T-Mobile’s Neville Ray teases plans for 5G in 2021, including voice over 5G

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With 2020 winding down, many folks are looking ahead to 2021 and what the next year might bring. And that includes Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s president of technology.

Speaking today during the Oppenheimer 5G Summit, Ray talked a bit about some of his plans for the T-Mobile 5G network in 2021. He explained that there are a bunch of basic features and capabilities that T-Mo had with 4G LTE that it doesn’t yet have with 5G in the network or in phones, and so T-Mobile is working to change that next year.

One of those things is carrier aggregation. Ray teased that T-Mobile is planning to have carrier aggregation with low-band and mid-band 5G and that we could start to see phones launch with 5G carrier aggregation support as soon as the first quarter of 2021. However, he added that the rollout of that feature in phones is going to be “a little staggered” and that he “can never predict what will happen with one of the OEMs.”

Another feature T-Mobile is hoping to deploy in 2021 is voice over 5G. Known as VoNR, or “Voice over 5G New Radio”, Ray suggests that we could “start to see stuff in 2021” related to VoNR and that the rollout should be smoother than VoLTE’s. “VoLTE was pretty bumpy,” Ray said. He went on to hint that there may be more to talk about VoNR in early 2021.

Finally, Ray talked a bit about the network upgrades that T-Mobile is currently working on. He says that T-Mobile is working on 1,000 sites a week, performing upgrades, on air activity, and commissioning and that that includes work for 600MHz and 2.5GHz 5G as well as “some of the other projects we’re working on.”

Ray reiterated T-Mobile’s plan to have 100 million people covered with 2.5GHz 5G and said that T-Mo is “going to come super close, if not fly past it.” Then T-Mobile’s goal is to cover 200 million people with 2.5GHz mid-band 5G by the end of 2021. He added that customers are currently seeing average speeds of 300Mbps on 2.5GHz and that that number will move closer to 400Mbps as we exit 2020 and T-Mo is adding more spectrum to its network.

Sources: T-Mobile, Seeking Alpha

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  • Sayahh

    is voice over 5G that much better than cellular when HD voice or whatever is working? is it a quality issue, banwidth conservation issue (or both) or something else?

    • Landon

      I would guess that it allows for higher bandwidth AKA the ability to detect for hz of your voice t mobile kinda already has an advanced codec on VoLTE for this I believe but is less common and tbh I don’t see it kicking in much. I will also guess it comes with improved management of the transition of the voice trough the network like less vulnerable to cutting out due to ethier high signal or high loss the later being more rare. But ofc this is all me speculating

      • iansltx

        Nah, the higher quality codecs are used when carrier and device support is there Sprint and other TMo customers will use HD (wideband AMR) or even HD+ (EVS), though I’ve only seen EVS S20-to-S20 when both are on Sprint (whether on TMo towers or Sprint ones). I’ve seen AMR-WB sometimes to VZW but lately I can’t get it. VZW to VZW and AT&T to AT&T are WB as long as both devices are on VoLTE (which is a taller order for AT&T).

        • marque2

          How. Do you see what codec you are using?

        • Mike Wolf

          There’s a few different ways. One is through the analytics data on an iPhone. Settings> Privacy> Analytics & Improvement> Analytics Data> and look in the logs with awdd in the beginning of the name. There it’ll list the codec used for a particular call somewhere. For example this is from mine. codec: kCodecTypeEVSSWB

          Another method is through entering the service mode on Android phones which may or may not work depending on the model of phone and whether the carrier has blocked the code from working in the dialer. The intricacies on this is outside of the scope of this brief post but can be found on forums and Reddit.

        • Mike Wolf

          To be fair I’ve gotten EVS SWB when calling Verizon to Verizon between an iPhone and a Samsung.

    • iansltx

      Probably the biggest impact will be that you won’t have to drop down to LTE for simultaneous voice and data. Which becomes more significant as mid-band 5G comes online, since dropping to LTE would mean going from 300 Mbps speeds to a fraction of that, just because you’re on the phone. Another big impact would be in areas where 600 MHz is the only thing that reaches, as you might have as much as 3x the spectrum on 5G as LTE, so you’d get a speed drop while on a voice call that way too.

      There’s also an efficiency boost, but we’re talking about a data stream that’s at most 13.2 kbps, so I’m pretty sure that’s not the reason TMo is pushing VoNR. THe 13.2 kbps number is for HD+ calling (EVS), which I’ve seen on Sprint-to-Sprint S20 calls. I’d be surprised if T-Mobile limited EVS to only VoNR since the bandwidth required for a voice call is so tiny either way. Even voice calling over e.g. Duo takes significantly more bandwidth.

      • marque2

        You made me look up Volte speeds. Thanks. Apparently the standards supports 23kbs but is usually set to 12.65 kbs AMR (WB-AMR). Between VoLTE capable devices, WB because that has the most support across networks. Less often NB-AMR is used and it uses 12.2kbs.

        I looked it up because I was surprised your figures are so low, but you are correct sir

        • iansltx

          Yeah, my numbers are from field test mode on my S20. Calls to other carriers are 12.2 NB-AMR. HD voice is generally 12.65 kbps WB, and HD+ is 13.2 EVS.

        • Omar Boyer

          At&t has 13.3 EVs turned on here in los angeles california. And when I call people on verizon it’s 12.65 last year it was 12.2 but this year it’s 12.65 only to verizon . When I call someone on tmobile it’s 12.2 , and at&t to at&t is 13.2 but only if the other person has an iphone 12 . For some reason their the only phones that work with that .

        • Cash

          To some degree it makes sense, back when the internet was more bandwith limited mp3 were often 64, or 92kbps, but mp3 have 2 channels and 44khz range, vs EVS is 1 channel and 20khz range.

          Makes me wonder though why the voip phone systems I manage still use g.711 pcmu which requires 64kbps and only manages 1 channel with 8khz range.

        • marque2

          True, but thinking to the old voice lines each home had two channels which were functionally 64kbs each along with a 14kbs control channel. That was for I believe 200hz to 3200khz.

  • JG

    Out of curiosity… Other than the obvious named difference, what is the difference between Vo WiFi, LTE and NR?

    Aren’t they all just pushing my call to the carrier via a data channel rather than the traditional voice channel?

    I could potentially see some issues with Vo WiFi since its utilizing the public internet to get my call data from my phone to T-Mobile.

    But why would it matter if my phone is using the LTE or 5G bands? They’re both utilizing T-Mobile’s own private internal network. I’d imagine the phone would convert the call to a data stream the same, regardless of which format I’m connected to, and would likely get sent to the same server hidden away at the tower or wherever such a server would physically be located.

    • Shaun Michalak

      All of them are all digital data, meaning no analog type of service.. Here are the differences..

      Vo WiFi uses your home network.. More connections, more devices, means more time lost or a delay in the signal.. For example, if I used it on my WiFi, first there is the delay due to latency to get to my WiFi router, then it travels by copper wire to my switch, then it travels to my cable modem, which then goes out onto the cable network via copper wires, and then goes from there back to the cable company, on part copper wires, part fiber.. Copper is slower at transmitting data then fiber line is, and with copper, you need more signal boosters to keep the signal strong enough to stay readable on the other end, and with little to no errors in the line due to week signals..

      On the poles, you make a direct signal to the pole with your phone, it is then sent down to the computer and routers, and then out to the internet.. Most, if not all newer towers have fiber run to the tower so there is less signal boosters needed, faster connection times from point A (the tower) to where ever the signal goes.. Since the data is run over mostly fiber, if not all, then the signal from the tower gets through much faster due to faster transmissions using fiber (light pulses) vs copper lines.. Less repeaters means less delays.. etc

      LTE has a higher latency then 5G, which means the time it takes to make a connection and send the data is going to be much faster the lower the latency is.. This makes 5G connections faster.. The faster it processes the data, the faster the speeds you get..

      There are other factors that come into play too, but that is part of the basics on why one is faster then the other.. But you are correct that they are all just digital data signals..

      • JG

        I get that 5G is faster than 4G and that the data packets take a much more circuitous route over WiFi having to go from phone to router to (likely) the cable co. and then eventually being delivered to T-Mobile.

        What I was trying to ask was … Why do I have to wait for T-Mobile to randomly approve VoNR? Why can’t the phone just send the data over the 5G network?

        Netflix, Spotify, Chrome, Duo et al all work perfectly well on LTE and 5G, so the connections are in place to get data from my phone to a specific server and back while I’m on 5G. So why is it impossible for my call data to b sent via 5G?

