CTO Neville Ray says 5G mmWave technology ‘nowhere near ready for primetime’; regulator raises $2bn from latest spectrum sale

T-Mobile US has downplayed the usefulness of millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G, just days after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concluded its 24-GHz auction.

In a blog post that was typically critical of rivals AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said that in their race to claim 5G ‘firsts’, the US’s big two have rolled out technology "that is nowhere near ready for primetime.

"I have the exact same 5G mmWave network equipment and software that AT&T and Verizon do, and there’s no way we would launch this for customers right now."

Ray reminded readers that mmWave spectrum, which encompasses 30 GHz-300 GHz, does not penetrate solid objects at all well, and doesn’t provide long-range coverage.

"It will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban environments," he said.

Earlier this month, Verizon launched 5G in Chicago and Minneapolis using 28-GHz spectrum, while AT&T has been rolling out 5G in a number of cities at 39 GHz.

Instead of rushing to launch 5G in mmWave frequency bands, T-Mobile intends to wait until it is in a position to launch 5G across its low, mid, high, and mmWave spectrum portfolio, achieving broad, deep coverage as quickly as possible.

Ray’s comments come days after the FCC completed its 24-GHz auction, raising just shy of $2 billion. Technically, 24 GHz falls just shy of being mmWave, but along with 28 GHz it has been lumped in with it anyway, given that it offers comparable capacity and propagation characteristics.

Of the 2,909 licences up for grabs, 2,904 were won. The winners will not be known until after the FCC completes the assignment phase of the auction – where bidders vie for specific chunks of spectrum – which begins on 3 May.