T-Mobile and Sprint promise low-cost 5G coverage for rural America, aiding remote workers

T-Mobile and Sprint are making a public appeal for support of their pending merger, promising 96% 5G coverage for rural and underserved communities.

T-Mobile and Sprint promise low-cost 5G coverage for rural America, communities of color T-Mobile and Sprint are making a public appeal for support of their pending merger, promising 96% 5G coverage for rural and underserved communities by 2024.

In a public appeal for support of their pending merger, T-Mobile and Sprint disclosed tweets in a filing to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) about how the companies, once merged, would be more effective together, touting the ability to bring 5G mobile services to 96% of the US by 2024, among other benefits.

The T-Mobile/Sprint merger continues to face opposition, as a group of nine Senators recently expressed opposition to the deal, claiming it is "likely to raise prices for consumers, harm workers, stifle competition, exacerbate the digital divide, and undermine innovation," in a pair of letters to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. The current merger attempt is the third this decade: The first plan in 2013-2014 was abandoned under the expectation it would not clear regulatory hurdles, and a second attempt in 2017 was abandoned due to disagreements between the boards of Sprint owner SoftBank Corp., and Deutsche Telekom.

SEE: Social Media Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Of note, T-Mobile is following SEC regulations for public statements, a problem for which Tesla CEO Elon Musk may find himself held in contempt. The tweets included in the filing include:

Together with Sprint, T-Mobile can create a broad, deep, and nationwide 5G network that will cover nearly 96% of rural Americans by 2024. #5GForAll

We're doubling down on our commitment to underserved communities. The New T-Mobile is expanding jobs and diversity in our workforce as we build the future. #5GForAll

Together, T-Mobile and Sprint are creating a more inclusive 5G future. By partnering with the National Diversity Council, the New T-Mobile will improve workplace diversity and underserved community investment. #5GForAll

"The new T-Mobile is all about bringing value and accessibility to everyone - particularly underserved customers and their communities" - CEO John Legere #5GForAll

The New T-Mobile will champion affordable access to broadband. More Americans will benefit with lower-cost services and improved connectivity on our 5G network. #5GForAll

In a statistical sense, the claim of 96% coverage for a 5G network is less meaningful than the statistic implies. According to Gartner analyst Bill Menezes, a 2016 FCC report estimated 3 million Americans-just under 1% of the population-lacked access to 4G LTE.

"Assuming that most of those people live in rural, less densely populated areas, T-Mobile essentially is promising that in five years that its 5G coverage will be only about 3% less than LTE," Menezes said, noting that "T-Mobile has not assigned any performance parameters to this promise. So, 'rural coverage' could be anything from one bar of signal on a 5G connection... to five bars of multigigabit speeds."

The Rural Wireless Association is currently fighting T-Mobile and Verizon over claims the carriers have significantly overstated the extent of their rural coverage in Vermont, Menezes also noted.

On technical merits, 5G network deployments are an order of magnitude more complex than 4G LTE, as the 5G NR standard, as the use of mmWave frequencies that have much shorter ranges require higher numbers of base stations. This makes mmWave a poor fit for rural areas. Likewise, Menezes noted that "There's no indication whether the coverage claim will include indoor coverage which... may be impossible in many buildings without some type of indoor coverage enhancement. Without performance requirement benchmarks, the promise is useless."

For communities of color, a January report from the Brookings Institution found that 35% of Hispanics and 24% of African-Americans "have no other online connection except through their smartphones or other mobile devices," while the same is true of only 14% of whites. The prospect of widespread and accessible 5G service is "determining factor in whether or not mobile-dependent users fully partake in the global digital economy, especially as smartphones, cell phones, and other wireless-enabled devices become the only gateway to the internet," the report found.If 5G coverage was to become available in virtually all rural and urban areas, it could open up a new swath of workers to fill remote jobs.

For an overview when and where 5G networks are being deployed, when true 5G smartphones are being released, and how businesses and consumers can benefit from 5G technologies, check out TechRepublic's cheat sheet for 5G mobile networks and for 5G smartphones.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that SEC approval is explicitly required before tweets are made. Disclosure to the SEC is necessary for statements relevant to the pending merger.

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By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI/ML, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on ...