US Cellular set its sights on launching 5G in the first quarter of 2020, announcing Iowa and Wisconsin will be the first markets to receive coverage in a five-year rollout across its footprint.
Like T-Mobile US, US Cellular’s deployment will utilise 600MHz spectrum it won at auction in 2017. But unlike larger rivals, CTO Michael Irizarry told Mobile World Live the operator plans to use a dedicated 10×10 MHz channel for its low-band deployment rather than sharing the spectrum between LTE and 5G.
He added the operator is working with the likes of Samsung, Apple and LG to bring handsets compatible with its spectrum bands and technology to market in 2020.
Its decision to use low-band spectrum means speeds on US Cellular’s network will be much slower than the gigabit speeds registered on mmWave. Still, Irizarry said the upgrade is expected to deliver a “meaningful improvement,” doubling current average LTE speeds of between 8Mb/s and 12 Mb/s.
But a bump from mmWave isn’t off the table. US Cellular recently spent $256 million to acquire 24GHz and 28GHz licences covering 98 per cent of its footprint. While no 24GHz kit is available yet, Irizarry noted 5G upgrades to baseband equipment for the low-band deployments will also support mmWave and the operator is eyeing potential deployments in 2021.
He added US Cellular has a few tricks up its sleeve to boost mmWave’s infamously short coverage range when the time comes: “If you’re willing to trade off absolute peak speed for breadth of coverage and you mount millimetre wave radios higher up on the tower, you can significantly increase the coverage you get from that spectrum.”
Though it plans to use its AWS and PCS spectrum to enhance users’ LTE experience, Irizarry reiterated the operator views mid-band spectrum as a “critical” piece of the 5G puzzle and is closely watching efforts to make spectrum between 3.7GHz and 4.2GHz available for wireless use.
He also noted 5G roaming is a top priority for the regional operator, adding it has started discussions with partners about their plans. However, he pointed out roaming arrangements typically follow 12 to 24 months after a new technology is launched, as operators have to work through differences in their implementations.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back