I used to be actively frightened — and considerably confused — going into testing of T-Mobile’s first 600MHz “low-band 5G” handset, the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren. On the identical day it flipped the swap on its nationwide 5G community, T-Mobile instructed prospects to count on solely a 20% enchancment over LTE obtain speeds, an unimpressive promise made solely after intensive discussions with its community engineering groups. While some areas will see 2 instances LTE speeds, it says, the nationwide common shall be extra modest, and the Un-carrier doesn’t wish to over-promise efficiency.
To be blunt, that sounds terrible. 5G was pitched as promising 10 instances 4G/LTE efficiency, if no more, and in assessments of Verizon’s and Sprint’s shopper 5G networks, I’ve personally seen peak speeds within the 500 megabits per second (Mbps) to 2 gigabits per second (Gbps) vary, which is to say almost 100 instances sooner than what many individuals expertise on LTE at this time. Why even promote a brand new telephone as “5G” if it’s solely going to be a bit sooner than the prior-generation know-how?
Thankfully, my preliminary testing of T-Mobile’s low-band 5G community revealed a extra advanced actuality than the corporate’s conservative determine. The excellent news is that low-band 5G downloads peaked at 227Mbps, 2-Four instances sooner than T-Mobile’s LTE service at the identical areas, and much greater than the aforementioned 20% estimate. But the unhealthy information is that you just received’t all the time obtain the height speeds, and — shock — early T-Mobile 5G telephone adopters can’t really use 5G for tethering, solely smartphone service. More on that beneath.
Above: T-Mobile radio engineering VP Mark McDiarmid discusses the corporate’s three-layer 5G technique utilizing a cake with Sprint’s mid-band within the heart.
It’s essential to place T-Mobile’s present 5G state of affairs in correct perspective. The third place U.S. provider has spent the higher a part of the previous two years advancing a three-tier 5G technique that was subsequently embraced by different carriers the world over, together with its home rivals. 5G will start with a blanket or base layer of sluggish but long-distance, low-frequency (600MHz) protection; proceed with sooner, medium-distance mid-frequency (2.5GHz) towers; and finish with super-fast but short-distance high-frequency (millimeter wave) small cells. T-Mobile is constructing the low- and high-frequency 5G components itself, and can — assuming the merger goes by — combine Sprint’s mid-frequency 5G community subsequent yr.
What we’re speaking about right here is solely the efficiency of that low-frequency 5G blanket, or what you’ll see in 5G efficiency if you’re not near one of many shorter-distance, higher-frequency cell websites. To that finish, T-Mobile loaned me a OnePlus 7T Pro 5G, the newer cousin to the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G I’ve been testing on Sprint’s community since August. Because I (and different early testers) are attending a Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui, Hawaii, and may’t escape the island till later this week, my outcomes could also be totally different or much like what you’ll see on the mainland.
Using Ookla’s Speedtest, my 5G obtain speeds ranged from atypically low 3-33Mbps outcomes to a excessive of 227Mbps, although many of the numbers had been within the 100Mbps vary. I used to be capable of pull down 100-150Mbps speeds whereas standing on a seaside with no clearly obvious cell tower, a feat that on LTE usually required me to be inside a tower’s line of sight. Upload speeds had been usually within the 25-54Mbps vary, comparable if not an identical to what I’ve seen from T-Mobile’s LTE community, with the odd occasional stall-out. That’s as a result of T-Mobile says it’s at present utilizing LTE for uploads, and expects to make use of 5G for uploads subsequent yr.
It’s value a quick word that my outcomes had been virtually all the time higher on the T-Mobile OnePlus 7T Pro 5G than on a brand new iPhone 11 Pro on LTE. That was additionally the case with the Sprint OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, but by a wider margin in Sprint’s favor — the distinction being that T-Mobile’s 5G service is way extra out there throughout the U.S. than Sprint’s 5G, so that you’re extra more likely to see it wherever you reside.
While my highest examined velocity on T-Mobile’s low-band 5G community was achieved on the terrace of a rooftop lodge restaurant, standing in simply the best place, I additionally hit 130-199Mbps speeds in my lodge room with out even strolling over to the window or holding the telephone in some awkward place. T-Mobile has touted the building-penetrating traits of its 600MHz community as a significant benefit over opponents, in addition to millimeter wave 5G, which will be snuffed out by some (not all) window coverings and partitions.
Above: T-Mobile 5G on left, Sprint 5G on proper.
So that’s the excellent news — T-Mobile’s large 5G blanket has an excellent probability of leaving you feeling hotter and fuzzier than you’ve felt with 4G. The unhealthy information is the corporate’s 5G telephone state of affairs, which is a multitude, and its tethering state of affairs, which can also be a multitude.
Despite engaged on its three-tier 5G initiative for a number of years, T-Mobile depends on chipmakers similar to Qualcomm and OEMs together with OnePlus and Samsung to truly produce the modems and telephones to help its 5G community. The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G I’m testing works on T-Mobile’s low-band 5G community, but not on its multi-city high-band 5G community. If the merger goes by, it can additionally provide 5G on Sprint’s mid-band 5G community. T-Mobile’s model of Samsung’s Galaxy Word10+ 5G apparently additionally has the identical traits, although the South Korean firm does produce a Word10+ 5G variant with millimeter wave help.
If there’s any silver lining to this cloud, it’s that the merger gives hope that early T-Mobile 5G adopters will see even sooner speeds within the coming yr with out having to purchase new units. As proven above, the Sprint OnePlus 7 Pro 5G delivers roughly twice the height efficiency on mid-band, in contrast with T-Mobile’s peak velocity on low-band. But with out the merger, who is aware of. And keep in mind that the primary telephones with assured help throughout millimeter wave, mid-band, and low-band 5G are anticipated to hit the market in early 2020.
Above: The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren is certainly one of T-Mobile’s first two low-band 5G telephones.
The established order isn’t an excellent state of affairs for customers. And T-Mobile says that “due to initial 5G chipset limitations, all tethering traffic will be handled via LTE,” a functionality it expects to make out there subsequent yr by way of a software program replace. USB tethering seems to be fully disabled for now at the Android OS stage. Oof.
For the time being, I personally wouldn’t purchase any of T-Mobile’s early 5G telephones. There are now two Samsung Galaxy choices: the S10 5G, with solely a handful of cities’ value of millimeter wave help, and the Word10+ 5G, with low-band 5G but no millimeter wave. Alternately, there’s the far cheaper OnePlus 7T Pro 5G, which appears like a tribal-tattooed 7 Pro but packs a (barely) sooner Snapdragon 855+ chip, sooner display screen refresh charge, and different small but welcome enhancements. None helps T-Mobile’s whole 5G community.
As a each day T-Mobile consumer, I’ll be ready on a telephone that helps all three of the tiers T-Mobile promised to prospects. But in the intervening time, I’m glad that even the bottom tier seems set to ship efficiency superior to 4G.