T-Mobile rolls out new 4G LTE spectrum in Fresno, 9 other Valley communities

Workers install upgraded equipment on a cellular tower in Georgia in August.
Workers install upgraded equipment on a cellular tower in Georgia in August. The Associated Press

T-Mobile is stepping up its game in the Fresno-Visalia area, introducing what the company calls “extended range LTE” 4G broadband service in its effort to gain market share on industry giants AT&T and Verizon.

Rich Garwood, T-Mobile’s northwest area vice president, said using Band 12, a low-band range of the 700MHz radio spectrum, allows voice and data signals to better penetrate into buildings in urban areas and reach farther from its cellular towers in rural areas. “If you’re sitting at your desk in a building, your phone will work better, and it really improves our rural coverage, which is important for agriculture and in the oil fields,” Garwood said. “We’re also going to bring it to recreation areas. It will be coming soon to areas like Shaver Lake and Bass Lake, which is important for our Fresno customers.”

It’s part of an overall pattern of competitive moves cellular companies are making to improve and expand their 4G broadband coverage throughout the region.

T-Mobile has introduced its 700 MHz signals in about 170 major metropolitan areas over the past nine months before bringing the upgrades and installing new radios in its cellular towers in the central San Joaquin Valley. Besides Fresno and Visalia, the new spectrum is being put to use in Clovis, Dinuba, Firebaugh, Helm, Kingsburg, Lemoore, Sanger, Selma and Tulare.

The popularity of the new spectrum is being spurred by Apple, which is including 700 MHz compatibility in its iPhone 6S and 6S Plus models. “Before the 6S, the iPhone didn’t have 700 MHz in its chipset,” Garwood said. “Now, whether you’re on a Samsung Galaxy 6 or an iPhone 6S, it will work on 700 MHz.”

The popularity of the new 700 MHz spectrum is being spurred by Apple’s new iPhone models.

AT&T and Verizon and other telecommunications firms also own the rights to various bands of the 700 MHz spectrum – a portion of the radio spectrum once used by UHF television stations that was freed up when broadcasters converted to digital signals. The Federal Communications Commission auctioned off segments of the spectrum. The FCC says the location of the 700 MHz band – just above the remaining TV broadcast channels – allows its signals to penetrate buildings and walls easily and to cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure than frequencies in higher bands.

T-Mobile’s addition of the band 12 spectrum is one of the latest moves to expand its market share, and comes only a few years after it was poised to merge with AT&T before the deal was abandoned under regulatory scrutiny. Prior to the merger, T-Mobile lagged in its investment in infrastructure to improve its network. Since the merger collapsed, however, T-Mobile has gone from AT&T’s potential bedfellow to fierce competitor. “It might have been the best thing to happen to us when the merger fell apart,” Garwood said. “Things like contracts, the subsidy model of ‘fake free’ phones, we’ve totally blown that up. … We’ve focused on network coverage and performance for over a year as one of the key pain points of the industry that we’ve removed for customers.”

Other improvements that Garwood said T-Mobile has made include introducing high-definition voice service by putting calls on a voice-over-LTE system, and “no borders” coverage, in which customers can use their phones anywhere in North America, including Mexico and Canada, without incurring roaming charges.

AT&T and Verizon have not been standing still in improving their broadband and voice offerings. Earlier this summer, AT&T expanded its high-definition voice-over-LTE service to Fresno, Visalia and other markets in California. Verizon began offering unlimited calling to Mexico as an add-on service with a special promotion this summer. Earlier this month, Verizon expanded its 4G LTE network to Yosemite Village.