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4G/3G/WiFi

T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

T-Mobile US Inc. 's plans to move to Long Term Evolution (LTE) could be more challenging if it can't upgrade its existing mobile broadband users fast enough.

T-Mobile said this Thursday morning that it will start to launch faster LTE services in 2013. It is the last of the four largest U.S. operators to reveal plans to move to the speedy mobile data technology. (See T-Mobile Will Launch LTE in 2013 and Mapping LTE: AT&T & Verizon's 4G Footprints.) A T-Mobile USA spokeswoman tells Light Reading Mobile in an email that the operator plans "to cover the vast majority of the top 50 markets and [have] nationwide coverage by the end of the program." The service provider isn't yet saying which U.S. cities will be launched first.

The carrier says that it plans to spend $4 billion in all on the network upgrade. "The $4 billion will be mostly spent in 2012 and 2013," the spokeswoman wrote.

This suggests a relatively rapid technical upgrade to LTE from High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 3G for T-Mobile. The company has already upgraded to 21Mbit/s and 42Mbit/s HSPA+ with suppliers Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nokia Networks over the last few years. (See T-Mobile's HSPA+ Rivals Clearwire, US LTE Speeds.)

Ovum Ltd. 's principal analyst for infrastructure, Daryl Schoolar, expects that T-Mobile will stick with Ericsson and NSN and try to reuse as much infrastructure as possible.

"Both of them have been saying for years that they have been deploying equipment that can be easily moved over to LTE," he tells us.

"Hopefully for T-Mobile they can at least use the same baseband units," Schoolar continues. He suggests that that the operator will have to locate LTE "radioheads" at its cell sites for the upgrade. T-Mobile says it will install new equipment at 37,000 cell sites as part of its LTE evolution.

T-Mobile gets to undertake this upgrade because it got $3 billion and Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) spectrum (1700MHz/2100MHz) from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) after the failure of their planned $39 billion merger. The operator will, however, also eventually have to move existing 3G users off its AWS spectrum and refarm its 1900MHz spectrum for HSPA service. (See AT&T Drops Bid to Acquire T-Mobile.)

"That is a long process," states Ovum's Schoolar. "The biggest thing with any kind of re-farming is what do you do with the end user?"

He suggests that T-Mobile may have to do things like increase subsidies on handsets to encourage its value-orientated users to shift.

Whatever happens, T-Mobile's marketing department has its work cut out for it. The operator now has to explain why users should move to a new 4G LTE handset when -- like AT&T -- they have already been marketing HSPA+, which has traditionally been called 3G, as a 4G service.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:41:41 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

So, in a way, T-Mobile and Sprint are on similar LTE paths. Both racing to get to LTE while refarming spectrum. Be interesting to see how fast each can make it happen.

bogdanovici 12/5/2012 | 5:41:40 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Hopefully their backhaul system is easily scalable; otherwise, they'll have biger problem than installing LTE "radioheads".

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:41:39 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

They redid their backhaul in their late move to 3G/HSPA, so it's fairly modern.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:41:33 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Any one that believes *any* cellcos marketing is a fool.


If I recall right Sprint started the "4G" arms race by calling WiMax 4G when the ITU was still saying that LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 were the actual fourth generation standards. Then the ITU backed down anyway and said LTE, WiMax and HSPA+ were admissable as 4G so all bets are off now.


 

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:41:33 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Maybe T-Mobile will seize the opportunity for a reset of its marketing tactics as well. After hearing them call 3G 4G, and having them call 2 GB soft caps "unlimited," how can we believe anything about where they are going with LTE?


You might get away with the fine-print advertising for a bit but eventually customers catch on and become ex-customers. 

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:41:33 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Maybe T-Mobile will seize the opportunity for a reset of its marketing tactics as well. After hearing them call 3G 4G, and having them call 2 GB soft caps "unlimited," how can we believe anything about where they are going with LTE?


You might get away with the fine-print advertising for a bit but eventually customers catch on and become ex-customers. 

joanengebretson 12/5/2012 | 5:41:32 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Maybe T-Mobile will just decide to refer to LTE as 4.5G.


Seriously, though, other carriers, esp Verizon, have been increasing awareness of LTE by emphasizing the term along with 4G in their ads. As a result, it may be easier for T-Mobile to sell the new service than one might expect.


 

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:41:32 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Correct but I would submit that of all the majors T-Mob is the worst. They have never advertised an average speed that users can expect to see, yet regularly tout their network as the fastest. At CES a couple years ago they had some graphic about how their network was the fastest out there and it turned out they were comparing their network to 2G and 3G, ignoring the Sprint/Clearwire network.


So yes all marketing is marketing and should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. But T-Mob is like movie popcorn. Greasy and extra salty. I think there's an effective metaphor in there somewhere. But my point is, it's hard to take them seriously when they won't ever give you anything you can put on a scorecard.


 

kaps 12/5/2012 | 5:41:32 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

Correct but I would submit that of all the majors T-Mob is the worst. They have never advertised an average speed that users can expect to see, yet regularly tout their network as the fastest. At CES a couple years ago they had some graphic about how their network was the fastest out there and it turned out they were comparing their network to 2G and 3G, ignoring the Sprint/Clearwire network.


So yes all marketing is marketing and should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. But T-Mob is like movie popcorn. Greasy and extra salty. I think there's an effective metaphor in there somewhere. But my point is, it's hard to take them seriously when they won't ever give you anything you can put on a scorecard.


 

comtech3 12/5/2012 | 5:41:25 PM
re: T-Mobile's Race to Faster 4G

They all lie. Have you being following Verizon LTE  lately? They're the first to launch LTE,and given the limited LTE devices out there, their system goes down more often than it being up. So now, their commercials say they're the fastes network,and have drop "the most reliable" part from their ad.


I think based on their price structure,and with the recent announcement for Iphone support on their network, T-Mobile will prevail.

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