T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) eventually intends to deploy spectrum for LTE service in configurations that are larger than 20x20 MHz, according to CFO Braxton Carter. However, he did not provide a specific timeline for that effort.
Speaking at the Oppenheimer Technology, Internet & Communications Conference, Carter said T-Mobile will have "several" 20x20 MHz LTE deployments on air by the end of the year.
Carter said T-Mobile will need to engage in some engineering work to make sure its remote radio heads can support 30x30 MHz or 40x40 MHz deployments, but he said T-Mobile will "expand past 20x20" as its network evolves.
The T-Mobile CFO noted that T-Mobile does not have legacy technologies or spectrum bands to support, which he said means the carrier can deploy spectrum on its network more quickly and efficiently than its competitors. With wider LTE spectrum channels, T-Mobile will be able to offer faster speeds and more capacity.
"That speed translates into significant 4G data capacity that we can put over the network," he said. "The faster it's going through the pipe, the more we can carry over the pipe." The carrier's long-term goal is to have at least 20x20 MHz LTE configurations "in all of our major metropolitan areas," he said.
T-Mobile currently has 15x15 MHz LTE deployments in 17 markets and expects to have 26 by year-end. The carrier calls its 15x15 MHz LTE deployments "Wideband LTE." The carrier's overall LTE network now covers 235 million POPs, and Carter said and the company aims to cover at least 250 million POPs by the end of 2014.
Interestingly, Carter said that T-Mobile will look to buy more 700 MHz A Block spectrum, but "will be very disciplined and opportunistic" in acquiring it. "We're probably the natural buyer," he said, adding that T-Mobile is in conversations with other companies but that those may need to be paused because of collusion rules related to the AWS-3 auction, which starts in November. He said that in the first part of 2015, T-Mobile might pursue more A Block deals, but that in the meantime it will start seeding its customer base with smartphones that can support A Block spectrum, starting in the fourth quarter. U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) is one of the other large remaining holders of A Block spectrum.
T-Mobile purchased $2.365 billion worth of 700 MHz A Block spectrum from Verizon Wireless earlier this year, and more recently purchased $50.5 million worth of A Block 700 MHz spectrum from CenturyLink, I-700 A Block LLC and others.
Carter also took the opportunity to knock Sprint (NYSE: S), which last week dropped its plans to merge with T-Mobile amid intense regulatory opposition. Carter said that pushback from regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice "could not have been stronger."
"I think it's going to be difficult for Sprint," Carter said. He noted that the centerpiece of Sprint's network strategy is to use its vast trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum for TD-LTE services to deliver superfast speeds. Yet Carter noted that because of the weak propagation characteristics of 2.5 GHz spectrum, Sprint will need to invest significantly for "years" to build out that network on a nationwide basis. Sprint aims to have 100 million POPs covered with 2.5 GHz LTE by the end of 2014.
"The issue is that the densification that is required in the network to have a ubiquitous 4G data experience using that spectrum is a lot more densification than that network currently has today," he said. The spectrum can deliver fast speeds, he said, but "what good is that if you just churn them right out the back door?"
Speaking about M&A opportunities, Carter called French operator Iliad's $15 billion bid for 56.6 percent of T-Mobile "very flattering" but "a very inadequate value proposition." However, he added, "I think rarely people come with their best bid to start," and said Iliad founder Xavier Niel is a "very impressive entrepreneur."
Carter also called Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) Chairman Charlie Ergen a "brilliant man" and noted that Dish's AWS-4 and 1900 MHz PCS H Block spectrum are near T-Mobile's spectrum holdings, and that it would be prohibitively expensive for Ergen to build out a network on his own. Ergen has said now that a Sprint/T-Mobile deal is off the table he remains open to partnering with T-Mobile but is not ruling out any options in wireless, including working more closely with Sprint.
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Correction, Aug. 18, 2014: This article incorrectly stated the number of covered POPs T-Mobile now has covered with LTE; it is 235 million.