The Galaxy S8 looks like a powerful smartphone for all four major US carriers. It gets special abilities on T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, the carriers told us before the phone’s launch today. And Verizon’s absence from the list may just be because the carrier is being bashful.
On T-Mobile, the S8 can achieve “gigabit LTE” speeds by combining 3x carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256 QAM, which no other phone yet has done, T-Mobile’s VP of engineering Grant Castle said. The first is a technique to bond different airwaves to make a very wide path. The second multiplies antennas for stronger signal, and the third is a more efficient encoding system. The Galaxy S7 had these three technologies, but could only use two at a time, Castle said.
“With all of those tricks turned on, it becomes our first gigabit-capable device,” Castle said.
Of course, T-Mobile also needs enough airwaves, or spectrum, to transmit those fast speeds. It takes at least 50MHz of LTE spectrum to do gigabit internet, so given the need to maintain 2G and 3G networks, we asked spectrum experts Mosaik Solutions where T-Mobile has more than 70MHz of spectrum.
The carrier has at least 70MHz in 41 cities, Mosaik said. It has the most spectrum, more than 90Mhz, in Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa. So that’s where you’re likely to see fast speeds first.
T-Mobile has more than 80MHz in Boston, Denver, Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Antonio, and several other cities, Mosaik reported, and more than 70 in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, and others.
“We have all the building blocks, now it’s just an issue of freeing up the spectrum and completing the buildouts,” Castle said.
The S8 is also one of the first phones to support T-Mobile’s new Band 66, which gives the carrier more room to combine spectrum. And it’s the very first to support LTE-U and potentially LAA, new technologies being used by T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T to improve LTE speeds in crowded urban and indoor areas.
Apple iPhones, most notably, do not have LTE-U, 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM, or Band 66.
Extending Sprint’s Range
On Sprint, the Galaxy S8 is the second phone (after the LG G6) to have HPUE: High Performance User Equipment. That literally turns up the volume on Sprint’s network, stretching out its high-speed 2.5GHz system’s range by 30 percent to “nearly match” its traditional PCS coverage. HPUE especially helps indoors, Sprint said.
The phone also supports 3x carrier aggregation and 256 QAM on Sprint, and will be able to get 4×4 MIMO coverage on the 1900MHz PCS band with a “future software update.” That will extend 1900MHz coverage for this phone. However, the S8 is not a full gigabit phone on Sprint, as it won’t have 4×4 MIMO on the 2.5GHz band. Sprint demoed gigabit capabilities last month using a future Motorola device.
Evolving with AT&T
AT&T has declared the Galaxy S8 a “5G Evolution” phone, able to get fast speeds initially in Austin and Indianapolis, and then “enable theoretical peak speeds up to 1 gigabit per second in some areas later in the year.”
The company has said in the past that it’s deploying 3x carrier aggregation and 256 QAM, and its radio frequencies are similar enough to T-Mobile’s that 4×4 MIMO may come into play as well. (AT&T hasn’t yet responded to our questions about this.) So the rules which apply to T-Mobile, enabling faster speeds on this phone than others, may also apply to AT&T.
What About Verizon?
Verizon not crowing about the Galaxy S8 says less about its network than about its communication strategies.
Verizon, for instance, has 3x carrier aggregation and 256 QAM, and uses the same primary LTE band as T-Mobile, which means it should be able to get 4×4 MIMO with the right software. So Verizon might be able to see the same speeds T-Mobile is promising. It just isn’t bragging about it.