If you're in the market for a new smartphone, you'll likely scan spec sheets and read reviews of the top phones, compare display size and technology, RAM amount, and processors. But one factor that is often overlooked is cell reception — and for T-Mobile subscribers, there's only one device that has flagship specs and an exclusive antenna that will actually improve your signal.
T-Mobile is currently in third place in terms of subscriber count. For many years, the biggest thing holding it back was coverage. For those in urban areas, coverage was terrific and subscribers enjoyed the fastest (or second fastest) LTE speeds. However, in the rural parts of America, many were forced to use another carrier because they weren't able to get any coverage.
Earlier this year, T-Mobile purchased the majority of the 600 MHz radio frequency, which will become the new LTE Band 71. This new frequency will significantly improve coverage in rural areas and even boost signal strength in urban areas where building penetration is an issue. Currently, there is only one phone that has this LTE band, and that phone is the LG V30.
When it comes to wireless carriers, two things are essential to attract new customers and keep old ones: Speed and coverage. Consumers want to have the fastest LTE speed possible when using their new smartphone, and they want that fast coverage everywhere they travel.
To achieve the fastest possible speeds, 4G was introduced to the world, a standard defining new technology which was capable of much faster speed than the previous generation. Most wireless carriers decided on LTE, with only Sprint backing WiMax (a slower 4G standard which was better at maintaining speed when the network was congested). However, within a few years, Sprint abandoned the standard for LTE.
Verizon and AT&T were the first US carriers to adopt 4G and build their infrastructure on LTE bands that provided the broadest reach and fast data speeds. Both adopted bands using the 700 MHz frequency (Verizon uses Band 13 and AT&T uses Band 17) which provides this balance. Lower frequency offers wider coverage than higher frequency, because as the radio waves travel through different mediums (air, concrete, etc.), less energy is lost. The 700 MHz frequency is the backbone of both Verizon and AT&T and has allowed Verizon to reach 98% coverage and for AT&T to provide 4G LTE to 317 million Americans.
The main thing to understand with LTE frequencies is that the lower the MHz number, the farther the signal can travel. Higher frequencies are more susceptible to interference from geographical and man-made obstructions like mountainous terrain and concrete buildings. In short, a low-frequency LTE signal is the most desirable band for any carrier looking to improve their coverage.
The trouble is, T-Mobile was late to the party and didn't initially use the 700 MHz bands to deploy their 4G LTE. Instead, their primary LTE band used the 1700 MHz frequency (Band 4), which allowed them to achieve fast data speed, but poor coverage in rural areas. Their second primary band (Band 2) was in the 1900 MHz range, which did nothing to help mitigate the problem. T-Mobile was then forced to give $2.3656 billion to purchase a portion of Verizon's 700 MHz frequency which was later used for the new LTE Band 12.
However, since they only purchased a portion of Verizon's 700 MHz frequency, they were only able to deploy Band 12 in select markets. Long-term, it wouldn't make good business sense to continue paying a competitor, so T-Mobile aggressively purchased the majority of the 600 MHz frequncy (LTE Band 71) when the FCC auctioned it off earlier this year. For the first time ever, T-Mobile now had some of the most desirable LTE frequencies.
Since winning the auction, T-Mobile has sprinted to deploy Band 71 across the United States, specifically in the areas where their coverage is currently lacking. With this LTE band using the lowest frequency, Band 71 has already improved T-Mobile's coverage. Again, Band 71 will not only be able to help rural areas, but also cities since the lower frequency can better penetrate buildings.
T-Mobile is deploying the new LTE Band with equipment from Nokia which also supports 5G (the next advancement for cellular data). T-Mobile plans to use the new frequency for 5G when it is ready for deployment. By using the same towers, T-Mobile will be able to turn on 5G on the 600 MHz frequency with a software update, improving their chance not to be late to the 5G party.
