On the Hot Seat with T-Mobile USA's Neville Ray

On Monday T-Mobile USA launched its much-anticipated first UMTS/HSDPA market in New York City. Sue Marek, FierceWireless editor-in-chief talked with Neville Ray, senior vice president, engineering operations at T-Mobile USA about the operator's 3G rollout. The company currently offers four UMTS devices, which provide data speeds between 200 Kbps -300 Kbps. However, T-Mobile plans to introduce HSDPA devices later in the year, which will offer data speeds of 600 kbps to 1 Mbps.

FierceWireless: How long have you been working on this? How long did it take you to clear the spectrum and get the devices?

Ray: The auctions were in mid-2006 and we came out of the auctions in 3Q 2006 and kicked off a lot of work. We have been working on the 3G opportunity for several years. We started the network rollout back in 2006 and that has continued over the last 2 years.

FierceWireless: How many markets will get UMTS/HSDPA in 2008?

Ray: We'll have 20 to 25 markets deployed by the end of the year.

FierceWireless: Why did you decide to deploy the New York market first?

Ray: It's a great city and one that's been a success for T-Mobile. We wanted to get New York moving as quickly as we could. We wanted to access that new spectrum we purchased from the government in key markets like New York where our growth is strong. We need to continue to grow our voice business as well as new data services. New York is area where we focused hard and secured some of our best results from a spectrum clearance piece. We worked with government agencies and that went well for us so we were able to move first there. The lessons we learned from New York will be very beneficial for us. It's a tough network and a tough radio environment. The lessons learned will pay huge dividends as we turn up our network in other parts of the U.S.

FierceWireless: Do you plan to launch any laptop cards?

Ray: Potentially we will later this year or in early 2009. But it won't be the core focus of what we will bring to the 3G network. The bigger focus for us is the traditional areas where we play. We will have a more consumer focus, especially in the converged device space. It will be akin to what we have done with our Sidekicks and Blackberry devices.

FierceWireless: We know that text messaging is still a big driver for data but you don't need a 3G network for that. What applications do you think will take off now that you have a 3G network?

Ray: I think we've done very well with 2.5G terminals outside of traditional text messaging. Products like the Sidekick where we have done some cool things with social networking. We've had great adoption of services in that space. Also consumer email-- there's lots of growth in that area. You will see us work very hard in that space. There's a great demand out there for consumers to share and access content in the mobile domain. We will continue to focus on simplicity and ease of use. We think that's key for consumers to really adopt and utilize these services. MyFaves product base has driven significant increases in messaging and connectivity for consumers because it's simpler and intuitive for them to access the services out there. We are keeping our powder dry in terms of specific applications but it will be rich space with lots of offerings from us.

FierceWireless: Are there plenty of devices available in the AWS band?

Ray: It's clearly gaining momentum. We have four devices that we have been selling. Some we've been selling since 2007. The 1.7 and 2.1 bands are starting to be looked at in other parts of the Americas for 3G services. Also what is key for us is that we have a very large mobile business outside the U.S. We are leveraging our international buying power with handset vendor partners to make sure the 1.7 and 2.1 is a relevant and included band in the 3G space. It's not just T-Mobile USA driving the adoption of 1.7 and 2.1 MHz band. Everything is quad-band GSM. Multiband isn't that much of an issue as it was a few years ago.

FierceWireless: Will there be pricing changes when you get consumers on the 3G network?

Ray: We haven't changed anything to date. Customers accessing UMTS in New York today will not have a change. I think going forward as we bring new services and applications to market we will upgrade our pricing as it's appropriate for the marketplace. A big part of T-Mobile's success is delivering great value to the customer. We will continue to do that.

Check out T-Mobile USA's four UMTS devices here:

Nokia 3555 - Click here for an image

Nokia 6263- Click here for an image

Samsung t819 - Click here for an image

Samsung t639 - Click here for an image