Amid pandemic, T-Mobile gets emergency access to Dish’s 600MHz spectrum
T-Mobile will borrow spectrum in the 600MHz band from Dish, Comcast, and other companies to boost mobile bandwidth during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Communications Commission yesterday granted T-Mobile temporary authority to use the spectrum for the next 60 days.
T-Mobile already has 600MHz-band licenses throughout the United States from a spectrum auction in April 2017. In that auction, T-Mobile spent $8 billion for 45 percent of the available spectrum, amounting to an average of 31MHz in each market. Dish spent $6.2 billion in that auction while Comcast spent $1.7 billion.
T-Mobile uses its 600MHz spectrum for both 4G and 5G. But unlike the millimeter-wave spectrum that has factored heavily into early 5G deployments, 600MHz is low-band spectrum that is suitable for covering large, sparsely populated areas.
“The FCC is dedicated to helping Americans work from home, learn at home, and connect remotely to health care professionals during this crisis,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in yesterday’s announcement. “I would like to thank all of the companies that agreed to make their spectrum available for this important effort—Dish, Comcast, NewLevel, LB License Co, Channel 51, Omega, Bluewater, and TStar License Holdings.”
In addition to helping people work at home, the FCC said that “T-Mobile also indicated that this authority would enable it to be prepared to meet the needs of first responders.”
Before the auction, the 600MHz spectrum was held by TV broadcasters. Comcast bought the spectrum to supplement its mobile service, which primarily resells access to the Verizon Wireless network. Dish has been buying spectrum for years without deploying any mobile service of its own. But Dish has a plan to replace Sprint as the fourth major carrier, in part with spectrum licenses that it will acquire from T-Mobile when the T-Mobile/Sprint merger closes. But for the next 60 days, T-Mobile will be using Dish’s spectrum instead of vice versa.
T-Mobile to deploy “within days”
In a blog post Saturday, T-Mobile said it “expect[s] to rapidly place this additional spectrum into service within days” of receiving FCC approval.
“We’ve also expanded roaming access for Sprint customers to use the T-Mobile network,” T-Mobile said. “With expanded roaming access [at] tens of thousands of locations nationwide, schools and families connected to Sprint’s network will have expanded coverage and capacity—including in rural areas—over the next 60 days.”
T-Mobile announced Friday that it is suspending data caps for 60 days, upgrading everyone to unlimited data. T-Mobile said it is also giving all customers “an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot/tethering service for the next 60 days.” Sprint is taking identical steps. T-Mobile hasn’t announced any changes to its deprioritization policies, which slow down users in congested network areas after they’ve used a set amount of data. On unlimited plans, users get 50GB per month before facing potential slowdowns.
All the biggest home and mobile Internet providers also signed a pledge to waive late fees and keep customers connected when they miss payments due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pledge companies will also open Wi-Fi hotspots to the public.
T-Mobile said it will monitor network usage and take steps, including deploying more spectrum, as needed:
T-Mobile’s network is fully operational, and we are taking all necessary measures to ensure our network and critical facilities remain that way. Furthermore, to ensure our network continues to perform for all customers even under anticipated times with heavier traffic, we have Network Operations Centers that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to monitor our network traffic, including calls to 911, and a widespread technician workforce that is able to rapidly respond to any issues. We’ve also taken steps to ensure remote access to network management systems that will allow us to quickly deploy the additional spectrum, which will increase our network capacity, helping ensure that both T-Mobile and Sprint customers via roaming have the access they need to stay connected during this critical time.