T-Mobile's 'data-strong' network gains LTE coverage, bandwidth

T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) UnCarrier 5.0 event--held at Seattle's Paramount Theater--was rife with news about the operator's network, including the facts that it has extended its LTE footprint, has more cities with multiple LTE spectrum bands and has broadened voice over LTE (VoLTE) availability.

Neville Ray T-Mobile CTO


Though most consumers will probably focus on two other announcements from the event--free music streaming services and a loaner phone program so customers can "test drive" its network--the upgrades T-Mobile has made to its network will ultimately have just as much impact in terms of the customer experience.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray touted efforts the operator has undertaken to build what he called a "data-strong" network.

"At T-Mobile we have the most dense network in the nation: we have more cell sites per customer than any other nationwide wireless company, and we've concentrated them where it really matters. On top of this network we deploy the most data-friendly mid-band spectrum of any carrier in the U.S. The result: the best LTE performance in the industry," Ray said in a blog entry on the T-Mobile website.

According to PCMag, Ray's reference to "the most dense" network reflects the fact that T-Mobile built smaller cells to operate over its 1700 MHz and 1900 MHz spectrum rather than the 700 MHz and 850 MHz spectrum its rivals had. Therefore, T-Mobile has more cell sites per square mile and more data capacity in each city.

Ray also claimed T-Mobile has more network capacity per customer than any nationwide carrier and the lowest latency on its LTE network. Further, he took a shot at market leaders AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), saying their networks "are choking on today's world of data-driven mobile broadband communications."

T-Mobile's 3G and LTE networks have ranked highly in independent tests, though the company is often faulted for having poor rural coverage, as it was in recent tests conducted by PCMag. However, Ray said T-Mobile's LTE footprint will exceed 230 million POPs by the end of June. In releasing its first-quarter 2014 results on May 1, T-Mobile said its LTE coverage had reached 220 million POPs and that it would cover 250 million by the end of 2014.

He also announced that T-Mobile is now offering what it calls "Wideband LTE," with 15+15 MHz service, in 16 U.S. markets. The Wideband LTE moniker is the operator's marketing term for spectrum deployments of at least 15x15 MHz. Similarly, Sprint  (NYSE: S) has dubbed its tri-band service Spark, while Verizon has begun using XLTE to designate the AWS spectrum it is using to complement its original 700 MHz LTE footprint.

At the time of its first-quarter 2014 earnings announcement, T-Mobile said it had deployed 15+15 MHz LTE in nine metro areas and will have 19 covered by year-end. It had also deployed 20+20 MHz LTE in North Dallas and Detroit and pledged to have seven such deployments by the end of 2014.

In late May, T-Mobile activated VoLTE in the Seattle area for customers using three devices, the LG Electronics G Flex and Samsung Electronics Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Light. The carrier slightly beat AT&T's VoLTE launch.

Ray said T-Mobile is now offering VoLTE in 15 markets and expects to have nationwide VoLTE before the end of 2014. He said the operator already has more VoLTE devices than anyone else and announced VoLTE will be available on the Samsung Galaxy S 5 in VoLTE-enabled markets as of June 19.  

T-Mobile is trying to make VoLTE a differentiating factor. Ray said T-Mobile's VoLTE offers the highest-fidelity HD Voice possible with a 23.85 kbps voice codec rate and enables faster call set-up times than a non-VoLTE call.

For more:
- see this T-Mobile blog entry
- see this FierceWireless article
- see this PCMag article
- see this Re/code article
- see this CNET article

Related articles:
Verizon snags 'fastest LTE network' crown from AT&T in new test
T-Mobile launches VoLTE in Seattle, promises more markets this year
T-Mobile adds 1.3M postpaid subs in Q1, blowing past rivals
T-Mobile's Ray knocks RootMetrics report, lays out LTE vision

Correction, July 1, 2014: This article incorrectly described what T-Mobile's Wideband LTE describes. It is the operator's marketing term for spectrum deployments of at least 15x15 MHz.