T-Mobile 5G: Everything you need to know

5G connected on Zenfone 8 with Android 12
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T-Mobile has worked steadily to execute on its layer cake 5G coverage plan with a base of Extended Range coverage, and with more populated areas getting a rapid upgrade to mid-band Ultra Capacity 5G. T-Mobile has also been able to use mmWave in a few areas to support dense areas or sports arenas. 

With a strong lead in coverage and the capacity to keep improving, T-Mobile is in a strong position to maintain its leadership in 5G for years.

Do I have 5G coverage on T-Mobile and Sprint?

Most people that have T-Mobile have 5G coverage with the carrier's low-band network, built on its 600MHz band n71 spectrum. T-Mobile calls coverage on this band Extended Range 5G. Reclaimed from broadcast TV, Extended Range 5G has allowed T-Mobile to upgrade its existing towers with 5G equipment and provide the same level of coverage people have come to expect from 3G and 4G.

Ultra Mobile Review Speedtest n41

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T-Mobile states that it already covers 315 million people with Extended Range 5G, with Ultra Capacity available to over 225 million people. 

With a large number of urban and suburban areas now covered by the faster Ultra Capacity network, T-Mobile customers are starting to see massively improved speeds. T-Mobile has also upgraded its network to standalone 5G, which means your phone doesn't need to connect to an LTE network to then connect to 5G.

T-Mobile has also been able to use carrier aggregation in some areas to improve performance even more. Carrier aggregation uses two bands simultaneously to create a higher-speed connection than would be possible on a single band. 

T-Mobile has also been experimenting with three-band carrier aggregation and plans to make it available to consumers in the second half of 2022. This should enable speeds in excess of 1Gbps on compatible phones.

The best way to know if you're covered is to check the T-Mobile coverage map (opens in new tab). T-Mobile also shows the places where it has Ultra Capacity 5G on its map, so you can get a good idea of what kind of speeds will be available to you.

While our initial tests weren't that impressive, we have since seen improved results on our tests of T-Mobile prepaid options like Ultra Mobile.

T-Mobile is still building a high-band, millimeter wave, 5G network in a few cities. This deployment of 5G is on bands N260 and N261 at 39Ghz and 28Ghz, respectively. 

With some coverage in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Cleveland, and Atlanta, it's clear T-Mobile is focused more on mid-band for the time being. C-band spectrum will also be used in the next couple of years to add a bit of capacity in a few key areas where T-Mobile expects high traffic.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 at low battery

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Which phones work with T-Mobile 5G?

T-Mobile phones will be compatible with different networks depending on their software and hardware. For the most part, most of the best Android phones will work with T-Mobile's 5G. With T-Mobile's growing 5G coverage and plenty of new phones with 5G support, if you're buying a new phone, it should have 5G.

To be sure you get the best possible results from T-Mobile's network, make sure your new phone supports both band n71 and band n41. Most newer 5G phones, including those from Samsung, Google, and even Apple, will support the full network. OnePlus phones with 5G also work best on T-Mobile, including the cheaper Nord phones.

T-Mobile is using the 2.5GHz spectrum it got from Sprint to bolster its own 5G network and, to do so, has taken the Sprint 5G network down. Sprint customers with a Galaxy S20 device got an update that enabled access to T-Mobile's 5G network, but that's it. 

Older devices like the Galaxy Note 10+ 5G or OnePlus 7T Pro 5G will not be getting an update to support T-Mobile's 5G. That being said, those still hanging on to a Sprint plan with a newer T-Mobile compatible phone do get 5G access.

Google Pixel 6 Pro Display Home Red Blue

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All T-Mobile plans come with 5G

All T-Mobile plans can access the 5G network, which is great since some of the best cell phone plans you can get use the T-Mobile network. T-Mobile makes no distinction between its networks, so any customer with a compatible phone should be able to access it. 

It is worth noting that customers with premium data on a Magenta plan will be prioritized in crowded areas. This has also carried over to T-Mobile Prepaid and MVNOs such as Mint Mobile and Google Fi. T-Mobile has also enabled 5G on all Sprint plans.

Previously under the Sprint umbrella, Boost Mobile is now owned by Dish and is transitioning its customers to the new T-Mobile network, with the goal of eventually moving all of its customers to its own standalone 5G network. 

While this network has been briefly demonstrated in Las Vegas, it's not yet known how it will perform once launched. T-Mobile and DISH extended this agreement in late June as DISH continues to build its 5G network.

What tech is T-Mobile using for 5G?

T-Mobile band 41 5G on Ultra Mobile

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5G comes in several different forms, with a variety of results depending on what resources a carrier can throw at it. T-Mobile started with high-band 5G on 28Ghz and 32Ghz bands. 

