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With 5G and Sprint, T-Mobile vows cheaper wireless service than ever

CEO John Legere and President Mike Sievert say Sprint will supercharge its 5G efforts.

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T-Mobile CEO John Legere shares his thoughts on 5G and Sprint. 

Screenshot by Sally Neiman/CNET

The next-generation of wireless technology, known as 5G, is poised to change our lives. Once it actually gets here. 

But how will 5G look and work when it does? T-Mobile is aiming for broad coverage and has committed to building a nationwide 5G network by 2020. 

"Our view is 5G should be everywhere," President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said in an interview last week. The company aims to make speeds of 100 megabits a second or faster available to 90 percent of Americans. By 2024, customers will see average speeds jump 15 times over current speeds. That means average speeds of 450 Mbps, with some areas exceeding 4 Gbps. 

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T-Mobile is just one of the carriers in a race to deploy 5G, which promises a huge leap in speed and responsiveness. It's seen as the foundation of other technology, such as self-driving cars and telemedicine, and there's been ceaseless hype over the last couple of years. In the last few weeks, Verizon unveiled an upcoming 5G attachment to its new Moto Z3, letting it slip that it plans to launch its mobile 5G network earlier next year, while Sprint has tapped LG to create the first 5G smartphone in the US. AT&T says it plans to launch the first mobile 5G network by the end of this year

T-Mobile has talked about using multiple bands of spectrum, from lower-frequency airwaves, for covering wider parts of the country, to high-frequency airwaves, known as millimeter-wave spectrum, to deliver insanely high speeds. Sievert and CEO John Legere knocked competitors Verizon and AT&T for sticking with the millimeter-wave spectrum, which has the capacity for extremely high speeds but can't cover broad distances. 

A Verizon spokesman maintains that the company's goal is to launch 5G first. "We're confident in our approach," he said. 

Earlier this month, Brian Higgins, vice president of device and product marketing at Verizon, said in an interview that T-Mobile's strategy meant less consistent speeds, and not the kind of 5G experience customers are expecting. 

Verizon, however, has been less specific about its mobile 5G plans, focusing instead on 5G as a broadband replacement service in four cities. It says it will be first to 5G by virtue of its fixed mobile service. 

An AT&T spokeswoman noted that the trials using millimeter wave spectrum have been more successful than expected, and that the company plans to use different bands for 5G.. 

T-Mobile says it's deploying its 5G network this year and will turn it on for consumers in early 2019

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T-Mobile President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert is pushing a vision of 5G everywhere. 

Screenshot by Sally Neiman/CNET

T-Mobile believes its merger with Sprint, which is still awaiting government approval, could supercharge its 5G ambitions. 

"This country needs something different with 5G, something we can't do alone," Legere said in an interview. 

Legere is referring to the spectrum that Sprint owns, which is being deployed on its own. In addition, he said that T-Mobile intends to participate in upcoming government auctions for more spectrum.

Critics of the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile worry that reducing the number of national players from four to three will ease the competitive pressure and lead to higher prices.

But assuming the merger is completed early next year, T-Mobile would put those airwaves to work on its own 5G ambitions, which Sievert said should boost the company's capacity and lower its cost of operation. 

"With that kind of capacity, we'll be able to afford to give Americans network service and wireless service at lower prices than we've ever seen before," he said.

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