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T-Mobile Starts Switching Phone Calls to Its 5G Network

The company is beginning to move voice calls to 5G from 4G LTE.

Some T-Mobile customers in Oregon and Utah will be the first to make phone calls over 5G as the carrier begins switching voice calls over to 5G from its older 4G LTE network, one city at a time.     

5G for voice calls will start to roll out for T-Mobile customers in two Western states first.

T-Mobile

Those customers likely won't notice any difference in phone call quality, but it's an important move for T-Mobile. Switching these technologies will free up resources to allow better and faster wireless connections in the future, which are especially important for upcoming tech like self-driving cars and virtual reality.

"We're trying to create this big, broad, capable network and figure out what people want to do with it. What are the use cases? Where's the demand?" said Grant Castle, vice president of device engineering and technology labs at T-Mobile.

T-Mobile's moves toward 5G voice are the latest in the years-long rollout of the technology. While companies have been selling 5G-capable phones for three years since the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G launched in early 2019, the wireless technology itself has been coming online in stages. As carriers have built out their networks, consumers with 5G phones have been seeing better speeds and coverage. But not every part of the process to switch wireless networks from 4G LTE to 5G will mean noticeable improvements for consumers.

Everyday phone users won't see these benefits when they start making 5G calls this year, as current apps aren't that data-hungry. So if you're calling someone over 5G and want to look up a restaurant on Yelp, for instance, you won't see it necessarily load faster than you did on 4G LTE. At most, you'll see a shorter delay between when you dial a number and when it starts ringing on the other end, according to a T-Mobile press release.

T-Mobile tested its new 5G calling in Portland, Oregon, and in Salt Lake City, Utah, for months, using the time to fix bugs and ensure the system worked well before activating 5G calling for customers. It'll take the rest of the year to make the technology more broadly available across the country as T-Mobile slowly expands 5G calls to more cities. 

Customers won't have to pay more to get 5G calls, but they'll need newer phones to make them. At launch, only the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G series can make VoNR calls on T-Mobile's network, but the carrier plans to expand compatibility to more devices later on, including this year's Samsung Galaxy S22. While Castle wouldn't specify any other phones, he did say that some older devices won't be able to make calls over 5G, including some currently being sold in its stores.

The shift toward 5G phone calls is a milestone in T-Mobile's journey to a standalone 5G network. T-Mobile was the first carrier to turn on a 5G-only network that didn't lean on 4G LTE, back in August 2020, and has kept its lead over the other carriers. Verizon was expected to launch its so-called standalone 5G core in 2021, but that slipped to 2022, per SDXCentral, while AT&T is waiting for more 5G devices to get in users' hands before activating their standalone 5G, according to Fierce Wireless.