T-Mobile: Google & Dish Could Be 'Interesting' Partners

T-Mobile's CEO remained largely tight-lipped about possible network deals with Google and Dish on the operator's fourth quarter earnings call Thursday, while stressing that the "Un-Carrier" is open to many possible ways to move forward.

T-Mobile US Inc. CEO John Legere, CFO Braxton Carter and CTO Neville Ray all fielded questions from analysts as well as from people via Twitter and text message in a lengthy Q&A session that covered a lot of ground. Here are some of the highlights:

On a Google MVNO or a Dish hookup
Legere didn't directly comment on rumors that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has a deal with T-Mobile to lease capacity on its network to operate its own branded wireless service via and MVNO agreement. He did say that he looked at Google as an interesting prospect to enter the wireless business. (See Google Searching for 5G Wireless Engineer.)

"I'll save my Google rumor bump for when we need it more," he quipped, while noting that the companies have a long-standing relationship.

It was a similar story with Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH). The satellite TV operator has added to its AWS spectrum holdings after the recent auction. Legere described Dish's spectrum portfolio and video content as "interesting."

"Last time I looked, Dish doesn't have a network," cracked CTO Ray. He said that it could be "a great opportunity" for T-Mobile to host, and that it would be able to deploy the spectrum relatively fast as well.

Legere and crew stressed that the wireless business is likely subject to change with new entrants like Comcast, Dish and Google, and that T-Mobile is trying to "think differently" to position itself in the light of potential new opportunities.

"T-Mobile becomes a great example as we may be able to alleviate their needs and expand ours," Legere said.

Read more about mobile moves on the dedicated 4G LTE channel here on Light Reading.

4G Technology Updates & WiFi
T-Mobile is focused on expanding its 4G LTE network to cover 300 million people in the US by the end of the year. It is using its AWS (1700/2100MHz) spectrum, 700MHz spectrum and 1900MHz as it shuts down the MetroPCS CDMA network to do this.

Ray said the operator will be at 280 million people by the middle of 2015 and 300 million by year's end. "That will put us on a par -- or pretty damn close -- with the big two," Ray said.

The T-Mobile executives also continually claimed on the call that T-Mobile now has the fastest LTE network, especially as it turns up more wide-band 4G markets.

"Nobody is close to us in the top 30 markets, we're really killing it," Ray claimed. "The [RootMetrics] testing still plays down what we've really done. (See Sprint Versus T-Mobile: Which Metrics Matter?)

The operator has also started to deploy initial small cells and has 12,000 distributed antenna systems [DAS] in the field. This small cell count is expected to grow as T-Mobile starts to get to commercial LTE-U deployments in 2016.

"We're fully embracing unlicensed LTE [otherwise known as LTE-U or LTE AA], we think its a great opportunity," added CFO Carter. (See Ericsson Preps LTE-U for Verizon, T-Mob & SK Telecom.)

Ray said T-Mobile is aiming to deploy at 5GHz and be a "good neighbor" to WiFi on that band. Initial deployments will be indoors but Ray also expects to take the technology out of the house.

All of this will require more network density, and hence more tiny basestations to fill in the gaps. "There's a great small cell opportunity in 2016," Ray stated.

Legere also spotlighted T-Mobile's WiFi calling feature and said the operator has -- or will -- add the feature to all phones in its current portfolio. "We're still the only one with WiFi calling for the iPhone 6," Legere noted.

"We're not running away from WiFi, we're embracing it," Carter added later.

On spectrum
Legere blogged Wednesday about the forthcoming 600MHz spectrum auction, which is slated for 2016 at the moment.

"I'm not whining or waving the white flag," he stressed, stating that the carrier has other ways to compete even without the low-band spectrum. (See T-Mobile Boss Asks Consumers to Pressure FCC on Low-Band.)

Nonetheless, he said, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's aim is to foster a competitive wireless market in the US, the way to do that is to have "a good set of rules" to ensure a level-playing field. Legere wants the auction brought forward, 40MHz of spectrum set aside from the big two and the rules changed so that the winners can't sit on spectrum.

"T-Mobile's goal is to create the best mobile experience across the US," he said at the end of the call. "The only missing link in that vision is low-band spectrum."

Allowing T-Mobile to get more low-band will guarantee "permanent competition" in the US, he promised.

The numbers
For the fourth quarter of 2014, T-Mobile reported a profit of $101 million, or $0.12 cents a share, compared to a loss of $20 million, or $0.3 cents a share, in the same period last year. Revenue was up 20% to $8.15 billion.

The Un-Carrier added 2.1 million new wireless customers in the last three months of the year; 1.3 million of these are customers that sign up for a monthly contract, so-called post-paid customers, rather than users that pay as they go.

The operator added 8.3 million new customers in 2014. It says it has now had seven consecutive quarters with over 1 millon customer additions. The operator sold 28 million smartphones in 2014 and 30 million phones in total.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had been expecting earinings of $0.05 a share on revenue of $7.89 billion.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

pcharles09 2/23/2015 | 9:57:25 PM
Re: It seems T-Mobile should move. @Phil_Britt,

This is true. And even if the talent was available in said areas, it may still end up being cheaper for the Google's & Microsoft's to relocate them due to infrastructure concerns.
DanJones 2/23/2015 | 8:58:04 PM
Re: It seems T-Mobile should move. Always bear in mind that a Google link-up has not actually been confirmed, could be one of those ever green rumors again... 

Although Google is certainly staffing up with wireless talent right now.
Phil_Britt 2/23/2015 | 10:50:50 AM
Re: It seems T-Mobile should move. Though you are right about the high minimum wage in Seattle, how many of T-Mobile workers are at the minimum? Also, while certain workers can be anywhere, not all areas provide the pools of talent that companies need. On simply a cost of business basis, Google, Microsoft and many others could operate much more cheaply from nowhere Kentucky, farmtown Iowa or middle of nowhere Alabama than where their headquarters are now. But talent, infrastructure and other elements need to be considered as well.
kq4ym 2/21/2015 | 10:18:29 PM
Re: It seems T-Mobile should move. Their financial numbers seem strong enough to keep them heading the way they have been. Getting spectrum, teaming up with partners Google and/or Dish could further strengthen the company even without winning all the wanted FCC auctions.
JedM 2/21/2015 | 12:34:47 PM
Re: It seems T-Mobile should move. Is it just coincidence that when you rearrange the letters in your user name, VernonDozier, it also spells Verizon Drone?
VernonDozier 2/20/2015 | 8:53:35 PM
It seems T-Mobile should move. One of the biggest problems with T-Mobile is the physical location in Seattle. 

As one of the highest-priced labor markets, (including in terms of minimum wages) T-Mobile will always need to cut corners.   As an example, just look at their map... It hasn't changed in 10 years.   That's called "paralysis by analysis" and it's a big problem.

T-Mobile would have to move its office out of Seattle to be able to compete. 

I think this physical location, and dreary winters is why everyone with T-Mobile service is real depressed. 
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