T-Mobile picks Ericsson, NSN as its LTE vendors

NEW ORLEANS--T-Mobile USA selected Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia Siemens Networks as its primary infrastructure vendors for its forthcoming LTE network. T-Mobile is the last of the nation's Tier 1 carriers to pick vendors for an LTE rollout. 

Ericsson and Nokia Siemens will install LTE Release 10-capable equipment at 37,000 cell sites across T-Mobile's HSPA+ network footprint as part of the carrier's effort to increase signal quality and improve network performance this year. T-Mobile will formally launch LTE next year as part of a $1.4 billion investment T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom is making this year and next year; the investments will total $4 billion over time. 

T-Mobile said it expects to be the first carrier in North America to deploy antenna integrated radios, which it said will speed up its rollout and reduce the load it puts on cell sites. Integrated radios are a growing trend among infrastructure vendors. By integrating the radio and the antenna, carriers can reduce power consumption and space on cell towers. 

For Ericsson, the T-Mobile deal completes a sweep of major LTE contracts with all four of the country's Tier 1 carriers. Both AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) chose Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent as their primary LTE vendors. Sprint Nextel, meanwhile, chose Ericsson, Alcatel-lucent and Samsung as the three main vendors for its Network Vision network modernization plan, which includes an upgrade to LTE. 

The win for Nokia Siemens is especially important given its lagging position in the North American market relative to Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. NSN, which like Ericsson is a key supplier for T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, has won LTE contracts around the world, but had been shut out of major contracts by U.S. carriers.

"For Ericsson, they're now everywhere. Ericsson and NSN were the 3G suppliers, so it's not particularly surprising," Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich told FierceWireless. "If NSN hadn't won then they were completely going to have rethink their strategy on North America. And it would have been a complete blow to their reputation."

Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said the deal "fortifies Ericsson's position in the U.S. and for NSN it now cracked the U.S. LTE market--one of its strategic objectives."

T-Mobile plans to launch LTE service on its AWS spectrum, including some spectrum it received from AT&T as a condition of the $6 billion breakup fee AT&T paid Deutsche Telkom when AT&T's $39 billion bid for T-Mobile collapsed last year. As part of the breakup fee, T-Mobile scored AWS spectrum from AT&T in 128 market areas, including in 12 of the top 20 markets in the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

T-Mobile plans to use the new AWS spectrum for its LTE deployment in 2013. Currently, T-Mobile offers an HSPA+42 network covering 184 million POPs in 185 markets, and its HSPA+21 network covers around 220 million POPs. The breakup fee includes $3 billion in cash, as well as a seven-year UMTS roaming agreements that will allow T-Mobile to expand its coverage to 280 million POPs from 230 million today. T-Mobile has said it will have enough AWS spectrum in 75 percent of the top 25 markets to roll out LTE with 10 MHz of spectrum.

As part of its network upgrade, by the end of 2012 T-Mobile will deploy HSPA+ services in its PCS 1900 MHz spectrum band, which it is currently using for 2G GSM services (the carrier's HSPA+ network currently runs on T-Mobile's 1700 MHz AWS spectrum). The company said it will continue to support 2G customers as it refarms the spectrum. T-Mobile said network modernization trials have shown a 33 percent improvement in HSPA+ data speeds and in-building signal penetration.

Jarich said he did not know how quickly T-Mobile's LTE deployment would proceed, but said it will be entirely dependent upon how quickly T-Mobile can refarm its spectrum. "It's going to be a function of how they move people off their spectrum," he said. "When they're ready to move forward the network sites should be ready to move forward pretty quickly." Jarich also noted that NSN announced a new solution to help carriers with GSM spectrum refarming.

"With these partners on board and the AT&T AWS spectrum secured, we're on track to enhance our 4G experience this year and deliver nationwide LTE in 2013," T-Mobile CTO Nevile Ray said in a statement. Ray will be speaking at the annual FierceWireless "Path to 4G" conference at the CTIA Wireless 2012 conference here on May 8.

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