Mergers & acquisitions

What Could T-Mobile Do After AT&T?

Just where does T-Mobile US Inc. stand with regard to providing faster wireless service in the future if the U.S. Department of Justice is successful in blocking the proposed $39 billion merger with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: 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

krishanguru143 12/5/2012 | 4:54:54 PM
re: What Could T-Mobile Do After AT&T?

But T-Mobile USA uses different frequencies, so while there will be handsets, there are no guarantees that they will be compatible.  That doesn’t mean no phones would be available, but the selection could be sparse.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 4:54:54 PM
re: What Could T-Mobile Do After AT&T?

The *good news* for T-Mobile is that there are Euro carriers are upgrading to 84Mbit/s HSPA+ too, so there will at least be phones for T-Mobile should they need them.

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