The News: I got the chance recently to catch part of an AMA on Reddit featuring T-Mobile’s President of Technology, Neville Ray, and decided it was a good topic for my webcast with my colleague and fellow analyst here at Futurum Research, Ron Westfall, on all things 5G, The 5G Factor. For a deeper dive, you can find the full AMA with Neville Ray here.
New Episode of The 5G Factor — Featuring T-Mobile on the Next Phase of 5G
Analyst Take: In this episode of our webcast, The 5G Factor, I wanted to touch on Ray’s conversation with the Reddit community on all things 5G, including network updates, some 5G deployment use cases and other interesting updates.
One of the key questions tossed Ray’s way focused on small cells and the mmWave-focused strategy that some of the company’s competitors in the telco space have bet on. Ray’s comments on this topic — specific to mmWave — didn’t pull any punches. Ray made it very clear that for T-Mobile, it is generally considered that mmWave is neither the best nor the right way to build a nationwide 5G network that can support mobile applications.
As anyone tracking T-Mobile will know, this is a popular topic of conversation for the company. T-Mobile’s offerings instead rely on what the company calls a “layer cake” approach for 5G, featuring a mix of low-, mid- and high-band spectrum.
Ray also updated the community on what’s new with its 2.5 GHz spectrum. I’ll note here that in the spring of 2020, and shortly after the close of the Sprint acquisition, T-Mobile turned on what it calls its “super-charged 5G” its newly integrated 2.5 GHz spectrum, in Philadelphia, and shortly after that in the NYC area. This “layer cake” mix uses 28 GHz on top of 00 MHz and 2.5 GHz.
Following the close of the company’s merger with Sprint, T-Mobile has been vocal about its commitment to quickly deploy more mid-band spectrum, with which mix of spectrum bands T-Mobile plans to deliver enhanced coverage, capacity, and speed – all things that users want very much.
Ray also touched on T-Mobile’s nationwide standalone N41 (2.5 GHz) 5G and nationwide carrier aggregation (CA) for 5G, and indicated the company expects to begin delivering NR CA by the end of 2021. He further elaborated that the next phase of the company’s NR CA focus will be on increasing the 2.5 GH midband spectrum beyond 100 MHz. He also hit on the fact that customers could look forward to experiencing a significant boost in throughput, available initially to customers with Apple’s newest iPhone 13 and then expand to other devices in the first quarter of 2022.
The AMA as a whole was interesting and covered a wide range of topics and questions including the company’s stance on open RAN, T-Mobile’s transition to Voice over New Radio ((VoNR) and VoLTE). I was interested in Ray’s list of tech he’s most excited about because these are all things that I’m also bullish on, and those include wearables, smart apparel, biometric devices, AR/VR glasses and headsets, along with home internet and disrupting the status quo for the millions of people who don’t (yet) have great internet access.
You can watch the vignette from our discussion on The 5G Factor show here:
Or listen here:
Or watch the full episode here, which also includes updates from Apple on its new SE 5G phone and the opportunity to steal marketshare from Android, as well as a dive into The Ericsson 10 Hot Consumer Trends report.
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Shelly Kramer: So we’re going to transition on and talk now about T-Mobile and the next phase of 5G. So I had the opportunity earlier in the week to listen to, sit in on an AMA on Reddit, which is an Ask Me Anything featuring T-Mobile’s Neville Ray.
And it was an interesting conversation. You know, sometimes these things just kind of stumble your throw across your field division and you think, “Wait, I’m going to make time to see what’s going on there. And what Neville has to say.” So one of the key questions, there were a lot of questions that came Ray’s way. One of the questions that was particularly of interest to me focused on small cells and mmWave strategy that some of T-Mobile’s competitor in the telco space have kind of bet on as being the way to go.
And Ray’s comments did not surprise on this topic, specific to mmWave. In fact, he didn’t really pull any punches. He made it clear that for T-Mobile, they believe that mmWave is not the best way or the right way to build a nationwide 5G network that can support mobile applications, is this a really popular topic of conversation when T-Mobile’s involved. And their offerings instead rely on what they call kind of a layer cake approach. And this is a mix of low, mid and high-band spectrum. And they’ve got some interesting things.
I know that right after the merger was sprint, T-Mobile turned on its newly integrated 2.5 gigahertz spectrum in New York city and in Philadelphia. And this 2.5 gigahertz comprises part of this layer cake that we’re talking about. And then this also include it’s low-band 600 mil Hertz and mmWave 28 gigahertz spectrum. So it truly is kind of a mix of things. And I think T-Mobile has also, in some of their marketing messaging and that sort of thing relied on some layer cake imagery and messaging. So I thought that was interesting. And I’m sure you have some thoughts on that, Ron.
