T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has built out its LTE with lightning speed, and now the operator is planning to complement that effort by enabling lightning-fast mobile broadband speeds to its customers.
Company COO Jim Alling reflected on T-Mobile's impressive achievements during 2013, telling investors at this week's UBS Global Media & Communications Conference, "What a difference a year makes for us."
T-Mobile was aiming to achieve coverage numbers to justify a claim of nationwide LTE coverage by year-end 2013. Instead, the operator surprised even itself with its rapid deployment. "We moved from not having a presence in 4G LTE to nationwide coverage by the end of the third quarter," said Alling.
T-Mobile now covers 203 million people with LTE in more than 250 markets. Helping speed things along was T-Mobile's laser-focused modernization program, which began in 2012 a few months after the company's planned merger with AT&T (NYSE:T) fizzled due to government opposition. Once it knew it would be on its own, T-Mobile moved to make backhaul improvements, get necessary zoning clearances and start upgrading its cell sites to prepare them for LTE.
Alling noted that T-Mobile closed its purchase of MetroPCS on May 1 and became a public company. He said integration of MetroPCS' operations with T-Mobile's has "continued to go very, very smoothly." The process is ahead of schedule and cost savings are better than anticipated, Alling added.
Now that it has a significant LTE footprint, T-Mobile is shifting its focus to add capacity where possible. The operator offers 10x10 MHz (10 MHz uplink and 10 MHz downlink) LTE in 40 of 50 major markets, a feat achieved by combining its 1.7/2.1 GHz AWS spectrum with AWS frequencies originally belonging to MetroPCS. "We're seeing tremendous speeds with that," Alling said, though he declined to share specifics.
But T-Mobile has also begun launching 20x20 channels, starting with a quiet launch using 100 sites in north Dallas. The company said previously that it plans to eventually cover 90 percent of the top 25 markets with 20x20 MHz LTE.
In October, rival operator Sprint (NYSE:S) demonstrated 1 Gbps over-the-air speed in its Burlingame, Calif., labs. Alling was apparently referencing that when he said, "Sprint has done some things that theoretically in the lab are interesting." But he emphasized that T-Mobile's speed improvements are out of the lab and commercially available.
Further, T-Mobile has ensured that all of its new devices are compatible with 20x20 channels, which enable data uplink speeds of 47-50 Mbps and downlink speeds up to 150 Mbps. Sprint, in comparison, has just a handful of devices supporting its Sprint Spark tri-mode LTE service, which currently offers speeds up to 50-60 Mbps.
In order to build a more robust 20x20 MHz footprint, Alling said T-Mobile needs to clear and refarm more of its and MetroPCS' 1900 MHz spectrum to make room for LTE. That will occur throughout 2014 and should be completed by 2015, "when we have much a broader 20x20 footprint," he said.
Further, the company hopes to gain low-band spectrum, whose long-range propagation characteristics would be particularly useful for suburban and rural areas. It would also help T-Mobile improve in-building coverage. The company has been lobbying the FCC to put bidding restrictions on larger rivals AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in the forthcoming 600 MHz auction.
"We've got a mid-band spectrum position that's unrivaled," Alling said. "But we are pretty much absent on the low band side of things."
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Sprint Spark to combine LTE in 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz, will offer 50-60 Mbps peak speeds