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MWC 2009: T-Mobile Gets Real on LTE

BARCELONA -- GSMA Mobile World Congress -- T-Mobile International AG says it's as keen as ever on Long-Term Term (LTE) evolution, but the operator doesn't see wide-scale deployments starting until 2011.

"From a technology perspective, the key components [for LTE] will be mainly in place in the latter half of 2010, but other obstacles such as spectrum could put the whole launch date in question," T-Mobile CEO Hamid Akhavan said here at a press conference today.

But before LTE arrives, Akhavan still has plans for beefing up T-Mobile's 3G network. He said T-Mobile will introduce 14.4 Mbit/s HSDPA this year, as soon as devices become available, which will be some time in the second quarter of this year. In addition, the operator plans to test evolved HSPA (or HSPA+) at both 21 Mbit/s and 28 Mbit/s in 2009.

Emin Gurdenli, technical director at T-Mobile (UK) , added some color to Akhavan's remarks in an interview with Unstrung today. He said that any large-scale deployments will occur in 2011 because that's when LTE devices with both data and voice capability will be available. (See T-Mobile Beefs Up LTE Plans and T-Mobile Sets LTE Requirements.)

"Ideally, from day one, we want to introduce voice over LTE. We want LTE to be used as much as possible," said Gurdenli.

Data-only LTE devices are expected to be available at the end of next year, according to Gurdenli. "[LTE devices with] voice will be middle of 2011 if you're lucky, end of 2011 if you're more realistic."

Gurdenli also said that T-Mobile was close to making a decision for choosing some of the vendors for a field trail of LTE. "The focus now is on the right capabilities for field trials," he said. "We need a really good understanding of the industry and the readiness for commercial services." (See Nortel Keeps LTE Dream Alive.)

"Previously, we were driving an agenda on the vision of LTE," Gurdenli said. "As you approach dates, you know better... [We have] a more fact-based assessment of where we are."

Indeed, almost a year ago T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) issued a statement heralding 150 Mbit/s data speeds over LTE, which even at the time was a wild claim. (See DT's 4G Folly.)

Now, the operator is taking a more realistic approach.

"Our strategy... has not changed," said Gurdenli. "We are better informed about availability."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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