        • Shaun Michalak

          One thing you have to remember.. This is not just a T-Mobile thing.. When I looked into it, even the newest Iphone 12 did not support VoNR.. in fact, there are very few phones that do.. Unless things changed, T-Mobile is the only company that actually has a SA version of 5G installed from the big 3 right now.. Neither AT&T nor Verizon have a SA version of 5G for VoNR, because both of them go back to LTE for service..

          If I remember right, VoLTE splits the data and voice data into 2 different data streams.. VoLTE right now, they only have it set up to go over LTE, and because of that, a 5G connection has to go back to LTE to use it.. If you remember right, when 4G first came out, it was like that too.. First it was 4G, then, 4G LTE, then later they added VoLTE to it.. I think it has something to do with getting everything right so that they both work flawlessly together..

          To be honest, I think that T-Mobile rushed to get 5G out there, and did not have all the little bugs on everything worked out yet, so they just put out what was somewhat stable of 5G to get the bragging rights of saying “first to 5G” on the towers.. I also think that it has to do with the fact that when they first put out 5G, it was still reliant on the LTE core, and that they could not get VoLTE worked out to with with 5G NR until they got the the stand alone version of 5G worked out..

          If you think about it, you can not have VoNR working based on SA if you do not have SA technology, and if you are trying to get away from the LTE core, then you can not install it still relying on the LTE core either.. So like I said, they had to first get 5G SA or NR working by itself, and working reliably, before they can add on VoIP technology to it.. They are just pushing things too much, too fast, just for bragging rights, and I think that is basically what it comes down to..

  • Glenn Gore

    Low-band 5G has twice the data rate of LTE? Not here. From my experience testing all three major carriers, T-Mobile’s low-band 5G only offers only a fraction of the data rate of T-Mobile’s regular LTE. And FAR less than what AT&T and Verizon both have using regular old LTE. Granted, this is only in one state, and in an area where neither AT&T nor Verizon offer 5G at all, in fact neither of them have 5G within 100 miles of here. My testing has shown T-Mobile’s 5G at 12 Mbps, LTE 120 Mbps, AT&T LTE+ with 135 Mbps and Verizon with 45 Mbps. T-Mobile is doing fine with their LTE but 5G is not worth bothering about yet.

    • Acdc1a

      It hovers and stays around 100 Mbps here, however it’s not just download speed. It’s also latency and the number of users who can use the same bandwidth without experiencing degradation. LTE during peak hours slows substantially.

    • Steve Park

      5G here is half the speed of 4G LTE. My 11′ iPad pro gets over 100 Mbps all the time with 3 bars of 4G LTE, but my new iPhone 12 Pro Max (with a new sim) is lucky to hit 30 Mbps. Latency numbers are pretty close in the 20’s-30’s. Not impressed with T-Mobile 5G in KY yet.

    • slybacon

      20×20 MHz of 5G would be about 30% faster than 20x20MHz of LTE. The problem with Tmo’s low band spectrum, is they are using part of it for LTE coverage (along with other bands) and part for 5G coverage. This is why you are seeing slower speeds on 600 MHz 5G. Think of it as LTE having 2 lanes on a freeway with other parallel freeways helping with traffic, but low band 5G only has 1 lane on one freeway right now. I would imagine that all of the 600MHz spectrum would be used for 5G in the next year or two.

      • Shaun Michalak

        Not only that, but the fact that in cities, if all the cities are like mine, T-Mobile only has band 71 installed on half of the towers.. Half of the towers means double the traffic off of the same tower to have coverage.. While them having part of it on LTE does make a big difference, I would guess that doubling the traffic on the same tower is going to have just as much, if not more of a difference then just part of it being on LTE alone..

        • Glenn Gore

          I have not seen any test results of the latency benefits of 5G and how they affect user experience with lower-speed low-band compared with higher-speed LTE. Do the latency benefits mitigate the low data rates of low-band 5G? Even though the user is seeing slower data rates, do the latency benefits give a better experience than on LTE with a higher data rate?

        • Shaun Michalak

          I would say that nothing can really make up for the difference in frequencies like you are talking.. The good points are the fact that with lower latency, if there is a problem with a packet, it will get noticed faster, so it can resend for that information faster.. But even with that. I would say that you would just get minimal performance boosts with low bandwidth vs going to higher frequencies.. I do not think that they is any way of getting 600mhz to come close to 2ghz frequencies in capacity, unless you are comparing digital 600 to analog 2ghz.. Other then that, yes, there will be a small performance increase, but nothing to write home about.. at least not going from digital to digital, 4G to 5G..

