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T-Mobile Talks Up a Banner Year in LTE

Sarah Thomas
12/11/2013

T-Mobile will be popping the bubbly at the end of 2013, celebrating a year that saw it go from zero presence in 4G LTE to nationwide coverage, which it says it achieved at the end of the third quarter.

Speaking to investors at the UBS conference today, T-Mobile US Inc. Chief Operating Officer Jim Alling said the self-proclaimed "uncarrier" now covers 203 million PoPs with LTEin 254 markets, enough for it to claim nationwide coverage. The rollout went well ahead of its plans, Alling said, as the carrier thought it originally wouldn't be able to accomplish that even by the end of the fiscal year. (See: T-Mobile Adds 1M Subs, Plots Faster 4G .)

A lot of the groundwork for its LTE rollout was actually laid in 2012 when it began improving its backhaul and upgrading its cell sites to enable it to move fast in 2013 and start marketing its uncarrier message. It was also significantly bolstered by its acquisition of MetroPCS, which gave it contiguous spectrum in several markets. (See: T-Mobile Doubles MetroPCS Coverage.)

Alling said the merged company now has 40 of the top 50 markets with 10x10MHz LTE channels, and it's aiming for 100 by the end of the year. It's now turning its attention to deploying 20x20 channels, which it kickstarted this week in North Dallas -- a fact Alling is lauding over its competitors' heads. (See: T-Mobile Quietly Kicks Off Double-Wide 4G.)

"Sprint has done some things that theoretically in the lab are interesting," Alling jibed. "We've gotten to the point where we've actually deployed 20x20 in Dallas."

Alling added that all of T-Mobile's devices will work on the 20x20 channels with uplink speeds of 47 to 50 Mbit/s and downlink speeds up to 150 Mbit/s, unlike Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which only has eight devices in its portfolio that support its tri-mode LTE network. [Ed. Note: How's that kicking for them when they're down?] (See: Sprint Feels the Churn Burn Before Spark.)

To keep the momentum going in 2014, T-Mobile is working to migrate its 2G customers to LTE to clear up the spectrum to refarm it for its upgraded LTE networks. Alling said a real key for the carrier will also be getting more low-band spectrum that it can use to reach suburban and rural areas, as well as to improve in-building coverage. He said the carrier is always open to conversations about low-band spectrum acquisition opportunities and also called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make sure it has a fair shot at the valuable spectrum. (See: FCC: Act Now as Wireless Duopoly Looms.)

"We think it's also very important we have a level playing field, so that we don’t continue to have such a concentration of low-band spectrum with two players," Alling said. "Having a competitive environment that's best for consumers out there."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
12/11/2013 | 11:25:17 AM
AT&T NEXT
I had never heard Alling speak before, but he's nearly as fun as T-Mobile's verbose CEO John Legere. He talked some smack on AT&T's Next plans, although it was all fair. He said they were originally a rip-off and customers realized that. AT&T quickly learned they were smarter than it gave them credit for, so it changed the plans. Now, they no longer charge twice for service as they used to. But, they are still too confusing and contain a lot of overages, he said.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
12/11/2013 | 11:20:45 AM
Sprint v T-Mo
Alling did give Sprint some credit saying he expects them to be aggressive next year. It's interesting comparing the two. T-Mobile had a strong 2013, and everyone will be watching to see if they can keep the momentum up in 2014. Sprint had a challenging 2013, and is promising next year will be its to own.

Everyone will clearly be watching what these two to do next year, as well as how AT&T and Verizon respond -- and if they're forced to.
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