Unfortunately, Band 71 isn't without its share of problems. Right now, T-Mobile is running into issues that will delay nationwide deployment of this frequency. One reason for this is the limited number of technicans trained to climb towers. Without trained technicians, T-Mobile's deployment could be delayed by several years, which could potentially stifle their current growth. As all four major wireless carriers prepare for 5G, fumbling around to improve 4G networks may cause delays with the next generation of cell connectivity.
The second problem, which is the biggest issue, is the current occupiers of the 600 MHz frequency. There are 1,130 television stations currently using the 600 MHz frequency that must be moved to a new range, within the same frequency, which was allocated to them by the FCC for television use to free up space for wireless data use (known as repacking). In other words, your local TV stations may be preventing T-Mobile from rolling out Band 71 in your area.
On October 10, 2017, T-Mobile partnered with Fox Television Stations to help expedite this process by 16 months. Eleven television stations will go off the air by October 25, 2017, and 132 will repack by January 23, 2018. But for the remaining 987 television stations, the FCC has organized their repacking into ten phases that extend to July 2020. Stations will be given one phase within the next three years, which is their deadline for repacking. Unless T-Mobile can incentivize more companies to repack early, they will be significantly delayed in both their improved 4G network and future 5G network.
When T-Mobile first purchased the 600 MHz frequency, no smartphone supported the new LTE Band. Since the FCC auction was the first time LTE was allocated for use on this frequency, popular SoC manufacturers, such as Qualcomm, never included support within their modems.
Recognizing the change this purchase made, Qualcomm announced that their new Snapdragon X20 LTE modem and RF transceiver would support the new LTE band. This modem is rumored to be included in the next Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 845. However, if history is any indication, Qualcomm won't announce this chipset until early next year, leaving T-Mobile without a device that works on their new network for a significant portion of time.
Earlier this year, Qualcomm announced that the X16 LTE modem and RF transceiver (the modem used in this year's Snapdragon 835 SoC) will receive support for the new frequency after all. However, the support required different physical antennas, which hasn't been added to any device this year besides one device from LG and one device from Samsung.
When the Snapdragon 835's support for Band 71 was announced back in April, many consumers were hoping that the LG device would be the Pixel 2 XL or the LG V30, and the Samsung device would be the Galaxy Note 8. Fast forward to now, each of these phones has been announced and released with the only smartphone supporting Band 71 being the LG V30. Samsung promises a device with support later this year, but there is little chance that will be a flagship phone.
For years, Samsung has only released two categories of flagship devices: The Galaxy S series and the Galaxy Note series. Both devices have been released already without Band 71 support. As the Snapdragon 835 chipset is required to obtain support for the 600 MHz frequency, this unannounced smartphone will likely be a mid-range device with a flagship SoC, but full of compromises elsewhere to reduce its pricing. For this reason, the LG V30 is the most important phone for T-Mobile.
Until devices with the Snapdragon 845 are released to the public (which typically isn't until April), the only flagship device on T-Mobile supporting Band 71 will continue to be the LG V30. T-Mobile needs this device to show current and future customers that they are working to improve their number one problem: Coverage.
Especially for customers in areas where 600 MHz frequency has already been deployed, switching these customers to the LG V30 will go a long way to continue T-Mobile's current hot streak of 18 straight quarters adding one million subscribers. Also, for customers in areas with good coverage already, the improved coverage provided by the lower frequency LTE Band could help them finally overtake AT&T for second place among wireless carriers.
The LG V30 has everything you would want from a smartphone in 2017: Edge-to-edge display, QHD, HDR support, a fantastic camera, the rare headphone jack, and the elusive combination of water resistance and wireless charging. With just these features, we would recommend this phone to any one of our readers on any network. But more importantly, when it comes to T-Mobile, the support for LTE Band 71 places it alonen on a mountain.
You will not find any device with the V30's combination of flagship specs and extensive LTE band support right now. And because of this fact, if you are a T-Mobile subscribers, no other phone makes sense to purchase.