          The only thing that I can say that can mitigate the low band in any way is the fact that T-Mobile is working to combine the 2 together for distance.. But that in itself is a problem.. Because, for you to use the 2 together, they both have to be based off of the same tower.. They use the distance benefits of low band for return information, and use the higher band 2ghz range for data transmission to you.. That in itself could mitigate the lower band 71 use for faster speeds, but only in conjunction with higher bands being used for download off of the tower..

          The problem is, with no band 71 on half of the towers, you try to stay connected to one tower, and jumping off of one tower for downloads, and another for uploads just is not going to work.. Which is why only half of the towers having band 71 is a bad thing to use it like that..

        • Glenn Gore

          Your hypothesis of using Band 71 for upstream and Band 2 for downstream makes sense to me. All T-Mobile’s towers here contain only Band 71 and Band 2, and when the indicator on my McLaren shows 5G, the Signal Check Pro display always says Band 2. When the phone shows LTE, Signal Check Pro says Band 71. Cellmapper shows Band 2 for 5G.

          The phone jumps back and forth all the time from LTE to 5G, never holding one type for more than a few minutes. The tower I am using is 6 miles away, the closest one to our town, so I can understand Band 2 being a lot weaker than Band 71, but the phone seems to stay on Band 2/5G the majority of the time. I can’t tell any difference in user experience between LTE and 5G, even with the weak signal when the phone is on 5G, it works quite well, so I am impressed with the ability of T-Mobile’s 5G to work in weak signal conditions.

        • Shaun Michalak

          That thing about downloading on band 41, and then uploading the data on band 71 back to the tower actually came straight from T-Mobile about a month or so ago.. I remember seeing that and I started laughing because all I could think about is.. What good is it if you do not have band 71 on the tower?? and since half of the towers do not have band 71 in some cities.. well, that kind of defeats the purpose of it.. lol

          But I know the feeling about band 71.. I got caught in that trap earlier today.. I am not sure what happened, but T-Mobiles tower must have went down near me.. So the tower that was 2 blocks away it would not let me connect to, but all 3 of the towers that were about 2 miles away from me, I was connecting too.. I am not sure if they were doing an update or what, but it was only down a short length of time.. an hour maybe??

          It was weird being 2 blocks from a tower, used to getting 5 bars of service, then next thing you know it is bouncing at 1 to 2 bars on band 71.. Cellmapper confirmed that I was connecting to the 3 towers 2 miles away towers too. I was kind of hoping that they were upgrading the tower.. But only being down about an hour shot that theory down..

  • mingkee

    VoNR is essential for SA 5G
    NSA consumes more battery as it uses both LTE and NR aggregation
    Moreover, NYC subway needs to add 5G support so the passengers don’t have to switch between SA 5G and LTE

  • David

    I just switch over to Big red for 1 line to test the waters compared to T-mobile and my testing shows T-mobile LTE ranges from 20-65Mbps and Big red 100-155Mbps LTE. As for 5G not really interested though i have 5G phones OP 8T and Pixel 4a 5G. Boise airport area!

    • slybacon

      I’ve had the opposite experience in Utah and Wyoming. Tmo LTE was faster than Verizon LTE or 5G. I just canceled my work Verizon number.

      • David

        just depends on the area you are in or most travel too. my kids and my dad are on Tmobile just keep them on that given they are both in differ states than myself!

    • Greg Dalin

      i get the speed is faster, but does faster speed translate to anything better for you at this point? unless you have dead zones?

  • Sharti24

    Did t-mobile officially announce when they are decommissioning the 2G/3G networks? Is there a memo out there and not just some “leaked” info?

    • Jared Hylton

      I’d like to know this as well. When is “the official shutdown date” for the 2G/3G networks? No one even uses that tech anymore really. Some phones don’t even ship with base 2G support chipsets anymore, now. I want them to pump that spectrum into the 4G and 5G “space allotments” so that we have additional capacity. 2G definitely needs to go. HSPA+, leave it if you gotta, but the 2G should be absolutely already gone or upgraded to HSPA+.

      • Joe

        Honestly even HSPA+ is dumb to keep around. I don’t think many people at all use it anymore.

        • Jared Hylton

          They don’t. I only fall back on it when LTE is absolutely overloaded, and it is ABSOLUTELY the last resort. It isn’t much faster than “overloaded” LTE.