T-Mobile network technology – 4G LTE, 5G and beyond

T-Mobile network technology – 4G LTE, 5G and beyond


T-Mobile currently ranks third among the top four wireless carriers in the U.S. market. That equates to approximately 17 percent of the market share with a reported 84 million subscribers. 

For comparison, AT&T has 162 million subscribers and Verizon has 153 million. Rounding out the top four is Sprint, with a reported 54 million subscribers. AT&T and Verizon will likely retain the top two slots in the near term, however, the subscriber base of T-Mobile and Sprint will see a shift in numbers if the proposed merger closes as expected. 

In this post, we’ll cover a bit of T-Mobile history and then go right up to the present day with details on the current state of the carriers 4G LTE and 5G networks, and getting started with the carrier in terms of buying a device and plan availability.

When was T-Mobile founded?

T-Mobile US, as a name, officially dates back to 2001. However, the T-Mobile US roots can be traced back to 1994 with the launch of VoiceStream Wireless. VoiceStream Wireless began as a subsidiary of Western Wireless Corporation and operated in that manner for roughly 5 years. 

VoiceStream Wireless moved away from Western Wireless in 1999, and in 2000, the company expanded by acquiring two regional wireless carriers; Omnipoint Corporation and Aerial Communications Inc. Deutsche Telekom came into the picture in May 2001 and purchased VoiceStream Wireless and Powertell Inc., another regional wireless carrier. 

Deutsche Telekom merged Powertell Inc. into Voicestream Wireless and the companies continued operating under the Voicestream Wireless brand. VoiceStream Wireless began transitioning to the T-Mobile US brand in September 2001 and was fully rebranded as T-Mobile US in July 2002.

Some other notable events in T-Mobile US history include the 2007 acquisition of SunCom Wireless Holdings Inc., the aborted 2011 acquisition by AT&T, the 2012 merger with MetroPCS, and the beginning of the “Un-carrier” movement in 2013. 

The Sprint and T-Mobile merger talks originally began in 2013, though unlike what we are seeing today — the original plan was for Sprint and its parent company Softbank, to acquire T-Mobile. The current T-Mobile and Sprint merger received conditional FCC approval in November 2019. The merger is expected to fully complete in early 2020, however, at this time the companies still need to win the lawsuit from the State Attorney Generals and receive approval from the California PUC.

As of today, T-Mobile US is providing wireless voice, messaging, and data services across the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Which network does T-Mobile use?

T-Mobile, similar to the other wireless carriers, has cycled through different versions of their network over the years. These different versions are referred to as generations, with the first generation offering the basics — voice calls. The second-generation (2G) T-Mobile network added data services and made use of GSM, GPRS, and EDGE on Band 2 (1900MHz). While the addition of data services was notable, it was not until 3G that users were able to use voice and data at the same time. 

3G (UMTS, HSPA)

The 3G network brought faster speeds and the ability to use voice and data at the same time. This basically meant that users were able to use data while on an active voice call. The 3G T-Mobile network uses Band 4 (1700/2100MHz).

4G (HSPA+)

The 4G HSPA+ network saw faster speeds as compared to the 3G network, but it was somewhat of a stepping stone on the way to 4G LTE. T-Mobile touted the HSPA+ network as being able to offer “incredibly fast download speeds” that were “nearly as fast as 4G LTE.” The HSPA+ network makes use of Band 2 (1900MHz) and Band 4 (1700/2100MHz). Similar to the 3G network, 4G (HSPA+) network users retained the ability to use voice and data at the same time. 

4G LTE

The T-Mobile 4G LTE network added additional band support, as well as new features called VoLTE and Wideband LTE. Though, while there were new features added, there was a slight difference in voice and data with the 4G LTE network. Users needed to have VoLTE enabled on their device for simultaneous voice and data. Otherwise, LTE only provided data.

  • VoLTE: Allowed users to make and receive calls while connected to LTE. VoLTE is available nationwide and allows for faster call connections and the ability to switch between VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling — without dropping the call. VoLTE also added HD Voice for improved voice quality and Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) for “further enhancements” in voice quality. 
  • Wideband LTE: T-Mobile has said the addition of Wideband LTE meant even faster LTE speeds, along with the ability for the network to handle more users. 

The 4G LTE speeds were said to be “up to 50% faster” as compared to T-Mobile 3G. T-Mobile currently claims they have 4G LTE coverage for “99% of Americans.” And along with the increase in speeds, T-Mobile added several new bands and frequencies with the launch of the 4G LTE network.

