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40 Stories: Jim Spillane of T-Mobile

Everyone knows T-Mobile, the telecommunication giant, and the company at the forefront of 5G. But not everyone has heard about their massive programs focused on tech equity, especially in rural communities.

The Tech Council’s Jonathan Kersting recently spoke with Jim Spillane, Head of Government Sales, Central Region about T-Mobile’s community initiatives, the company’s current work in agricultural technology, and the wild potentials of 5G:

Jim Spillane of T-MobileJK: Give us a quick pitch about yourself and T-Mobile!

SPILLANE: I’ve been in this business for a long time – 34 years! I lead the Central Region for our organization. My teams are focused on government agencies: local, county, state, K-12, charter schools, and higher education. We spend every day working with those agencies across 16 states, and we’re very active in Pittsburgh and across Pennsylvania.

JK: Let’s talk about how T-Mobile interacts with and gives back to the community. We’re talking about a lot of money and resources – billions of dollars, right?

SPILLANE: Absolutely. There are two major, iconic initiatives that T-Mobile has; one is Project 10Million. With that project, we are connecting ten million students with, in many cases, free access to internet.

I was part of a program in 2016 under the Obama Administration called ConnectED, which was the first effort to bridge what’s known as the Homework Gap. At that time, ConnectED was going to give out 50,000 lines of service with three gigs of data, and you’d have to buy the device. At the time, we thought that was absolutely fantastic. Well, my five-year-old granddaughter consumes three gigs of data in no time at all!

Today, T-Mobile has connected over 5 million students who did not have internet access, including over 5,000 in the Pittsburgh Public School District. We’d heard about kids who were getting up early and going to school before the doors opened to sit outside and access their school’s internet to finish their homework. I’ve visited many of these schools and I’ve experienced firsthand the gratitude of kids, who say that because of this initiative, they can do their homework, get good grades, and get scholarships to continue their education. That’s been really gratifying, and probably the most enjoyable part for me in a leadership role with this team.

JK: Tell me more about how T-Mobile works with small communities.

SPILLANE: Well, the reason why Sprint and T-Mobile merging made so much sense is that T-Mobile had a tremendous amount of wireless spectrum that can penetrate buildings, while Sprint has a tremendous amount of mid-band spectrum that is perfect for 5G and long-range coverage. By combining these two companies and our spectrums together, it allows us to cover large geographic areas and provide speed and bandwidth. It has really allowed small, rural towns to have access to technology that they normally don’t.

One of the areas where we are seeing big traction is agriculture. A lot of these small communities rely heavily on farming, and technology plays an important role in that industry. If you’re a small farmer, to compete in the marketplace, you must have access to the network. The ability to extend the 5G network out to smaller agricultural communities and to use tech to maximize resources has been key.

They have to do it cost effectively, too – I mean, the cost for everything petroleum-based, their equipment and fertilizer, those are all expenses, right? So, how do you get the absolute most out of their technology? That’s an area that we’re actively exploring.

We’re also working very closely with a lot of colleges and universities on healthcare access in smaller communities, which has always been a challenge. Extending the ability to access telehealth on a device in a rural area is a challenge, one that has been exciting to work on as well.

JK: That’s why I’m so glad to talk to you today for Forty Stories, because I think that these are things a lot of people don’t know about T-Mobile. And 5G is making so much of it happen. Tell us more about how 5G is creating this next revolution of technology.

SPILLANE: You need to have a network that’s got coverage, capacity, and speed. We now connect 300 million U.S. citizens with our 5G Ultra Capacity Network. Ultra Capacity means that these residents – 98% of the U.S. population – are receiving the very best access to speed, bandwidth, and availability. That’s where it all starts.

4G unlocked all these technologies that we have today and take for granted. Being able to order things online, or to get Uber Eats or to order a Lyft, that was all 4G. Now 5G will bring a whole other level of access and technology that wasn’t there before. It gives you exceeded broadband speeds, but it also gives you low latency. Latency is super important – it’s the amount of time that it takes a packet to travel from A to B. When you have low latency, a doctor can operate a remote surgical procedure on a patient in a different location.

To bring it all full circle, our ability to work closely with K-12 and college students is so cool because they are the ones who are going to unlock the Ubers and Amazons of the 5G World. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface on what that is going to look like.

JK: Where do you see the future of technology?

SPILLANE: We think about AI and what that can unlock. That’s a debatable discussion sometimes, but that tech and how it can be used is still super important. There’s also data analytics – think about the amount of data that we can access and how we can leverage that. We think about autonomous vehicles and drone technology. That’s all things being unlocked with 5G. T-Mobile connects people, places, and things with our network. So, it’s limitless what can be connected and measured. This is a super exciting time right now.

JK: Why did you join the Pittsburgh Tech Council?

SPILLANE: It’s simple – you’ve got the pulse on technology, the community, and the technology within the community. You advocate for all kinds of positive public policy. We want to be a part of that. You help to unlock innovation and disruptive technologies that can help people. These kinds of discussions and sessions are so meaningful, and we love being a part of it.

Powered by DQE CommunicationsFaros Properties|Nova Place and UPMC Health Plan, 40 Stories is a special series celebrating the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 40th anniversary through the diverse stories of our members, old and new.