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Q&A: The Castle in T-Mobile's LTE Network

Sarah Thomas

On T-Mobile's VoWiFi progress: It is still pretty early days. We've seen better quality and better performance because the handoff is there. WiFi calling is used by customers that see benefit from it, and we have over 7 million customers using it, and they are quite happy with it, but we never expect all our customers to use it. But for the people who use it, it's very successful. It's something that's a good part of our solution. It isn't one of these things where we have to push everyone to it for capacity. It's for the customer, not us. (See Sprint, T-Mobile Test Ruckus's Refined VoWiFi and T-Mobile Turns Up VoLTE-to-WiFi Handoff.)

On ending the map wars: Outside of cities, we see the low-band solution as really the key to end the map wars and get out there and show people we have coverage everywhere. Verizon always puts up maps to show they cover North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, which are beautiful states, of course, but not a lot of people are there. It looks great on TV, but it doesn't make a huge difference to people. That said, we are going to close that gap with 700MHz and expect to have a competitive map towards the end of the year, because we can with our low-band.

On 5G: The whole 5G thing is a name game thing. The official answer is we're working with industry groups on 5G. It'll take a long time. We'll be part of the conversation. It will be high data speeds and high capacity and small cells and macro cells and HetNet combos. My personal perspective -- it sort of seems to be this grab bag of all the great things being built on top of LTE. Just add another "G" to it. In my view, this is just the logical next step of what LTE should be. At some point, people will glue them all together and say, "it's something more; it's 5G."

On the 4G debate of the past: The more interesting thing is the fact that many years ago there was a big debate about what 4G was. The first company with 4G was Sprint with WiMax. People were really excited about it. Everyone thought it was cutting edge. Everyone thought it was leading. What you found was they adopted the wrong technology -- it was limited, the best speeds were pretty bad. Our UMTS network started outperforming that. Our UMTS was 4G and everyone said 'no, not true.' It's not fair -- our performance is better, but they get to be 4G and we don’t. Then AT&T said the same thing, and then everyone did and they forgot. It's a name game in my view. The bigger thing -- and LAA is a good example of this -- is taking good ideas and driving them to implementation because it's the right thing to do. We're going to make it happen.

On RCS: I think we're excited about continuing to build great things on top of our LTE network. We have a very solid IMS infrastructure behind our LTE network that allows us to implement things like WiFi calling with mobility. It allowed us to do VoLTE. We'll do things like RCS, video calling and other things out there where we can leverage the strengths of our LTE network and IMS network and really provide services and solutions that start to make people see the next generation. It's not just about speed, but flexibility and voice and IP convergence and things people will get excited about.

RCS is soon, very soon. VoLTE was the baseline on that and was the most difficult. We worked hard to move it forward. We're taking those learnings for RCS and video calling and similar services. Video calling will be built on top of VoLTE. We're leveraging what we've learned and building on top of it. You cannot do that unless that foundation is rock solid. That's what we've been focused on.

On T-Mobile's VoLTE progress: We are around 10-plus percent of calls on VoLTE. It's slowly growing and it will accelerate quickly. It's mostly about handset adoption -- getting them all enabled. Our launch with the iPhone was a big help. Our work with Samsung on the Galaxy line up is also helpful.

On the potential of deals with Dish and Google: Nothing I can speak to. [Ed note: Hey, we had to ask!] (See T-Mobile: Google & Dish Could Be 'Interesting' Partners.)

On what's next: In general, we've been really happy with our data strong network and will continue to grow on that with expansion of LTE in our low-band portfolio. By end of the year, we'll have a "no-regrets network" that's comparable to everyone else. It's a battle out there, and we think we'll win.

On Uncarrier 9.0: It'll be someday soon. We don't stop; we don't slow down; we just keep going.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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3/13/2015 | 8:04:04 PM
Re: the network man
'I'm curious to see what it does with RCS too"

This. Video calls are "neat" but I'm not so sure users are really there for wanting to place video calls all the time (esp given how popular texting still is). Perhaps video texting might become more of a thing? But then the low latency aspects are not really necessary.

Is there a user-driven demand for RCS apps? What is it?

3/2/2015 | 11:54:59 AM
the network man
It was great to get Castle's perspective on how far T-Mobile has come and what else is on the roadmap. He has a tough job, having had to launch and update the network so fast in the last few years, and there's still a lot of work to be done as it looks to expand its low-band spectrum.

I'm curious to see what it does with RCS too, since Castle says it's coming "very, very soon." The launched VoLTE nationwide early on. I imagine RCS will follow the same trajectory.
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