T-Mobile CTO: We want to be the best roaming partner ever

Neville Ray T-Mobile
T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray addresses the Competitive Carriers Association at its annual meeting in Seattle.

SEATTLE—If anyone had been wondering whether T-Mobile US would still be as committed to fair roaming agreements now that it’s growing like gangbusters, CTO Neville Ray reassured operator partners and potential partners that T-Mobile aims to be the “best damn roaming partner you’ll ever have.”

T-Mobile has been crowing about how much of the country it covers with LTE, even going so far as to say it covers nearly everyone that Verizon reaches. Verizon built its reputation on network quality and coverage over the years while T-Mobile, until recent years, struggled with the absence of a lot of low-band spectrum with which to work.

Smaller and regional carriers over the years also have complained about unfair roaming deals proffered by the likes of Verizon and AT&T, and even though T-Mobile is putting itself in or above those two in network power, it doesn’t want to mimic their behavior when it comes to roaming.

In the last 12-15 months, T-Mobile added 1 million square miles of LTE coverage, largely due to its new 700 MHz spectrum licenses, and that number is now approaching about 2 million square miles of LTE coverage. But the U.S. is a big place, and there’s still a long way to go, Ray told the audience here at the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) annual trade show. The group represents Tier 2 and 3 wireless operators – pretty much everyone except Verizon and AT&T. Sprint is also a CCA member, along with T-Mobile.

Part of T-Mobile’s footprint story involves CCA members with which T-Mobile strikes roaming agreements so customers can seamlessly roam onto their networks where T-Mobile doesn’t have its own coverage. "We want to be the best damn roaming partner you could ever work with,” Ray said. “But we need LTE.”

As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in his keynote preceding Ray’s, LTE is now table stakes, and it should be available across the entire nation. “We want to do that through great roaming relationships” as well as its organic footprint, Ray said, stressing the need to cover more rural areas.

Some of T-Mobile's gaps in LTE coverage are being filled “by folks here in the room with us, through great roaming arrangements,” he added. “We want to continue that, we want to grow that. We don’t need to build all of this network ourselves.”

Another reason for operators to deploy LTE is for the next iteration of voice calls, which is VoLTE. “If we get LTE up, we have VoLTE," Ray said. "Sixty percent of the calls on the T-Mobile network today are on VoLTE, that is a global leading stat... So nobody in the U.S. understands VoLTE better [and] can help you more than T-Mobile."

Ray posed the question: How did little old T-Mobile come from nowhere and build what it asserts is the fastest LTE network in the United States?

“We’ve achieved more in the last three years in terms of footprint growth and LTE buildout than I’ve ever seen in the prior 16, 17 years,” said Ray, who has been working on some version of T-Mobile’s network for the past 21 years. “Our footprint is now 312 million covered people in the United States," very similar to a Verizon and AT&T number. “And we’ve come really from nowhere.”

For more:
- watch Ray's keynote below:

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