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What is the status of 5G rollouts in 2020?

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile plan to continue with their 5G timelines and expand their 5G rollouts in 2020, despite slowdowns from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Fifth-generation wireless, or 5G, will go nationwide in the U.S. during 2020 as major carriers plan to extend the reach of the technology.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has slowed some 5G production, the big three U.S. mobile operators -- AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile -- plan to continue their 5G deployments. All three operators expect to offer nationwide 5G in some form this year.

AT&T 5G rollouts

AT&T already offers 5G to 120 million potential customers using the 850 MHz low-band spectrum and plans to expand nationwide this summer. The operator currently offers 39 GHz high-band millimeter wave (MM wave) technology, which can deliver download speeds of around 1 Gbps, in parts of 35 cities.

AT&T said it has experienced delays in gaining 5G site allocations and permissions due to the novel coronavirus, but it will hold to a summer timeline for nationwide deployment. The company won't comment on its small cell deployment plans.

The operator also declines to talk about its planned fiber spend but said it will look for expansion possibilities. "We continue to be opportunistic with our fiber build beyond the 14 million household locations we reach today," AT&T spokesman Scott Huscher said.

Verizon 5G rollouts

Verizon said it plans to increase its Capex to between $17.5 billion and $18.5 billion in 2020. This includes spending on 5G and fiber expansion.

By the end of 2020, the company plans to extend national coverage by sharing its existing 4G spectrum with 5G, using a system called dynamic spectrum sharing, which enables operators to operate both generations on the same band.

Verizon is presently focused on deploying 28 GHz MM wave-based 5G and now has MM wave running in parts of 34 cities. By the end of 2020, the operator plans to offer MM wave in 65 to 70 cities, said Heidi Hemmer, vice president of technology at Verizon.

MM wave 5G technology can provide downloads at up to 2 Gbps but at a range of 1,000 feet or less, so the company will require more small cells to offer better coverage. At Verizon's investor meeting in February, CTO Kyle Malady said the operator will deploy five times the number of 5G small cells as it did in 2019.

T-Mobile 5G rollouts

T-Mobile deployed 5G to 200 million potential customers using the 600 MHz band in December 2019. Following the April 1, 2020, completion of its merger with Sprint, T-Mobile is introducing midband 2.5 GHz 5G -- which Sprint used -- in New York City and Philadelphia and will extend the deployment to other major metro areas. T-Mobile will continue its 5G deployment via a layer cake approach, using 600 MHz, 2.5 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum for nationwide, metro and dense urban deployments, respectively.

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This was last published in June 2020

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