T-Mobile now offers 1-gigabit-per-second mobile networks in 430 markets, an expansion it hopes will extend its progress wooing subscribers away from the more powerful Verizon and AT&T.

Today’s mobile networks are powered by a technology called LTE (Long Term Evolution), and T-Mobile has brought that to 920 US markets, it announced at a press conference Thursday. In nearly half of those markets, T-Mobile has the equipment and radio airwaves available to offer gigabit download speeds.

Mark McDiarmid, vice president of network engineering at T-Mobile, boasts of moving to faster gigabit LTE technology sooner than rivals AT&T and Verizon.

Mark McDiarmid, vice president of network engineering at T-Mobile, boasts of moving to faster gigabit LTE technology sooner than rivals AT&T and Verizon.


Stephen Shankland/CNET

One of those places is San Jose, California. At a press conference here, T-Mobile and Qualcomm demonstrated a download speed of 611 megabits per second — what the companies call “gigabit class” if not exactly 1Gbps.

With LTE Advanced, T-Mobile is “eclipsing every other national wireless company,” the company said in a statement.

The unending progress in mobile networks is remarkable — but you may not fully appreciate it. For one thing, we’re all using networks more heavily with music, photos and videos that rapidly sponge up any new network capacity. That means the network might not actually feel faster. For another, it takes a while for phones to support new network technology. And if you live somewhere far from a major population center where new networks are a priority — bummer for you.

Today, only 10 phones have all the abilities needed for gigabit LTE, said Pete Lancia, a Qualcomm vice president of marketing. That includes the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8LG V30 and HTC U11 — but not the Apple iPhone 8 or iPhone X. Qualcomm makes phone processors and radio chips.

T-Mobile has been more aggressive than rivals and, through its “un-carrier” marketing campaign, has made progress winning us over. It has outgrown other US carriers for the last seven quarters when it comes to the important category of postpaid customers, those who pay bills at the end of the month. It’s got 70 million customers today, said Mark McDiarmid, vice president of network engineering at T-Mobile.

“Verizon and AT&T have a bunch of legacy issues. T-mobile is a bit more nimble,” Endpoint Technology analyst Roger Kay said. And T-Mobile already invested in base station designs that are easier to update to the gigabit speeds, he said.

AT&T offers LTE Advanced in two markets — Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis — and will announce another new city next week as part of a plan to reach 20 cities by the end of the year, the company said. It’s also begun testing gigabit LTE, with a San Francisco test reaching 979Mbps speeds this summer.

Verizon didn’t respond to requests for comment.

T-Mobile shows that phones supporting gigabit-class LTE networks can reach data-transfer speeds of 685Mbps. In addition, slower phones benefit from the faster phones' presence since the faster phones free up radio airwaves sooner.

T-Mobile shows that phones supporting gigabit-class LTE networks can reach data-transfer speeds of 685Mbps. In addition, slower phones benefit from the faster phones’ presence since the faster phones free up radio airwaves sooner.


Stephen Shankland/CNETG

LTE Advanced uses a number of tricks to pump bits faster over the airwaves. Among those tricks is what’s called carrier aggregation, which lets phones use multiple radio communication channels at the same time. Today that happens over radio spectrum that carriers license from governments, but another trick taps into unlicensed spectrum, notably the 5GHz frequency band that many Wi-Fi routers use.

“Gigabit-class” speeds don’t exactly mean gigabit speeds, though. T-Mobile’s lab tests have reached 900 megabits per second, but the top speed in the real world is closer to 800Mbps. Demos at the press conference showed devices reaching speed of 685Mbps.

LTE Advanced is able to use radio waves more efficiently. That means even if you don’t have a phone that can handle the new speeds, you might benefit. That’s because people who do have the faster phones will grab their data and get out of the way sooner.

First published Nov. 11 at 10:57 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:00 p.m. PT: Added further detail about LTE Advanced. 
Update,  2:22 p.m. PT: Added comment from AT&T.

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