For T-Mobile customers, the wait will soon be over — if you live in Las Vegas or Kansas City, at least. Later this month T-Mobile will flip on the LTE switch in those two markets, signaling the start of a too-late initiative at the nation’s No. 4 wireless carrier. By the middle of this year they expect to cover 100 million potential customers, and then they expect to double that by year’s end.
Why did T-Mobile wait so long for this deployment? As the No. 4 carrier, T-Mobile has to be careful about how it allocates its capital. Upgrading HSPA+ to 42Mbps was a much cheaper endeavor, and fit with the spectrum T-Mobile had available. Only when LTE became the obvious next step for the entire industry did T-Mobile step up. But there’s more to it than that.
Sprint beat T-Mobile to LTE, despite the former’s bet on WiMAx as the next-generation technology. Smaller carriers, such as MetroPCS and Cricket, beat T-Mobile to the LTE punch, but they had spectrum to spare (or at least MetroPCS did) following 2008′s 700MHz spectrum auction. Now that it had no other choice, T-Mobile has made the leap.
While T-Mobile is late to LTE chronologically, it might not be late in terms of readiness. Remember, T-Mobile got an influx of cash and spectrum from AT&T when their proposed merger fell apart. Seeing an opportunity, they purchased even more spectrum to fortify their holdings and create the surplus necessary for LTE deployment. So in that way, they’re right on time.
At the start, T-Mobile will have many advantages over their rivals. First, their rate plans are generally priced lower than the competition. In the past few years they’ve tinkered with many different price points, and they’re launching new plans later this month as well. Their approach to data plans — don’t sign up for an certain data bucket, but rather pay for what you end up using — could entice many users to make the switch.
Second, when in areas without LTE coverage, T-Mobile has a top-notch fallback network with HSPA+. When you hit an area with poor or no LTE coverage on Verizon, you revert to their painfully slow 3G network — made more painful by the comparison to 4G LTE speeds. T-Mobile’s current network is plenty fast, almost as fast as current LTE networks. The difference is in efficiency and uplink speed, but in terms of downlink HSPA+ works just fine. That will help smooth out the kinks as T-Mobile launches LTE.
Relatedly, T-Mobile will display very speedy load times for its first wave of LTE subscribers. The first Verizon LTE customers realized the same effect. With fewer people on the network, there are more resources for those that do use it. T-Mobile also boasts that they have spectrum to spare, so the effect could last for a good long while.
The MetroPCS acquisition should give them even more LTE spectrum. The DoJ indicated it has no problem with the merger, and the FCC signed off on it. The last obstacle is MetroPCS shareholders. While there have been some strong opinions from that group against the merger, it could still go through. That would further beef up T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings and allow it to even better utilize its LTE resources.
With all of these factors playing in T-Mobile’s favor, its LTE launch might not be too little. They’re late to the party, sure, but there are definitely opportunities. With the two giants going with shared data plans, even for individual customers, T-Mobile could win over a significant portion of the single-line market. Their no-monthly-contract plans could further entice customers who don’t want to pay subsidies for their phones. For those who will pay subsidies, T-Mobile is instituting a new policy that will allow them to more easily upgrade before the full two-year contract term is expired.
It would seem that big things are brewing at T-Mobile. They’ve been dormant for a while, relying on their prepaid services to carry the weight while postpaid bled customers who favored faster offerings from competitors. But now with LTE coming, and possibly the iPhone coming later, they could be well positioned. Too late, sure. But too little? The way it looks now it doesn’t seem that way.
Via Laptop Magazine.