T-Mobile USA's 3G: Better late than never?

Yesterday T-Mobile USA's CEO Robert Dotson reminded us that the carrier does not have a nationwide 3G network yet and that the carrier will spend an estimated $10.3 billion between 2007 and 2009 for 2G and 3G network deployments.

FierceWireless has been tracking T-Mobile USA's 3G plans for the last few years. In December 2005 the carrier said it planned to build out its 3G network by the end of 2006, but as analysts guessed at the time, the network's deployment was ultimately delayed and did not begin rolling out until 2007. The carrier did not have enough spectrum holdings to support a 3G network rollout, and it needed to wait until after the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum auction of 2006 to begin rolling out its 3G network. T-Mobile was the big winner of the auction--with over $4.2 billion worth of spectrum. 

Of course, by the end of 2006, rivals Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and AT&T had been offering advanced data services and marketing the capabilities of their 3G networks, while T-Mobile USA has remained on the sidelines sharpening their 3G strategy.

So far, T-Mobile USA has announced that Nokia and Ericsson are among the vendors that will help build out its 3G network. The carrier also began selling its first 3G phone, Samsung's T639, a quad-band GSM/EDGE and WCDMA 1700 MHz clamshell, in New York City last October. Even as the phone went on sale, however, the WCDMA network was not up and running.

Hanging back hasn't propelled the carrier out of its fourth place standing among the big carriers in the U.S., but it's also largely kept it out of the over-hyped mobile content business. At the end of 2006, then T-Mobile International's CEO Rene Obermann said that T-Mobile USA was "looking at the area of user generated content… where we could leverage or basically mobilize the trends which we can see on websites such as MySpace, YouTube or others... as well as data management scenarios and consumer mobile email. We want to leverage existing behavior... when it comes to mobile music and TV, I wouldn't consider them big revenue generators."

In 2006, the carrier said it planned to spend $2.7 billion on its 3G deployment over the next few years, while making use of its $4.2 billion worth of spectrum that it won in the AWS auction. Now, Dotson has updated that figure to more than $10 billion for 2G and 3G network deployments. T-Mobile had previously estimated that these upgrades would enable it to capture 18 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. market or increase its 23 million strong subscriber base to between 35 million and 40 million by 2015.

The question remains: Has T-Mobile USA benefited from their late start in 3G? I'd like to hear your thoughts. -Brian