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T-Mobile’s 5G network can’t yet top Verizon’s speed, but it has promising coverage

T-Mobile’s 5G network is now up and running in several US cities. This initial phase of the carrier’s 5G strategy uses the same sort of high-frequency millimeter wave network tech as Verizon, resulting in download speeds that far exceed what LTE phones can reach today. The biggest problem with millimeter wave is range: to cover a whole city, you need to have 5G nodes — the things that beam out the millimeter wave signal — all over the place. In Verizon’s case, things are still spotty. As I keep saying, 5G speeds are there on one street and gone the next. Walls and windows are also fatal for millimeter wave, so it doesn’t extend indoors.

T-Mobile says it will overcome these challenges by augmenting the millimeter wave side of its 5G network with low-band 600MHz spectrum. The latter won’t offer the same mind-blowing download rates, but low-band spectrum covers much more ground and can actually make it into buildings.

T-Mobile and Sprint are pushing for their merger so hard, partially because they believe they’ll be able to build a best-in-class 5G network by combining the best of their spectrum assets. (Sprint is currently rolling out 5G right overtop its LTE network and offers far more extensive coverage than its rivals because it’s not using millimeter wave.

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