Bellevue, WA (March 20, 2018)—At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in late February, T-Mobile announced its plans to build out 5G service in 30 major U.S. cities this year, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas. In mid-March, the self-styled “Un-carrier” followed up with the announcement of an agreement to accelerate the repacking of NBC-owned station NBC 5/KXAS-TV’s 600 MHz spectrum in North Texas and surrounding areas.
The 30-city plan unveiled by T-Mobile in Barcelona was somewhat vague regarding the specific spectrum in which 5G would be deployed. In a blog, company CTO Neville Ray previously wrote, “In addition to the 600 MHz band, we have 200 MHz of spectrum in the 28/39 GHz bands covering nearly 100 million people in major metropolitan areas and an impressive volume of mid-band spectrum to deploy 5G in as well.”
However, this latest agreement does accelerate the rollout of T-Mobile’s services in 600 MHz spectrum—or Band 71, as it is known in the telecom industry—to cities in North Texas, including Paris, Sulphur Springs, Tyler, Waco and Wichita Falls, as well as adjacent areas in Oklahoma, including Ardmore and Durant. According to the announcement, NBC 5/KXAS-TV, which serves the Dallas/Fort-Worth area, will move to its new frequency in late May 2018, more than one year earlier than the FCC’s scheduled deadline of June 21, 2019.
Licensed and unlicensed wireless audio equipment operators must vacate frequency spectrum in the 600 MHz band as soon as any of the new licensees who acquired bandwidth in the FCC’s 2017 Incentive Auction announce an intention to begin using it, whether for testing or full-time services. The FCC may impose a fine of "$10,000 per violation or per day of a continuing violation and $75,000 per any single act or failure to act" on anyone who continues to operate in the relevant spectrum.
While T-Mobile’s 600 MHz Extended Range LTE network build-out initially targeted rural districts of the United States, the company is making good on its promise to blanket the nation by 2019 with these recent announcements that it will soon be lighting up in select major metro areas. At the beginning of this year, T-Mobile boasted that its 600 MHz services already covered 586 cities and towns, including major cities such as San Jose, CA; Jacksonville, FL; Seattle, WA; Louisville, KY; and Tucson and Mesa, AZ.
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T-Mobile previously announced a partnership with FOX Television Stations to assist with its spectrum repacking ahead of the FCC’s 10-phase plan. This and other previously announced agreements will reportedly expand T-Mobile’s potential market of 62 million living in the areas already cleared for Band 71 deployment by an additional 38 million people.
The partnership with FOX accelerates the relocation of WWOR-TV, located in New Jersey and serving New York City, by 16 months. According to a report on Spectrum Gateway’s website, T-Mobile will not have full access to its spectrum in metro New York until WRNN-TV—which entered a channel-sharing agreement with WWOR-TV in February 2018—relinquishes channel 48 after May 23, 2018.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, the FCC granted T-Mobile’s request to speed up the transfer of 600 MHz licenses from TV broadcasters to mobile operators on the island. The carrier acquired 50 MHz of Puerto Rico’s 600 MHz band spectrum in the auction.
The FCC had previously scheduled Puerto Rico’s TV stations to transition by June 21, 2019 and July 3, 2020. Under the new plan, the stations may transition to their post-auction channel assignments beginning September 14, 2018.
The level of T-Mobile’s Band 71 activity will of course be dependent upon how many of its customers have capable handsets. While the carrier has previously said that as many as one dozen different 600 MHz-enabled models should be on the market by the end of this year, it is currently offering just three: LG’s V30 and V30 Plus and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Active.