T-Mobile says it hit its 2021 goal of faster 5G coverage for 200 million people

The carrier's faster flavor of 5G is now "nationwide."

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.
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Eli Blumenthal
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T-Mobile's lead in midband 5G has increased. On Monday, the carrier announced that it has reached its 2021 goal of getting 200 million people covered with this faster cellular network, coming in six weeks ahead of its previously stated target of the end of this year. 

The milestone lets T-Mobile tout that its faster version of 5G is now available "nationwide" in the US. The Federal Communications Commission describes a nationwide cellular network as one that covers 200 million people. 

Rivals AT&T and Verizon have similar plans to launch their own, faster midband 5G networks. All three national providers have spent billions of dollars acquiring new wireless spectrum known as C-band from the FCC this year. 

AT&T and Verizon had planned to start launching these respective services in parts of some US cities in 2021, but the US Federal Aviation Administration objected due to safety concerns about this particular spectrum band in relation to the altimeters found in planes. The concern has led both carriers to delay deployment until Jan. 5. 

Prior to the FAA objection, Verizon said that it aimed to cover 100 million people with its midband 5G by March. AT&T was aiming to cover between 70 million and 75 million people by the end of 2022, expanding to over 100 million in early 2023.  T-Mobile has similarly purchased some C-band spectrum, but won't be able to begin deploying it until the end of 2023. 

Neville Ray, T-Mobile's president of technology, tells CNET that even though his company is "not under the same pressure that AT&T and Verizon" are experiencing when it comes to immediately putting that spectrum to use, it is working with industry group CTIA about addressing the concerns about C-band use. 

Ray adds that he believes based on "the physics and the merits" that C-band spectrum should work fine for cellular networks without interfering with airlines, noting that this spectrum is already "being used on a global basis" for 5G in "I think something like 40 countries today" without any issues. 

In addition to reaching the nationwide milestone, T-Mobile said on Monday that 80% of its customers are now within the coverage of its expanded midband 5G network, which it calls Ultra Capacity 5G. 

The carrier previously said it was targeting average download speeds of 400Mbps on this network, which would be a notable step up from the 4G LTE-like performance of its low-band 5G network (which it calls Extended Range 5G). While slower, that latter low-band network has better coverage and now reaches 308 million people. 

Read more: From 5G Ultra Wideband to 5G Ultra Capacity, we break down the many names of 5G

As for its next steps, in March T-Mobile said it planned to cover over 250 million people with midband 5G by the end of 2022, with a goal of reaching 90% of Americans by the end of 2023.