Where Will T-Mobile Bring LTE First?
As part of its breakup fee from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), T-Mobile received a large packet of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum in 128 cellular markets, including 12 of the top 20 markets. Those 12 were Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Baltimore and Seattle. (See T-Mobile Gets Spectrum in AT&T Breakup.)
Looking at these markets provides the most logical starting point, with a special nod to Dallas, given how entrenched T-Mobile's competitors and vendors are there.
T-Mobile is the last of the big four carriers in the U.S. to start to move to 4G LTE. The technology will mean faster data downloads and uploads than its current high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) service. The service might double the speeds offered on average by the operator's HSPA+ 42 service. (See T-Mobile Promises Multi-Megabit Peaks on LTE.)
So far, all that T-Mobile has said is that it expects to have service up and running in the vast majority of the top 50 markets in the U.S. by the end of 2013. Some 75 percent of the top 25 markets will get LTE in 2OMHz channels, which should mean better download speeds and capacity for those lucky customers. Most of the remaining markets not served by 20MHz will have 10MHz, according to Berge Ayvazian, senior consultant with Heavy Reading . (See T-Mobile Revamps Marketing for LTE and T-Mobile Turns FauxG Into 4G.)
"I would expect T-Mobile to prioritize LTE deployment in those 18 markets with 20MHz and then expand to approximately half of its 4G POP coverage in 2013," Ayvazian says.
The carrier already uses AWS spectrum (1700/2100MHz) for its high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) network, but it plans to move that to 1900MHz so that it can deploy LTE in AWS. It'll most likely get started on this process in the areas in which it has the backhaul capabilities and equipment already in place to do so. (See T-Mobile Execs Plan LTE-Powered Revival .)
"Since T-Mob will be playing catchup it would make sense to go after the markets where it can go commercial the fastest, so that would be those cities with the most free AWS spectrum," Ovum Ltd. analyst Daryl Schooler wrote in an email to LR Mobile. "I would think the first cities would either be those with spectrum from AT&T ... or those where it has unused AWS."
The logic makes sense, but it doesn't make pinpointing actual markets any easier, since T-Mobile's AWS spectrum holdings aren't well known. Instead, looking at T-Mobile's HSPA+ deployment schedule might hint at where it takes LTE first.
It started rolling out HSPA+ at 24Mbit/s in Philadelphia in 2010, followed closely by New York, New Jersey, Long Island, Washington and Los Angeles. When it came time to upgrade to HSPA+ 42Mbit/s, Las Vegas, New York and Orlando, Fla. were among the first to get the speed hike. (See 4G World: Faster 3G in US – Charting HSPA+ and T-Mobile Busts Out With 42Mbit/s Service.)
Back to Texas...
Another possibility would be for T-Mobile to follow its peers and its vendors down South to Texas. Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nokia Networks have a presence in Dallas, Schooler pointed out, making that market a natural to start with. "Maybe in time for a demo at 4G Americas," he speculated.
T-Mobile would face a lot of competition, however, as Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) plans to launch its first LTE market in Dallas, and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless are already established here. (See Sprint's 4G LTE Texan Triangle.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile