What Could T-Mobile Do After AT&T?
Now: HSPA+ The Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) subsidiary started deploying a 21Mbit/s High-Speed Packet Access Plus (HSPA+) upgrade on its 3G GSM network early in 2010, beating would-be suitor AT&T to the punch. (See MWC 2010: T-Mob's 3G Speed Race, T-Mobile's HSPA+ Rivals Clearwire, US LTE Speeds and AT&T Confirms Move to 21Mbit/s HSPA+.)
This year, T-Mobile has started to deploy 42Mbit/s across its network. The 21Mbit/s upgrade now covers more than 200 million people in the U.S., and the 42Mbit/s flavor covers more than 170 million people in 152 markets. (See T-Mobile Demos 42Mbit/s HSPA+ in NYC and T-Mobile Busts Out With 42Mbit/s Service.) The 21Mbit/s upgrade can deliver average downloads between 4 Mbit/s and 8 Mbit/s. T-Mobile claims that the 42Mbit/s update offers downloads "approaching 10Mbps with peak speeds of 27Mbps." (See T-Mobile Expands 42Mbit/s Mobile Service.) Speed tests show that 42Mbit/s HSPA+ is right on the heels of Verizon Wireless 's Long Term Evolution (LTE) network -- although Big Red's new offering tends to offer higher burst rates -- and faster than AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) or Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s services. (See Road-Testing Verizon's 4G-LTE.)
T-Mobile also pushes the short-term advantages of the ability of its brand of "4G" to work with its 3G network and boost performance of many of its existing devices.
Later: Doubling down? The most immediate option available to T-Mobile if the merger doesn't come off is to continue down the HSPA+ upgrade path. Even faster HSPA+ is on the technical roadmap and could likely arrive late in 2011 or in 2012.
The 84Mbit/s flavor of HSPA+, however, requires a two-by-two array of smart antennas in the handset to get a speed boost. Mark McDiarmid, senior director of RAN systems engineering and product validation at T-Mobile, back in October 2010 told LR Mobile that smartphone vendors are working on shrinking down the multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antennas so that they don’t eat battery life in these small gizmos. (See 4G World: Faster 3G in US – Charting HSPA+.)
T-Mobile hasn't yet said if it has plans to move to 84Mbit/s HSPA+.
Long term: Where's the LTE? T-Mobile doesn't currently have spectrum to deploy 4G LTE. This will become more of a pressing issue as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint complete deployments of the technology over the next few years.
In particular, the ability to upgrade to LTE Advanced -- at least in high-traffic areas -- is going to become an option for carriers after 2012 or 2013. This upgrade should start to make HSPA+ look slower with expected maximum download speeds at 100 Mbit/s on the move or 1Gbit/s stationary.
Capacity could also become an issue as other carriers use new frequencies for 4G while T-Mobile splits its AWS footprint between 3G and FauxG services. This may not happen, however, if T-Mobile keeps bleeding subscribers to the iPhone-toutin' big two. (See CTIA 2011: Famously FauxG and US Wireless Operators' Q2 Scorecard.)
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile