'False alarm' between T-Mobile and Verizon shows how competitive 5G battle is

The 5G battle in the US is continuing to heat up.

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise 5G, mobile networks, wireless carriers, phones, tablets, streaming devices, streaming platforms, mobile and console gaming
Eli Blumenthal
3 min read

T-Mobile and Verizon took more shots at each other on Thursday. 

Angela Lang/CNET

When it comes to openly taking shots at the competition, few industries compare to the wireless sector. For years T-Mobile has branded itself as the "un-carrier," knocking rivals AT&T and Verizon in press releases, earnings calls and in marketing campaigns. As 5G expansions and the rumored iPhone 12 loom, the battle between the carriers is only getting testier as evidenced in an odd battle Thursday. 

After Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg tweeted Wednesday of news coming Thursday at 9 a.m. ET, T-Mobile sent out an email to reporters at 8:33 a.m. ET this morning. Anticipating that the news Vestberg was teasing was about the launch of Verizon's nationwide 5G network, T-Mobile's email was a preemptive strike against the nation's largest carrier. 

A statement from Neville Ray, T-Mobile's president of technology, blasted Verizon's 5G strategy, with Ray claiming that "Verizon's claim of 5G 'Built Right' is the height of irony." Unlike T-Mobile, Verizon is relying on a technology known as dynamic spectrum sharing to use its existing 4G LTE airwaves for both 4G and 5G (AT&T is doing something similar). This allows Verizon to begin deploying a wider 5G network while it waits to free up some of its existing spectrum holdings, or acquire more through avenues such as Federal Communications Commission auctions. 

The nationwide 5G network would be much more widely available than the select parts of 36 cities where its current 5G millimeter-wave offering exists. Although it won't have the same speeds as millimeter-wave, the low-band network will allow Verizon to offer 5G across the country, including indoors. 

T-Mobile and AT&T already have had nationwide low-band 5G networks for months, with T-Mobile's first launching last December and expanding to cover over 250 million people this summer. Thanks to its Sprint merger in April, T-Mobile has an edge in 5G deployment due to the large trove of midband spectrum it acquired. Midband spectrum allows for faster speeds compared to low-band, but with significantly better coverage than millimeter-wave. 

T-Mobile recently expanded its midband footprint to 81 new cities and towns, offering what it says will be a 5G service that's capable of average download speeds of 300 megabits per second with peaks of 1 gigabit per second.

Read more: 5G's many names explained

"They're a year late to the nationwide 5G party, having finally snapped to our multi-band strategy after realizing that millimeter wave cannot deliver meaningful 5G coverage that customers demand," Ray said in his statement. "And now, they're trying to paper over their mistakes by jamming their 5G customers onto their 4G spectrum, making things slower for everyone. At T-Mobile, we're building 5G with new spectrum dedicated to new devices and services, so things are faster for everyone."

Although Verizon has said that its nationwide 5G network is still coming in the "second half of 2020," Thursday's announcement was not about the nationwide launch but instead about the news that Vestberg is going to be the keynote speaker for the 2021 CES in January

T-Mobile later sent a follow-up email that it was sorry for the "false alarm" adding that it "thought they'd have actual 5G news to share this morning, but it turns out they're just gonna talk about 5G... in January."

Watch this: T-Mobile's new 5G network is here, we go hands on

Verizon, however, isn't waiting until January to respond to the latest salvo from its rival. On Thursday afternoon a spokesman told CNET that the company is "flattered that our competitors continue to be obsessed with our 5G network," adding, "I suppose if our network was just criticized by multiple, independent third party network reports in less than a week, we'd be trying to change the subject too." 

A recent survey of wireless networks from RootMetrics found that Verizon's 4G LTE network rivaled the speeds of AT&T and T-Mobile's current 5G offerings. 

T-Mobile has yet to comment on Verizon's response, but if this type of back and forth happens over a "false alarm" it should make for an interesting rest of the year when Verizon's nationwide 5G network finally does launch.