s mostly indoor or line of sight solution introduced to complement the existing cellular service and provide more capacity for improved peak data rates. Not necessarily to replace the cell service.


  • archerian

    Time to flash our “free” Asus routers with openwrt so they won’t be used for anything unlicensed ;)

    • Nerd_Baller

      I’m already looking at either building my own script or modifying another open version from linksys

    • Romdude

      True but with 100mbps, the small channel they allocate for wifi calling won’t really matter. Now if they include data too, I will just swap out my routers.

  • Mike Palomba

    Will we need a new phone to use the 5GHz LTE band? I’m already mad I’m going to have to upgrade to get the 700MHz, I’m not looking to have to get another new phone so soon after that one

    • Bori

      I think that was mentioned in the article.

    • bob90210

      If you want the new stuff, you will need a new phone. If you’re fine with the old stuff, then you can keep your old phone since T-Mobile is not removing the old stuff, just adding the new stuff.

      Stuff can refer to LTE, LTE-A LAA-LTE, 700 Mhz, or anything else they come up with.

      • Mike Palomba

        I am aware of that BUT, that doesn’t mean phone makers can’t make phones that support these features now so that people will have the capabilities later

        • Adrayven

          Phone makers are not clairvoyant. They cannot know what technology to implement for a given carrier until the carrier orders it..

          Packing in technology that is not going to be used can also hamstring a phone, make it bigger, use more battery, etc.

          They cannot even figure out how to get all the spectrum LTE bands running on a single phone yet.. and you want them to pack in untested / unused tech as well? Thats why you see phones for different carriers.

    • dtam

      Don’t worry Mike, 5 GHz LAA LTE probably isn’t something that will be widely used such that it’s not the only reason you would upgrade your cell phone for. It’s most likely going to be used in stadiums, arenas, shopping malls, and other high density areas. I don’t think the coverage will be so much better that you’ll have to upgrade, unlike low band where it will be worth it once the network is deployed. Depending on where you live, you probably won’t get support for 700 mhz until sometime in 2016 anyways and by then, I think the 5 GHz might be rolled into phones by then

      • Jay Holm

        Support for 700 not til 2016? I think T-Mobile will have at least 2/3 of their current footprint deployed with 700 by years end, I really do. Personally, I’m not looking to upgrade til the next version of the Moto X comes out anyway, the 2015 Moto X no less than 64GB Pure Edition.

        • dtam

          it depends on the area you live in. channel 51 won’t be forced to vacate until after the 600 mhz auction which has been postponed to 2016. I think they have something like 6 months to vacate after the auction so tmobile can’t light up that network until mid 2016. 2/3rds of what they own can be lit up before then but the excluded 1/3 is Boston, NYC, LA, San Fran, Orlando…pretty major metro areas.

          Again, depending on where you live, tmo might not even own the license to the 700 mhz spectrum in your area. if you’re lucky enough to be in an area where they own the license and isn’t in an exclusion zone, then it probably is worth it to upgrade sooner rather than later

        • Jay Holm

          Dang, those are definitely some huge major metro areas. I live in Fairfield County Ct though, and I was told this area, and most of Ct also will be fine. So hopefully T-Mobile will indeed deploy tons of 700 here.

        • dtam

          Yeah, CT should be fine and it looks like it’s deploying soon. check out the map https://www.tmonews.com/2014/11/t-mobile-700mhz-interactive-map/

          there’s a link to the more updated map in the post

        • Analog Spirit

          Thank you for sharing that about the 700 A spectrum deployment. I didn’t know that it was going to take that long (mid to late 2016? ouch…). I happen to live in one of those channel 51 exclusion areas (L.A. area). I’m tired of getting little or no signal inside buildings and I’m not sure that I want to wait another year and a half for it. I’m tired of having to go outdoors to make a phone call or send a text. And Wi-Fi calling works fine at home but it simply isn’t an option for me at work. So… I don’t know if I’m going to stick with T-Mobile now.

        • Augusta, Ga. is not a major metro. Neither is Greensboro. Both have channel 51s.

        • dtam

          tmobile doesn’t own that spectrum license there yet


    • Kinda makes me glad that I haven’t had to upgrade yet with a phone I have had for well over a year. Usually, I would switch phones annually or biannually. So far, I haven’t done that – and I won’t upgrade until Microsoft and T-Mobile releases a Windows Phone with 700 MHz band 12 compatibility on either HSPA+ or LTE.

      T-Mobile announced that all new phones from now on will come with 700 MHz band 12 compatibility on either HSPA+ or LTE. The question is this: will that also come with 5GHz LTE?

      As for me, I live in an area with Channel 51 (WFXG). If a Windows Phone comes 700 MHz band 12 support on either HSPA+ or LTE, I will be ahead of everyone else in my Designated Market Area by almost a year and a half. Which is great if I am able to get a hold of a phablet.

