T-Mobile to upgrade 2G EDGE network to LTE in coverage push

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) said it will upgrade its 2G EDGE network to LTE almost completely by the middle of 2015 as part of a wider effort to expand its LTE coverage footprint. However, it's unclear exactly how many T-Mobile subscribers will be upgraded from 2G EDGE to LTE, and what the effort will cost.

T-Mobile's LTE network currently covers 210 million POPs, and the company has previously said it plans to increase that to 230 million by mid-year and 250 million by the end of 2014. As for its new 2G EDGE upgrade program, T-Mobile said it plans to complete 50 percent of the work on its 2G/EDGE network upgrade this year, and expects the program to be substantially complete by the middle of next year.

T-Mobile said its wireless network for voice and data service covers 96 percent of Americans. A T-Mobile spokesman told FierceWireless that the company's 2G/EDGE network currently covers around 301 million POPs with voice and data service.

A T-Mobile spokesman confirmed that the 301 million POPs figure includes roaming agreements; T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter said recently that the carrier's total footprint covers 285 million people. T-Mobile also said its HSPA+ network now covers 230 million POPs.

It's also unclear which vendors will undertake the 2G EDGE upgrade to LTE, though Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Solutions and Networks are the carrier's two primary LTE network vendors and also support T-Mobile's legacy networks. "We don't have vendors to announce at this time," a T-Mobile spokesman said. "This effort is part of our multi-billion dollar strategy to further improve what is already an amazing network experience for our customers."

Although T-Mobile is upgrading its 2G EDGE network, the carrier confirmed to FierceWireless that it would leave a portion of the 2G EDGE network up and running for older phones and M2M devices. "We currently have 2G in our PCS band and some of it will be refarmed for 4G LTE," the spokesman told FierceWireless. "There will still be sufficient bandwidth to support 2G traffic and it will not affect current users of 2G or M2M customers."

T-Mobile has used its continued support of its 2G network to set itself apart from AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), which has said its plans to shut down its 2G network by 2017.

As previously announced, T-Mobile also plans to begin deploying LTE this year in the 700 MHz A Block spectrum the company is in the process of acquiring from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

Based on T-Mobile's announcements, the carrier will soon offer LTE across three bands: 700 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz AWS.

In addition to announcing the EDGE upgrade, T-Mobile also said it will directly target Verizon Wireless in new T-Mobile ads. In its ads, T-Mobile touts its 96 percent coverage claim and says "Fold up your old map, Verizon."

Source: T-Mobile

"Verizon's ink blots massively understate our coverage and don't begin to represent the actual customer experience on T-Mobile's network," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement. "So we're setting the record straight--both by demanding an end to the misinformation, and by going straight to the people with the truth."

T-Mobile said it has "taken legal action demanding that Verizon cease and desist the carrier's network map advertising," arguing that Verizon "has cherry-picked a single network technology to depict in its ads rather than accurately reflecting the many technologies widely in use today."

In response, Verizon issued a statement: "We prefer to compete in the marketplace, not in the courts. Our customers know what a true nationwide 4G LTE network experience feels like, map or not."

Verizon's LTE network currently covers 305 million POPs. AT&T currently covers 280 million POPs with LTE and aims to hit 300 million by mid-year. Sprint (NYSE:S) covers 200 million POPs with LTE and aims to cover 250 million by mid-year.

For more:
- see this T-Mobile release
- see this T-Mobile ad
- see this PhoneScoop article 

Related Articles:
T-Mobile CFO: $10 price increase on unlimited plans needed to recoup investment
T-Mobile's Ray knocks RootMetrics report, lays out LTE vision
RootMetrics: Verizon tops overall network performance tests, T-Mobile comes in last
T-Mobile notches 1.6M new subs in Q4, will shutter 3 MetroPCS CDMA markets this year
T-Mobile buys Verizon's 700 MHz A Block spectrum for $2.4B

Article updated with additional information from T-Mobile.