T-Mobile on Monday announced the first fifth-generation wireless data network available across the nation, but customers will need a special phone to access it.
Telecommunications companies are in a race to be the first to 5G, the next update to wireless technology that will bring customers speeds 100 times faster than 4G, empower autonomous vehicles and enable smart cities.
T-Mobile's rollout is set to launch Friday.
An interactive map T-Mobile published with its news Monday shows the service will be up and running in Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg, Florence, Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach.
It will not be available throughout most of the Midlands region, including Columbia.
It will run on a low band of the radio-frequency spectrum, 600 megahertz, which will allow signals to reach far and wide. Higher frequencies are better suited to deliver even faster speeds but over shorter distances.
The company says the deployment will cover 200 million Americans who could sign up to use the network if they choose. Millions of those people live in rural parts of the country, T-Mobile said. It will be offered at the same price as the company's next-best plan.
In order to benefit, however, customers will need to buy a 5G-equipped phone.
T-Mobile also plans to merge with Sprint. The $26 billion deal has yet to close. Creating a nationwide 5G network was one of the investments planned with the new company.
"This positions new T-Mobile to become the nationwide leader in 5G, leapfrogging the competition in network capability and customer experience," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a recent call with investors.
"No other 5G signal will be as strong or as reliable" as T-Mobile's, Legere said on the call, and he noted customers will be able to use the network both inside and outside, unlike some competitors.
“The carriers have been overhyping 5G for years now, setting expectations beyond what they can deliver. When Verizon says #5GBuiltRight, they must mean sparse, expensive and limited to outdoors only,” Neville Ray, T-Mobile's president of technology, said in a press release. “Meanwhile at T-Mobile, we built 5G that works for more people in more places, and this is just the start."
T-Mobile has invested about $8 billion into its 600 megahertz network. The merger with Sprint gives the combined company a bigger network of the infrastructure needed to operate 5G, and a head start in the 5G race. While T-Mobile's network is low-band at 600 megahertz, Sprint's is mid-band, which brings faster speeds over shorter distances.
Verizon and AT&T have their own networks, too.
T-Mobile is also offering customers who switch to its network a free, 5G-equipped phone, if they buy a plan and swap in their current device. Because of the technology needed for the phone to accept 5G, many of the phones on the market today are expensive, relative to 4G devices.
T-Mobile says it has plans to roll out more than a dozen new 5G-equipped phones in the next year.