  • TK

    Can we use it with T-zones? PAL? Do we get a BTV discount with it? :)

  • GinaDee

    Unless the other carriers support this I don’t see this being included on all flagship devices going forward so support and device availability will be sketchy at best.

    • Fabian Cortez

      Just like Wi-Fi Calling on the iPhone right?

  • Michael

    I see some pricey phone replacement costs for consumers on the horizon. Sort of a shame that the consumers will be forced to bear the brunt of the cost of this. Let’s also be honest here Tmo will make a ton of money on phone sales just as they have with this WiFi calling gimmick. I pay for unlimited calling and 10days in to my billing cycle I have used zero cell mins-all of my calls have been over WiFi. Based on my current usage I likely will make very few cell calls and the majority of my calls will be made over WiFi. Pretty expensive plan when compared to the $5-$10 plans offered by Republic wireless for all the calls and texts you can consume over WiFi.

    • Boblahblah

      You don’t have to upgrade. No one is forcing you. This stuff takes years to really roll out. Wifi calling and before that, UMA have been around for years and again, you don’t have to turn it on and can use the normal network. Sounds like you just want a home phone since you’ve never used your phone outside of a wifi network. Sounds like your expectations are out of whack. If you want Republic wireless, by all means, knock yourself out.

    • tehboogieman

      There is so much wrong with your post, but I will just focus on the basics. Only an idiot would compare a $5 wifi only plan or a $10 talk/text only plan to a plan with unlimited talk, text and data. If you don’t use mobile text, minutes or data it’s foolish for you to pay for it, but most people buy a mobile phone to be mobile.

      Also there is no reason that anyone has to buy a new 5GHz compatible phone on day one, it will take years to build out that network and it isn’t required to get excellent service.

      Why even have a phone plan with usage like yours, just get an android phone and google voice and get better service than RW for free.

    • shhhhh

      1) Nobody is going to force customers to buy 5ghz capable handsets
      2) No carrier offers postpaid minute plans anymore
      3) republic wireless is an mvno. Mvnos are cheaper than the carriers, everyone knows that. There’s no secret. It also runs on sprint’s crap network.
      4) WiFi calling gimmick? That’s a very valuable feature that lots of customers use – yourself included obviously
      5) shut up

    • philyew

      WiFi calling doesn’t circumvent the switched networks and the interfaces that TM has to maintain to support connectivity to the rest of the world’s phone systems.

      It doesn’t circumvent any termination charges that TM has to pay for calls being connected.

      All that it does its get the initial leg of your call to TM’s infrastructure via the Internet or a private IP network. Everything else behaves like the call was made via their cell sites and backhaul. Those cell sites and backhaul still need to be maintained in order to deliver service to those who have access to the signal.

      Effectively it doesn’t reduce operational costs, but rather provides the ability for customers to remain or join with TM where they might otherwise take their business elsewhere.

      Also I don’t know how you can describe something as a gimmick when you freely admit that you use it for the majority of your service…

    • Try going to West Yellowstone, Mont. with Verizon and making a call. Then come back to me and tell me that Wi-Fi Calling is a gimmick.

      • Sectime

        Can you explain this? Are you saying Verizon works or not? How are you connecting to WiFi there on the road?

        • I looked at their maps. VZ has no service for part of the time on US 14.

  • Sherif

    You can learn more about how this technology works and what its advantages are here: https://www.qualcomm.com/invention/technologies/lte/unlicensed

  • Michael Perez

    This is merely carrier aggregation. The only difference is that it’s using a unlicensed frequency to be used in highly dense areas. There is over 100mhz in the U-NII bands. Although poor in coverage, when you consider current setups of 20×20 LTE …You are talking about at minimum 50×50 LTE with just utilizing U-NII 3. This is merely an upgrade path of LTE-Advanced and I expect the others to follow for large highly dense areas.

    Outdoor coverage is possible as well in city centers however they will cause plenty of interference with WISPs, your 802.11ac router and more. Since it’s unlicensed, if you are following the law for operating in these bands then nobody can tell you anything.


  • Epic_Ninja420

    Yup and T-Mo has never offered deals to get people to switch over to new tech……. If/When this becomes mainstream across all markets and its shown to be working reliably then you may see some push to get most customers over to a new device, however thats at least 2 years down the road if not more. Nobody is forcing you to move to a new phone. At the same time there is a reason why T-Mo lets you Jump 2x a year.

  • Anthony S Jennings

    You people act like you don’t already upgrade your smartphones early, and often. And yes, I’m looking at you with that fresh iPhone 6 in your grubby little hands.

  • Sergio Martinez

    When a property owner is faced with unhappy residence be cause of cellular service. Do you put in a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) at $1 to $4 a square foot. From that point of view Wi-Fi calling now looks really nice for your property! Ensuring enough coverage as well as enough capacity is key. Perfect example is the stadium application mentioned earlier. not enough capacity.