In T-Mobile USA's fourth quarter 2011 earnings report, the magenta-branded carrier made official its plans to deliver LTE in 2013 on its AWS spectrum holdings, which were recently bolstered with more AWS acquired from the failed AT&T merger. In addition, the carrier will continue to deploy HSPA+ WCDMA carriers on its PCS 1900 holdings as part of its spectrum refarming efforts where possible. Some 37,000 cell sites will receive new hardware (likely new software defined radio base stations) that will make possible first HSPA+ improvements, and later the ability to light up LTE carriers when the time is right.

There has been considerable speculation about what T-Mobile's long term LTE plans would be leading up to this announcement, and the news doesn't come as a surprise for a number of reasons. In recent months, T-Mobile has been engaging in a number of practices to further its efforts to refarm PCS 1900 spectrum which it currently fills with GSM carriers. Efforts such as offering its entire "4G" collection of phones for free on contract signal the carrier's intention to get more subscribers on WCDMA, and in other markets with lots of PCS users have already reported seeing WCDMA on 1900 MHz PCS. In addition, the move will enable subscribers with unlocked iPhones in the USA a chance to get off of EDGE and onto 3G WCDMA. The absence of the iPhone is something T-Mobile identifies in their report as a "significant cause of contract deactivations," and more deployments of 1900 MHz WCDMA in conjunction with plans to offer more support for iPhone users are no coincidence. 

Lighting up WCDMA carriers on PCS 1900 will also enable T-Mobile to deploy DC-HSPA+ in some markets where it can't already. Dual-band DC-HSPA+ is a 3GPP Rel.9 feature that multiple upcoming basebands will support. It isn't completely clear just how much spectrum T-Mobile will end up with on average for LTE, but 5 MHz FDD in some markets and 10 MHz FDD in others seems like a good bet. As an aside, I would still love to see at least someone run 15 or 20 MHz FDD-LTE here in the USA. Update: During T-Mobile's "Challenger Strategy" conference call today, 10 MHz FDD-LTE on AWS was noted as the most likely target, which would bring peak LTE downstream speeds of 73 Mbps.

T-Mobile expects to reach broad deployment of LTE, with service in the vast majority of the top 50 markets and 20 MHz (10 MHz FDD) service in 75 percent of the top 25 markets. Most remaining markets will have 10 MHz (5 MHz FDD). 

The last encouraging and unstated bit of all this is that there's some chance that eventually we'll see some LTE device compatibility between AT&T and T-Mobile, who have both now announced support for LTE on AWS. 

Source: T-Mobile Earnings, Challenger Strategy

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  • reuthermonkey1 - Thursday, February 23, 2012 - link

    It's great to see that T-Mobile has finally seen the light on this. It's unfortunate that they had to have their backs against the wall to do the obvious.

    Their spectrum refarming should have started 2 years ago, when they noticed how popular the iPhone was becoming. Them not actually offering an iPhone hasn't been an issue for over 1 million of their customers who have purchased them unlocked, and dealt with EDGE data for 3 years now. Had they reclaimed their spectrum 2 years ago, They could have beat Verizon to the punch on being the first competitor to ATT with support for the 3g iPhones. No clue why they didn't take advantage of that while they could have.

    Moreover, it's good to see that they are in fact pushing for LTE deployment on the AWS band to match with ATT. That will keep the competition going, and with 42mbps HSPA+ for fallback, TMO can at least provide a pretty consistent experience across its entire network, without the massive drop in data speeds that Verizon and Sprint will see going from LTE->EvDO.

    Glad to see that all 4 carriers will finally be moving onto a single standard eventually.
  • sprockkets - Thursday, February 23, 2012 - link

    Meh, carriers that sell the iphone make little to no money off of them, and LTE on Att and Verizon is on 700mhz. You aren't going to have a same freq and tech supported on all carriers ever.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, February 23, 2012 - link

    2 years ago they had probably already decided that their best bet was to get bought out and started prep work for the obvious ATT deal.
  • Bookburner - Friday, February 24, 2012 - link

    I dont understand why tmo wants to build lte. The can get speeds up to 84mbps if they just upgrade and tweek their exsisting 42mbps hspa network. Maybe if it was a lte advanced network it would make sense. But they can have comparable hspa speeds without the big disadvantage of huge battery drain of the lte chips not to mention size and heat as well. It would be a good strategy for them to keep prices down without sacrificing much performance. Especially since they wouldnt have to spend a few hundred million on a new network.
  • octavio - Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - link

    Hey Bookburner, the reason why Tmo wants LTE because that way they can phase out the 2g service (just like At&T) to which would free up a lot spectrum. T-mobile is approaching this upgrade the smart way unlike big red or blue and even sprint networks. Remember true 4g was established at 100mb per second and I hope they have LTE-Advanced and bump up their HSPA+ to 84mb. But here is the funny thing that they already have HSPA+ that can go faster the LTE, all you they need is to change the software. I heard it from a reliable grapevine at tmo that the iphone 5 is comming this summer. At first I thought my source was BS's me but then the source told me that they were being trained on it. So I'll wait and see if the info pans out and that would be a wise move for t-mo.
  • gdon91 - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - link

    Why is everyone complaining about t-mobile's plans to deliver lte in 2013? It's all about growth and that's what we need in the US. Hopefully t-mobile will stick to their plans and improve their offerings. I can't wait lol. <a href=""><FONT COLOR="#99ccff">pet feeding</FONT></a>

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