Ron Westfall: Yeah. In addition to the fact that Layer Cake is an outstanding British film, but it’s also an outstanding philosophy in terms of how T-Mobile built out its nationwide 5G network. And I think Neville has a valid point in terms of how this has played out. I think if you look at Verizon, they led more with the millimeter wave capabilities and bet more heavily on that. Now, what we saw earlier this year, they have subsequently bought up a lot of mid-band spectrum to an essence make their nationwide build out more of a layer cake a type-
Shelly Kramer: As well.
Ron Westfall: … of approach.
Shelly Kramer: Right.
Ron Westfall: And so, I think it’s fair to say that T-Mobile has a time to market or a time to deploy advantage here and executing that strategy because what is sometimes misunderstood, it doesn’t mean T-Mobile is stewing a millimeter wave or small cells, they have invested heavily in both those technologies. But again, it’s part of that layer cake blended approach. It’s also technology that can help the overall 5G experience.
And it’s just a question of how the prioritization rolled out and who has, I guess, a more compelling strategy certainly on the consumer side in terms of enabling broader coverage, enabling more compelling applications in the near term and so forth as a result. And so, I think the spotlight is also now on T-Mobile’s use of N41 2.5 gigahertz 5G.
Shelly Kramer: Just take the words right out of my mouth, Ron. Just take the words right out of my mouth. Yeah. Sometimes I have to slow Ron’s role because he gets started and then he just gobbles up everything that I’m going to talk about. So Ron, I’m not going to let you gobble it up. No, you’re absolutely right though. The N41, which is 2.5 gigahertz 5G, a nationwide carrier aggregation for 5G have been key areas of focus.
And one of the things that Ray talked about in this AMA is that T-Mobile expects to begin delivering NR CA by the end of 2021. And he went on to say that the next phase of T-Mobile’s NR CA focus will be on increasing the 2.5 gigahertz mid-band spectrum beyond 100 megahertz. Is it megahertz? Megahertz. Megahertz.
Ron Westfall: Yeah. Yeah. Carry on.
Shelly Kramer: And he also hit on… And well, sometimes you have all these acronyms, you’re like, “Wait a minute, did I get it wrong?” And then he also hit on the fact that, this is exciting, that customers could look forward to experience a significant boost in throughput. And this will be available initially to customers using Apple’s newest iPhone 13 and then it’ll expand to other devices in the first quarter of 2022. So I thought that was really good news.
And one thing that I wanted to wrap up this conversation about T-Mobile on, I know is interesting to you, Ron, as well. So Neville, covered a wide range of topics and questions, including the company stance on OpenRAN. OpenRAN, and then of course T-Mobile’s transit to Voice over New Radio and voice over LTE. But I know that the company has had some challenges with, or some thoughts about OpenRAN and they’re kind of going slowly as it relates to that.
Ron Westfall: Yes, definitely. I think that’s another start contrast with Verizon, AT&T, at least in terms of the marketing aspect of OpenRAN or O-RAN Alliance specific initiative, as well as vRAN for that matter. And I think it’s refreshing because T-Mobile is basically the tonic, if you will, in terms of just how ready for prime time is OpenRAN technology really. And I think in their own testing they’ve come up with some valid security issues, again, that scaling flexibly issues and so forth.
And each network is going to have its distinct profiles. So some of the things that are T-Mobile concerns might not necessarily apply to other operators whether here, in the US or in other parts of the world such as Vodafone and Telefónica, who have been cheerleaders for OpenRAN. And I think it’s a process. It’s a journey. I think, yes, there is the hype cycle that we all are very familiar with in our industry, let alone other industries, and OpenRAN definitely had that initial flush.
Operators like Rakuten definitely put, I think, some fire under making it more interesting and attractive to talk about. And it, again, I believe as the standards mature, as the technology becomes better optimized and so forth that in variably OpenRAN will become a more significant mix of the overall RAN market. And I know, it’s a very low single digits today. And by 2025 there’s expectation it can hit that 10% threshold. So that could be a realistic expectation. Obviously, T-Mobile probably won’t be contributing to that particular market growth.
And I think, circling back to Marvell, that we’re also noting like, yes, when it comes to, for example, vRAN capabilities, what we’re looking to prove with our chip sec technology is that it can at least be on par with traditional RAN technology in terms of performance and security. And with that, then all these new capabilities can really come to the forefront involving obviously third-party application innovation being leveraged, being able to use cloud capabilities on a much more extensive basis.
In other words, being able to accelerate know time to content, time to market and all those important factors when mobile operators are looking at how do they really differentiate themselves? So, yeah. Yeah. I think it’s just refreshing that, now here’s a fundamental differences in philosophy. And T-Mobile is, I think, making a good case behalf of their aims and on behalf of their network requirements. And it’s playing out where T-Mobile can, I think, objectively make some claims in terms of the 5G foot race when it comes to at least nationwide consumer services. But yeah, there’s still a lot of journey ahead of us.
Shelly Kramer: Oh, absolutely.
Ron Westfall: And lots of variables and wildcards, as we know, can always pop up.