The worst thing about T-Mobile has long been the one thing that’s out of its control: the network. T-Mobile’s network relies almost entirely on mid-band spectrum, which is worse at travelling long distances and penetrating buildings than the low-band spectrum used by Verizon and AT&T.
So to fix the problem, T-Mobile just spent $8 billion on a shiny new set of spectrum licenses in the premium 600MHz band. The free airwaves are coming from moving over old TV stations, which is expected to take up to three years in most regions. But in some rural areas, there’s no TV service, so T-Mobile can set up its new network much faster.
During an earnings call earlier this week, T-Mobile hinted that the first 600MHz radios would be coming online in some areas later this year. In places where no TV stations are using the airwaves, all T-Mobile will have to do is test new equipment, and then mount it on towers.
So right now, the real limiting factor is cellphones. No cellphone currently on the market has the right radio to use 600MHz spectrum. However, Qualcomm has just confirmed that new versions of its X16 modem, found in the Snapdragon 835 chipset, will be able to use 600MHz bands.
What does all this mean for you? Simply put, T-Mobile will have its new network up and running in some places by the end of the year, and a handful of new phones (likely the Galaxy Note 8, new Google Pixel, and possibly the next iPhone) will be able to use it.
Whether the new network will be online in your area depends on whether a TV station nearby is currently using the spectrum and will have to be relocated. This map, found by PCMag, shows all the areas which have a TV station that needs to be moved. Anything within the purple circles (or nearby) won’t be coming online this year, but the more rural areas that aren’t covered by TV stations could be covered by T-Mobile much sooner.