The frequencies used on the 4G LTE network include Band 2 (1900MHz), Band 4 (1700/2100MHz), Band 5 (850MHz), Band 12 (700MHz), Band 66 (Extension of Band 4 on 1700/2100MHz), and Band 71 (600MHz).

5G

T-Mobile 5G rolled out earlier this year in a few limited markets, however, the coverage is now expanding with nationwide availability. Many users will be looking for an increase in speeds. But unlike some other carrier promises, T-Mobile appears to be focusing on the reliability and availability, as opposed to speed claims. The T-Mobile 5G network, in its current state, is available for 200 million people in 5,000 cities. 

5G networks can be high-band, mid-band, and low-band. T-Mobile 5G is considered low-band and making use of the 600MHz spectrum. Low-band 5G is said to offer longer waves that have great range that aren’t affected by obstacles. The other 5G band options break down as follows;

  • High-band: Short waves covering a small area. The high-band can offer much faster speeds, but the signal would be blocked by buildings.
  • Mid-band: Mid-length waves designed to bring a mix of speed and range.

T-Mobile 5G service will be included at no additional cost provided you have a 5G compatible device. The current 5G-compatible devices include the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, and the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren.

While T-Mobile is touting nationwide 5G coverage — users should still expect to see gaps in coverage. T-Mobile has provided a 5G coverage map on their website.

Buying a phone for T-Mobile

If you are looking to get started with T-Mobile you have a few options for purchasing a phone. You can buy a new phone direct from the carrier, but with prices nearing the $1,000 mark — you may want to consider buying a gently used phone here on Swappa

If you opt to go the used route you can either buy a T-Mobile locked phone or an unlocked phone. A T-Mobile locked phone will help to ensure network compatibility, and an unlocked phone means you will be able to switch to another carrier (without having to buy another phone) should you ever decide to leave T-Mobile.

MOBILE CARRIER REVIEWS

 

It is also important to note that not all unlocked phones will work with all carriers. Different carriers will make use of different bands and frequencies. T-Mobile currently makes use of several different bands and frequencies, which are detailed below: 

Bands Frequencies
LTE FDD Band 2 1900 MHz
LTE FDD Band 4 1700 MHz
LTE FDD Band 5 850 MHz
LTE FDD Band 12 700 MHz
LTE FDD Band 66 1700 MHz
LTE FDD Band 71 600 MHz

Our carrier networks page details the bands used by each carrier. 

If you visited our carrier networks page, you may have noticed that many of the T-Mobile bands/frequencies are shared with AT&T and/or Verizon — but if you are planning to bring your own phone to T-Mobile — you will want to get one that supports as many of the T-Mobile bands/frequencies (as noted above) to ensure the greatest compatibility. You can also contact T-Mobile customer support to confirm network compatibility with an unlocked phone.

T-Mobile unlimited wireless plans

T-Mobile has several unlimited plan options available to include Essentials, Magenta, and Magenta Plus. These plans all include unlimited voice, text, and data with varying amounts of extra perks. 

The Essentials plan is just as the name suggests — the essentials. Along with the unlimited voice, text, and data, this plan has SD video streaming, 3G mobile hotspot, texting while abroad, and 2G data in Mexico and Canada. 

Stepping up to Magenta brings; Netflix, SD video streaming, 3GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot, data and texting while abroad, 5GB of data in Mexico and Canada, and 1 hour of in-flight WiFi. The Magenta Plus plan then adds; HD video streaming, 20GB of 4G LTE mobile hotspot, 2x data speeds (and texting) while abroad, and unlimited in-flight WiFi. 

These plans are priced at $60 for Essentials, $70 for Magenta, and $85 for Magenta Plus. All prices noted assume a single line with an autopay discount. A perk with T-Mobile is that they list prices with taxes and fees included, which helps to minimize any initial bill shock. 

T-Mobile also offers a few discounted options for first responders, military and veterans, and those over 55.

*****

We hope you now have a better understanding of T-Mobile, in terms of the history and the network, as well as the wider 5G rollout and the eventual merger with Sprint. Whether you are a current T-Mobile customer looking to upgrade your phone, or you are looking to switch from another carrier — you can find a compatible T-Mobile phone using the green button below.

 

SHOP T-MOBILE PHONE DEALS

Updated on December 3, 2019 • On T-Mobile