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Photo: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

T-Mobile on Thursday pledged that 200 million people in the U.S. will have access to a fast version of 5G wireless service by the end of the year, a far larger number than can be expected from AT&T or Verizon.

Why it matters: Long the upstart challenger, T-Mobile has a strong network story when it comes to 5G, thanks to its possession of a key swath of mid-band spectrum —which offers a good balance of faster speed and decent coverage compared to other chunks of airwaves.

The big picture: Each of the major carriers is making fresh 5G commitments this week, increasing the number of people they hope to reach with different flavors of the high-speed wireless technology.

  • Verizon detailed its 5G plans on Wednesday, including how it plans to use the $53 billion in spectrum it bought in a recent government auction as the airwaves become available. It plans to offer midband service in 46 markets this year, per CNET.
  • AT&T holds its investor event Friday. It has been faster than Verizon at rolling out broad 5G coverage, but not as fast as T-Mobile. Also, like Verizon, it is relying on just-acquired midband spectrum to build out its network.

Meanwhile: T-Mobile also boosted its expected cost savings from the Sprint merger. Executive VP John Freier said that won't necessarily mean job cuts, as much of the savings have come from network redundancies and closing retail locations.

  • T-Mobile plans to open at least 200 more stores this year as it expands into more rural and suburban areas, Freier said.

Go deeper on 5G technology with our video short course.

Go deeper

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

1 hour ago - Health

DeSantis to bar Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Friday he will issue an executive order "very soon" barring local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to school next month, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the U.S., triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.