With this network, T-Mobile should be competitive with what Verizon and AT&T have been doing once the network has more time to mature. This high-band deployment should be capable of very high speeds, but building penetration and coverage are much more limited than what we're used to with 4G.

T-Mobile launched a 600Mhz, low-band, Extended Range 5G network in December of 2019. With new equipment, T-Mobile was also able to update its 4G LTE service on the same tower. AT&T and Verizon have also deployed low-band 5G networks with similar coverage capabilities.

Of course, there's Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum. T-Mobile has more than 160MHz of spectrum at 2.5GHz in the top 100 US markets and has already shut down Sprint's 5G network to create its Ultra Capacity 5G built on the same spectrum. T-Mobile has been expanding band n41 utilization with carrier aggregation using two chunks of 2.5GHz spectrum for 5G.

T-Mobile 5G Spectrum

(Image credit: Source: T-Mobile)

On August 4, 2020, T-Mobile launched its standalone 5G (5G SA) network. 5G SA can work alone without devices needing to connect to an older, less efficient LTE network first. Previously, 5G phones required this existing infrastructure to work properly.

Functionally, this is essentially the same network as before with some nice improvements. According to T-Mobile's announcement (opens in new tab), 5G SA improves coverage by 30%, since phones will no longer need to connect to a mid-band LTE signal that doesn't reach as far a 5G at 600MHz. 

While there were still many improvements with non-standalone 5G compared to LTE in speed, the 5G network was held back. T-Mobile estimates a 40% improvement in latency thanks to the switch, which should help data access be much more immediate.

What happens to Sprint's 5G customers?

T-Mobile's purchase of Sprint is complete, and with it comes great potential. Many people will have flashbacks to older failed mergers, but T-Mobile points to its well-handled Metro PCS integration as a model for this joining, and so far, things have been mostly successful. 

T-Mobile estimates that fully integrating the networks will take up to three years, however, both Sprint and T-Mobile customers are starting to see some new benefits.

Sprint customers have gained access to LTE roaming on the T-Mobile network when Sprint's signal is low. Also, Sprint customers with the Galaxy S20 can now connect to T-Mobile's 5G network, including low-band 600MHz 5G as well as the 2.5GHz 5G network. Sprint customers looking for 5G can switch to a T-Mobile SIM if they have a compatible phone or are ready to upgrade.

Is T-Mobile 5G worth it?

On T-Mobile, it comes down to if you want the phone because there is no current separation of plans. Most new phones you can buy for T-Mobile support 5G, so most new T-Mobile customers and upgrading existing customers will be using the network. If you're looking for a good reason to upgrade your phone, 5G will offer much improved speeds in many places.

While 4G LTE will continue to be fast enough for many people so if you're happy with your speeds, there's no rush. Most new phones on T-Mobile, even the cheap ones, are 5G compatible now so when you're ready for an upgrade, 5G will be waiting.

Investments in 5G development

T-Mobile 5G Hub with cellular equipment

(Image credit: T-Mobile)

With T-Mobile so heavily invested in 5G, it only makes sense that the carrier would want to encourage developers to build new experiences and applications powered by 5G. T-Mobile introduced its 5G Forward program to give developers more resources to focus on development, without needing to waste time gaining access to network information.

This program also provides access to certified devices and open-source projects on the network. The carrier has also created a lab space so developers can test their projects with access to the full network in one space.

What is 5G for Good?

5G for Good (opens in new tab) is an initiative to use the power of 5G to help the community. While some people have accused T-Mobile of putting on a show to grease the government's wheels in approving its merger with Sprint, it's nice to see technology making a positive impact on the world.

It's worth noting that all of the projections here depend on the merger going through, and T-Mobile likely won't be able to get it done without the extra spectrum from Sprint.

Connecting Heroes Initiative

The Connecting Heroes Initiative is a program that intends to bring free 5G access to first responders in America. This includes public and non-profit law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies. It's first-come, first-serve for those that sign up, so if you want your agency to get connected on 5G, get registered (opens in new tab) as soon as possible.

Project 10Million

It's been shown that children without access to the internet likely won't receive as good an education as those that do. Of course, this is also linked to income inequality.

Project 10Millions aims to eliminate the homework gap caused by millions of children not having access to the internet for school work. The project intends to offer free service, hotspots, and reduced-cost devices to 10 million households over the next five years.

T-Mobile Connect

T-Mobile connect is simply a low-priced phone plan with access to the 5G network. Plans are offered at $15 per month for unlimited talk and text with 2.5GB of high-speed data. 

There is also a $25 per month plan with 5.5GB of data. Interestingly, the plan is set to grow as usage does by increasing the data allowance by 500MB a year for five years. This is by no means a huge amount, but for a low-income family, this can be a lifesaver.

These plans are already available on T-Mobile prepaid. (opens in new tab)

When Samuel is not writing about networking or 5G at Android Central, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.