T-Mobile's Neville Ray: We will have more G series phones in 2009

As the newly elected chairperson of the 3G Americas' Board of Governors, Neville Ray, senior vice president of engineering and operations at T-Mobile USA, will play a pivotal role in promoting and driving 3G growth in the U.S. Ray and 3G America's President Chris Pearson talked with FierceWireless editor-in-chief Sue Marek about Ray's new role with the association, T-Mobile's UMTS/HSPA deployment progress and its plans to launch more G series phones in 2009.

FierceWireless: Neville, this is your debut as the chairperson of 3G Americas. What do you hope to bring to the organization?

Ray: It's exciting to join the association. It has a very important role in driving the 3G and GSM family of products and technologies. From a tech perspective, spectrum perspective, we need to continue to drive rich development path for the technology and provide a rich opportunity for spectrum growth.  3G Americas plays a pivotal role in driving these opportunities because it harnesses operators, vendors and federal authorities and government entities. This is something that is clearly aligned with T-Mobile's objectives in the U.S.

FierceWireless:  T-Mobile recently sent a letter to congressional bipartisan leaders saying that the U.S. economy is having an impact on its buildout plans for advanced services . How is T-Mobile USA's UMTS deployment progressing?

Ray: We are going to be more aggressive in 2009 than originally planned. In fact, we are looking to double our 3G reach in 2009.  Some of the commentary in the filing talked to the fact that that type of investment is an ongoing challenge for any company in this environment.  But we are not deterred. We are hopeful that federal program talked about will transpire into something that is beneficial for wireless industry and wireless consumer in the U.S.  It's a great opportunity to ensure all forms of broadband access.  The wireless operators have a unique and distinct opportunity to enable broadband access in the U.S.

FierceWireless:  Is 3G Americas helping operators in getting some of the federal stimulus incentives for wireless broadband?  Are you working with other organizations?

Pearson:  3G Americas is working to ensure awareness that when they write the language of the stimulus package that they include both broadband and mobile broadband.  We want then to look at technology neutrality and offer an open playing field for all technologies if they compete.

FierceWireless: Neville, you and I talked back in May 2008 when T-Mobile just started its UMTS deployment. Give me an update on your rollout.  You said you have been more aggressive than planned.

Ray: We have surpassed 20-25 markets. We launched earlier than planned in many of those markets. We were successful in the rollout and turning on the network. Most markets were turned on by Oct. 31. Today we have more than 100 million covered POPs and 130 cities in 27 markets.   

Our plan in 2009 is to double the number of covered POPs and top 208 million POPs. We expect to be in more than 300 cities by the end of 2009. That takes us to competitive parity in most areas of the country with Verizon and AT&T.

FierceWireless: Are you still focused on consumer devices? Do you have plans to launch any laptop cards or USB dongles?

Ray: Our primary focus is consumer-based devices. As the year progresses there will be a significant number of HSPA-capable smart phones.  We will be launching more G series phones and other products.  You will see us launch a data card product. This will be happening in the coming weeks and months.   

FierceWireless: Your competitors have all first launched laptop cards and then followed with devices.  Why have you taken a different angle?

Ray: Our primary focus is on the consumer market. We see that is very complementary to broadband access and service available with data card. We do see demand and interest in that. But we are less enterprise focused than some of our competition. The consumer market has been our initial focus. And that has been very successful. We think there is a sweet spot for us to bring compelling devices to the market. We have had success with the G1 and the Samsung Behold HSPA touch-capable device.

FierceWireless: You are deploying your UMTS/HSPA service in the AWS spectrum that T-Mobile was awarded in the AWS auction.  But you didn't get any 700 MHz spectrum. What is the next step for T-Mobile?

Ray: We did purchase a large volume of spectrum and doubled our spectrum assets in the U.S. with the 1700 MHz spectrum and 2100 MHz spectrum. We effectively doubled our assets. So the network we are launching uses 10 MHz of spectrum and we have 30 MHz so we have headroom to grow. There also are spectrum efficiencies with HSPA and HSPA+. 

We have been purposeful about buying spectrum. We are comfortable with those holdings. We were very successful last year in clearing that spectrum. 

If you look at the opportunity for us going forward, AWS gives us significant headroom for the near future.  There are several paths to LTE.  We can refarm the 1900 MHz spectrum at some time where our GSM customers are today.  There are clearly opportunities with reutilizing that spectrum with technologies that are more efficient and economically attractive for data use.

We spent a lot of time optimizing our network for voice services on HSPA. That is different from what has happened elsewhere with HSPA.  Most operators deployed HSPA for data. We spent enormous effort with vendors partners utilizing it for voice services. We have a great opportunity with the network structure to migrate customers from GSM to HSPA.

Nevertheless, we are very keen to see more spectrum become available in the U.S. and we will encourage dialogue about that.  We have been in extensive discussions with FCC over AWS-3 spectrum. We are trying to bring that to market in a way most beneficial to the U.S. consumer, and would enable existing operators to grow using this significant piece of spectrum that's available.

Pearson: From 3G Americas standpoint, we support 1700 MHz spectrum and 2100 MHz spectrum throughout the region where it is available.  We also support 700 MHz spectrum. With AWS-3 and the issues that we faced in the past few years, 3G Americas feels strongly about protecting the license holders in the AWS to make sure there are no interference issues.

This is a critical time with spectrum. To provide the type of services we want to provide for the growth we are seeing in data services, we need to make sure we maximize the use of spectrum. We also need to make sure the spectrum is coordinated and is brought to the market.