FCC Grants T-Mobile Extra Spectrum During COVID-19 Outbreak


The maneuver is the latest to keep Americans connected.

T-Mobile will have an extra spectrum boost for the next 60 days to help keep its customers online and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To support the telecommunications provider in meeting increased demands for broadband and internet connectivity as more people are at home—and likely, on the web—due to the outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission revealed Sunday that it’s issued T-Mobile a 60-day special temporary authority to tap into additional spectrum in the 600 MHz band. 

“This temporary authority will help T-Mobile better serve customers who, like all of us, are making significant adjustments to their daily lives to minimize in-person interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. 

The 600 MHz band is primarily used for mobile devices. In 2017, T-Mobile unveiled it won almost half of the band in an FCC auction and that it aimed to use it as the foundation for 5G connectivity, but now, the contemporary health crisis apparently warrants the need for expanded capacity. 

The move to free up more of the 600 MHz band is the latest by the FCC to help ensure there is internet connectivity across America as the novel coronavirus outbreak persists and causes a greater need for telehealth, telework and telelearning capabilities. The communications agency on Friday announced its initial effort, the Keep America Connected Pledge, through which 69 broadband and telephone providers across the nation agreed to take specific steps to ensure people everywhere have internet access for the next two months. 

An official from T-Mobile told Nextgov Monday that this move to enhance its spectrum access was “in response” to the chairman’s call to boost connectivity, and that the company was pleased to work quickly with the FCC to gain this additional capacity for its customers during this unprecedented time. The official also confirmed that other companies—Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, DISH, Grain Management affiliate NewLevel, LLC., LB Holdings and Omega Wireless, LLC—temporarily relinquished their spectrum in the 600 MHz band to make it available for T-Mobile’s use.  

“We expect to rapidly place this additional spectrum into service within days,” the T-Mobile official said. 

The expansion will support T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile and T-Mobile MVNO customers that own 600 MHz-capable devices. The company is also “expanding roaming access for Sprint customers to use T-Mobile’s network,” the official said. T-Mobile and Sprint are in the midst of a massive multi-billion dollar merger that’s been years in the making.

T-Mobile also indicated to the FCC that the temporary authority would enable it to be “prepared to meet the needs of first responders.”

Regarding its frontline workers deploying this technology in the face of an outbreak that’s motivated the government to encourage everyone to stay inside, the official also confirmed that in most parts of the country, T-Mobile is encouraging employees “in roles that allow the option to work from home to do so,” through the end of the month.

“Employees who don’t have this option are being supported with flexible work schedules or, where needed, provided additional paid time off for sickness and family support,” the official said.