Amid speculation of iPhone launch, T-Mobile gets network ready

There has been another flurry of speculation that T-Mobile USA will soon announce a deal to carry Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. And while it is likely just speculation, the carrier's network is certainly getting primed for such a development.

The latest wave of rumor-mongering was sparked by a report from Merrill Lynch analyst Scott Craig, who wrote in a research note that "speculation is heightening" that T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom will announce an iPhone deal for its U.S. subsidiary at its annual investor conference, which begins Dec. 6. T-Mobile declined to comment on the report.

Craig noted that such a deal would give Apple access to 98 percent of the U.S. postpaid market and 75 percent of the country's total mobile subscribers, according to Fortune. Yet earlier this month T-Mobile COO Jim Alling seemed to throw cold water on the speculation, saying the company was not willing to make major financial sacrifices to add the iPhone to its portfolio.

"Make no mistake about it: We would love to carry the iPhone. However, we want the economies to be right for us," Alling said during the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecoms Conference in Barcelona.

The biggest obstacle to a T-Mobile iPhone is the carrier's network configuration. T-Mobile's HSPA network works on different spectrum bands than what Apple currently supports. As a result, T-Mobile has been busy deploying HSPA on its 1900 MHz PCS spectrum in order to support the iPhone. T-Mobile estimates it has more than 1 million unlocked iPhones on its network, which current access slower EDGE speeds.

But T-Mobile is still in the middle of this refarming process. The carrier announced earlier this month it now counts 15 markets with HSPA on 1900 MHz.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray has said that more markets are expected to launch before year-end. The company is working on adding HSPA+ 1900 MHz capabilities in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, the New York metro area, Philadelphia, San Diego and Seattle.  

At the 4G World conference in Chicago in October, Ray said T-Mobile USA had completed 95 percent of the refarming of its 1900 MHz spectrum but had not launched HSPA+ service in all those markets. Some of company's HSPA+ deployments in its 1900 MHz spectrum were delayed due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. While the refarming effort is proceeding, T-Mobile is unlikely to launch the iPhone until the process is complete.

For more:
- see this Fortune article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this PC Magazine article

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