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T-Mobile Beefs Up LTE Plans

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan

T-Mobile International AG is the latest major mobile operator to step up the pressure on equipment vendors to speed development of the so-called 4G technology, Long-Term Evolution.

Chief technology officer Joachim Horn says that T-Mobile will not deploy high-speed packet access (HSPA) evolution (HSPA+) to get more out of its 3G mobile broadband network and will instead move straight on to LTE.

"If I need to invest into more hardware, I think it's better to start early [with LTE]. LTE is a more future-oriented technology," Horn told Unstrung on the sidelines of the Financial Times World Telecoms Conference in London this week.

"We'll deploy HSPA as long as there is no hardware replacement necessary," he said. "We'll do every other efficiency increase that's software-based." That means T-Mobile plans to upgrade its 3G network only up to peak downlink speeds of 14.4 Mbit/s and skip HSPA Evolution altogether. After that, it wants LTE.

With software upgrades, T-Mobile can boost its current 7.2 Mbit/s HSDPA network up to 14.4 Mbit/s on the downlink. Beyond that, HSPA Evolution (or HSPA+) can boost 3G network speeds to 28.8 Mbit/s and higher, but it requires hardware changes because it needs MIMO antennas. And that's where T-Mobile draws the line.

T-Mobile's mobile broadband plans are in contrast to operators like Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), which has taken the HSPA Evolution path, and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), which has not closed the door on HSPA Evolution and trialed the technology this year. (See Telstra Pushes HSPA Limits and Vodafone Pumps Up HSPA.)

And by saying that it will not deploy HSPA Evolution, the German operator has thrown down its LTE gauntlet to vendors so that more research-and-development resources will be allocated to the 4G technology. The operator says it expects the first LTE networks in 2010. (See Swedish LTE in 2010.)

"The question with LTE is: When is the maturity of the technology good enough?" says Horn. "We believe the middle to the end of 2010 is when we'll see the first test networks."

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