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T-Mobile offers 5G service to rural Idahoans

map of T-Mobile 5g service

T-Mobile is adding 5G to smaller Idaho cities as well as its existing 4G cellphone service. Map courtesy of T-Mobile

T-Mobile has announced 5G service for thousands of cities and towns across the U.S., including more than 80 in Idaho.

But it’s different from the high-speed 5G+ Verizon announced earlier this year for parts of Boise and Meridian, said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 44-year-old Minneapolis nonprofit focused on community development policies.

That said, 5G, even without the +, is still likely to be a big improvement.

photo of christopher mitchell

Christopher Mitchell. Photo by Glenn Ricart

“For a lot of people in more rural areas, 5G is basically going to bring what 4G brought to more urban areas,” Mitchell said.

However, to use it, residents need different cellphones, which, as with 5G+, use 4G when 5G isn’t available. T-Mobile will be selling two cellphones for its 5G network, a OnePlus for $900 and a Samsung Note 10 for $1300, though pricing and payment plans are available. They can be pre-ordered now, or bought in a T-Mobile store as of Dec. 6.

T-Mobile expects to sell 15 new models of 5G cellphones next year, the company said. 5G service will cost the same as 4G, the company added.

“As we see more rollout, I think you’ll see more device manufacturers develop devices capable of running across multiple spectrum bands and carriers,” said Joel Rushing, senior communications manager.

Because of the different spectrum bands used, 5G cellphones on T-Mobile’s network won’t work on Verizon’s and vice versa, Rushing said, noting 4G had a similar situation when it started.

But it’s 5G modems that offer the most promise to rural Idahoans because a 5G modem on the side of a house or business could replace a slow DSL connection, Mitchell said.

T-Mobile hopes to merge with Sprint, which offers 5G service in the “midband,” or 2.5 GHz, Rushing said. The spectrum assets Sprint has is a key component for building a nationwide 5G network supporting both rural and urban customers, he said.

Such a merger would also give T-Mobile more ability to raise rates nationwide, Mitchell said. Ultimately, that tradeoff disappoints him, as do other actions intended to help promote 5G, such as reducing the regulatory barriers to adding 5G transmitters, particularly in cities.

“I’m excited about the technology improvement,” Mitchell said. “I’m worried that the market structure will change from four providers to three because we will all end up paying a lot more. I’m frustrated that the change from 4G to 5G is being used to remove local property rights and government authority. But this is definitely a win for people, I think.”

Nationwide, T-Mobile’s 5G service now covers 5,000 cities and towns, 200 million people and more than 1 million square miles.

Verizon’s 5G+ service recently brought unprecedented service speeds to the Treasure Valley.

The difference between 5G and 5G+ is the underlying wavelength. Verizon’s 5G+ uses gigahertz (GHz) waves. T-Mobile’s 5G uses 600 megahertz (MHz) waves, a spectrum the company paid $8 billion to acquire in 2017.

Gigahertz waves hold more data, but they’re more likely to be stopped by buildings and even leaves, Mitchell said.

“Anywhere you could get a TV signal, you can get 600 MHz,” he said.

600 MHz could provide transmission speeds of up to 30 to 50 megabits per second (Mbps), which could improve over time, he said.

Idaho cities that will have T-Mobile 5G

Aberdeen

American Falls

Arbon Valley

Arco

Arimo

Bellevue

Blackfoot

Boise City

Buhl

Carey

Challis

Chubbuck

Coeur d’Alene

Council

Crouch

Dalton Gardens

Dover

Downey

Eagle

Emmett

Fernan

Lake Village

Fort Hall

Garden City

Garden Valley

Georgetown

Glenns Ferry

Gooding

Hagerman

Hailey

Hansen

Hayden

Hayden Lake

Hazelton

Hidden Spring

Homedale

Horseshoe Bend

Idaho City

Irwin

Island Park

Jerome

Kimberly

Kootenai

Kuna

Lewiston

Mackay

McCall

McCammon

Melba

Meridian

Middleton

Montpelier

Mountain Home

Mountain Home AFB

Murphy

Nampa

New Meadows

Oakley

Parma

Payette

Pocatello

Ponderay

Post Falls

Preston

Rathdrum

Rexburg

Rockland

Rupert

Salmon

Sandpoint

Shelley

Shoshone

Soda Springs

St Anthony

St Charles

Stanley

State Line

Twin Falls

Tyhee

Weiser

Wendell

Wilder

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