The regulatory discussion over the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint is chugging along at the usual speed of government bureaucracy, but new details about T-Mobile’s plans post-merger are slowly leaking out. In a filing this week, T-Mobile chief operating officer Mike Sievert said that the company will use its 5G network to offer home broadband — at speeds that provide an alternative to cable or fiber — to over half the country.
Specifically, Sievert said that “The combined company will be able to offer [home broadband] to over 52 percent of zip codes across the county. New T-Mobile will cover 64 percent of Charter’s territory and 68 percent of Comcast’s territory with its in-home broadband services by 2024.” If true, this would represent a game-changing shift in the home internet market across the US, and offer a real alternative to the cable monopolies that most Americans subscribe to.
In the past, T-Mobile has been widely dismissive of the fixed wireless broadband services that other providers have touted. While AT&T and Verizon have both been interested in using 5G to offer home broadband from the get-go, T-Mobile has repeatedly said the technology won’t work for a wide-scale rollout. In January this year, this is what T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray had to say about fixed 5G:
Reality Check: mmW for fixed wireless is plagued with in-building penetration challenges and the looming need for external household antennas and truck rolls. There’s still a LOT we have to figure out before this becomes a feasible business model. #SorryNotSorry, Verizon.
But in its filing with the FCC, T-Mobile is saying that it will be able to offer high-speed broadband to rural locations, all using home-installed equipment. That’s the complete opposite of what T-Mobile has been saying about fixed 5G thus far, so unless T-Mobile has secretly perfected technologies that the other carriers — who have actually been experimenting with fixed 5G — have missed, its statements don’t match up.
Here’s something that would make more sense: T-Mobile knows that rural broadband and broadband competition are two hot-button issues within the FCC right now, so it’s positioning the merger as a magical solution to those problems, without showing how its new claims match up with statements it was making less than a year ago. It’s the same thing that the company has been doing with 5G, and with prepaid wireless during this merger process — saying whatever the FCC wants to hear, with the reality a distant second.