T-Mobile's Legere vows to go toe-to-toe with Verizon's network, overtake Sprint in 2015

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) CEO John Legere is not giving his rivals a holiday break, vowing to compete head on with Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) in terms of network quality and surpass Sprint (NYSE: S) in subscribers to become the nation's No. 3 carrier in 2015.

In a lengthy blog post, Legere offered his predictions for next year, tweaked his rivals, promised to keep listening to customers and solving their "pain points" and vowed to bring T-Mobile's "uncarrier" offerings to more consumers.  

A lack of network coverage has been a sore spot for T-Mobile, whose executives argue that the company's LTE network expansion is moving along at blistering pace and that market perceptions have not yet caught up with reality. Legere disclosed that T-Mobile's LTE network now covers 264 million POPs, up from 260 million just two weeks ago. Verizon's LTE network covers around 306 million POPs.  

"So, yeah, there are places we don't reach yet. But, here's the interesting part, where we do reach the same people our LTE network is the fastest nationwide," Legere wrote.  "And, this coming year, we'll cover 300 million people with our blazing-fast LTE network--not to mention we plan on covering more than 150 metro areas with Wideband LTE and deploying 700 MHz spectrum in approximately 350 metro areas. So, what are they going to do when we reach everyone they reach with a faster network? Yeah, this is real, Verizon."

T-Mobile launched "Wideband" LTE, its marketing term for deployments of at least 15x15 MHz, in 27 major markets and 121 "metropolitan areas" in those markets. T-Mobile has pledged to expand its LTE coverage to 280 million by mid-2015. And, by using its 700 MHz A-Block spectrum, the company expects to hit the 300 million covered POP mark by the end of 2015.

Earlier this month T-Mobile announced its first cities with 700 MHz deployments that have gone live, in Cleveland; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Minneapolis; and Washington, D.C. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said on the conference call that T-Mobile is expanding both inbuilding coverage and its general geographic footprint via the 700 MHz deployments, and that T-Mobile already supports five devices that can access the spectrum band, with more to come in 2015.

Verizon and AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) still lead T-Mobile in LTE coverage (AT&T says it covers around 300 million POPs with LTE) and Sprint covers 260 million POPs with its 1900 MHz LTE network and 100 million POPs with its 2.5 GHz TD-LTE network.

Legere had some choice words for Sprint. In August, just after Sprint replaced CEO Dan Hesse with Marcelo Claure, Legere predicted that T-Mobile would pass Sprint in terms of subscribers. At the end of the third quarter T-Mobile has 52.89 million total customers, below Sprint's 55.03 million. Legere stood by his prediction.

"T-Mobile will—officially--become the No. 3 wireless company in America in 2015," Legere wrote. "This summer, I said we'd blow by Sprint by the end of 2014 to become the No. 3 wireless company in the U.S. They have been swinging the bat since I made that statement, so we won't know where things stand until we get the final score after we both report Q4 earnings, but whether it is now--or soon--I'm telling you, it's a done deal!"

Under Claure, Sprint has focused on its value message, and has introduced shared data plans that offer double the data allotments of similar plans from Verizon and AT&T. Sprint has also introduced individual unlimited data plans at prices $20 to $30 below what T-Mobile offers.

In terms of other developments to look forward to in 2015, Legere said that T-Mobile will bring "uncarrier" moves to "whole new groups of people," including potentially customers without smartphones or home broadband Internet service.

"More than a prediction, this one is a promise," he wrote. "We'll make more Un-carrier moves and continue to improve and expand past moves. And, we'll take the Un-carrier movement to entirely new groups of people.  For instance… Did you know like a quarter of the people in this country don't yet have a smartphone, and a quarter of households don't have Internet access? They need some Un-carrier attention! And there are countless small and mid-sized businesses out there we can help. There's still a sh*t-ton of important work to do." 

Legere also said T-Mobile's MetroPCS prepaid brand will continue to push ahead in the market and the company is "continuing to open new doors, add new handsets and offer new solutions to these customers."

In terms of regulatory policy, Legere noted the AWS-3 auction will soon end and attention will turn to the incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum, currently scheduled to start in early 2016.

"However, I am sure that AT&T and Verizon will continue to try and monopolize the industry as well as try to stall the incentive auction, preventing competitive carriers like T-Mobile from winning sufficient amounts of low-band spectrum," Legere wrote. "The U.S. Government will need to step in and ensure that companies like the Un-carrier can continue to fight the big guys by establishing balanced rules for this auction. Then we will be able to keep driving innovation in this industry!"
The T-Mobile chief also added that "the net neutrality debate will shift from a war of words to the hard work of charting a real path forward." Legere has said, like other executives at wireless carriers, that he is opposed to the FCC reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
"There's strong emotion on every side of the net neutrality issue," Legere wrote. "But we all agree on one thing: a free and open Internet. In the coming year, I predict that D.C. and the industry will begin the incredibly hard work of figuring out how we achieve that goal."

For more:
- see this T-Mobile blog post

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