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Story on 4G: Interview with T-Mobile USA

By Neal Gompa on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
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The first in a series of articles about 4G is here! We chatted with T-Mobile USA about their current 4G situation and their future plans for 4G here in the United States. The interview information is after the break.

We received our answers for our interview from Yasmin Karimli, Head of Radio Network Evolution and Strategy at T-Mobile USA. on January 11, 2011.

Q: Why did T-Mobile USA choose HSPA+ as their “4G” technology instead of beginning deployments for LTE? The parent of T-Mobile, Deutsche Telekom AG, has done tests of LTE in Germany. T-Mobile Deutschland has already begun deploying LTE equipment commercially.

Yasmin Karimli: Here in the U.S., T-Mobile saw an opportunity to develop HSPA+ to a next generation of speed and performance. The move to HSPA+ enables T-Mobile to make more efficient use of our existing spectrum and network assets and reduce our overhead costs making us able to price our 4G services at a point that is competitive yet profitable. True to T-Mobile’s history – HSPA+ 42 will be available at no additional cost to consumers. Unlike our competitors, we won’t be charging a 4G toll. Additionally, HSPA+ is fully backward compatible and our existing devices can benefit from the upgrades we’ve made to our network.

Q: Did T-Mobile’s spectrum assets factor into this? As far as I’m aware, T-Mobile USA has a license for GSM 1900 and UMTS 1700/2100 (AWS-1). Does T-Mobile own any more spectrum other than that?

Karimli: T-Mobile is growing into our AWS spectrum in the U.S. and have the headroom for growth. We’re comfortable with our current spectrum position and HSPA+ allows us to make very efficient use of it. That said, from an industry perspective, it’s encouraging to see the FCC broadband team recommending auctioning the D Block for commercial mobile broadband use. Spectrum is a vital resource that will allow mobile broadband to flourish and produce new technologies, services and products that benefit consumers. It’s a resource we’re committed to using wisely.

Q: This article from FierceWireless seems to indicate that T-Mobile is attempting to acquire AWS-3 and the 700MHz D block spectrum. Can you comment on this?

Karimli: Like all carriers, we’re always interested in the availability of spectrum. Consumers are increasingly demanding bandwidth-intensive services and applications. Availability of spectrum is an important issue for the future of mobile broadband for the wireless industry. We have nothing to announce at this time.

Q: T-Mobile USA and Nokia-Siemens [ announced] Long Term HSPA+ Evolution last month and quite a few of us were surprised by it. Since then, has anyone else stepped up to the plate and committed to LTHE?

Karimli: The benefit of standardizing Long Term HSPA+ Evolution is that strong technology standards help to drive a healthy ecosystem of network options and device solutions. Further, these enhancements let the wireless ecosystem use spectrum more efficiently. For example, in network environments where spectrum allocations are low but traffic is extremely high, standardization can benefit all operators for spectrum efficiency. The announcement in December was focused on our plans with Nokia-Siemens so you’d have to ask others if they’re committing to this standard.

Q: In the USA, pretty much every carrier except Sprint and T-Mobile is moving to LTE. Is there a possibility of dual mode LTE and LTHE phones, to better facilitate roaming in the USA and other countries?

Karimli: Our HSPA+ 4G network presents a significant opportunity for us. We upgraded the vast majority of our 3G footprint in 2010 to 4G with high capability fiber backhaul and we have coupled that effort with a series of devices that run on our 4G network – including the myTouch 4G, T-Mobile G2 and broadband products such as webConnect Rocket 2.0 Laptop Stick. Today there are more than 100 operators worldwide committed to HSPA+ — as of last week, there are 103 operators in 54 countries worldwide that have rolled out HSPA+ networks (source: 4G Americas). The great news about HSPA+ is that it has a strong evolution path and a very rich and strong ecosystem of 4G-enabled devices growing globally.

Q: Is LTE still in the cards for T-Mobile’s own native network in the near future? Why or why not?

Karimli: The potential of HSPA+ is just beginning to be realized. Right now, the T-Mobile HSPA+ network delivers peak download speeds capable of 21Mbps, and we just announced plans at CES to double the speed of our network to speeds capable of 42Mbps. T-Mobile made a substantial capital investment over the past year (and before) to create a foundation and then to build its HSPA+ based 4G network, because it was apparent to T-Mobile that the fastest path to 4G performance to the most consumers in the shortest amount of time was to develop the potential of HSPA+. That is what we have done and it makes T-Mobile a leader right now in delivering 4G experience to consumers now. Because of the unfolding potential of HSPA+, it is difficult to predict if or when any shift in technology will be appropriate. While LTE develops, we can provide bandwidth benefits to our customers with HSPA+.

Q: Verizon has touted that their 4G LTE service offers lower latency and higher bandwidth availability than both Sprint and T-Mobile. How does T-Mobile respond to that?

Karimli: We believe that the experience using real-time applications on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 4G network will be virtually the same as Verizon’s 4G LTE, which is what customers really care about. In addition to improved network performance, T-Mobile’s 4G network provides reduced latency that enables customers to enjoy services such as video, Wi-Fi calling or online gaming on the go.

Q: T-Mobile seems to have been very slow at bringing their 4G coverage to some states. Here in Mississippi, T-Mobile is near-universally regarded as the worst carrier out there, since it has almost no 3G service or 4G service (except a few cities on the coast), and barely any 2G service. States like Mississippi have largely been ignored by all the major carriers when it comes to 3G and 4G deployments. Does T-Mobile plan to accelerate their deployment and activation of their 4G network to combat the issue and perhaps beat their competitors to the punch?

Karimli: We’ve been very aggressive in our efforts to roll out our 4G network across the country. T-Mobile’s 4G network service is currently available in 100 major metropolitan areas, reaching 200 million people from coast to coast Americans with the necessary backhaul in place to deliver a 4G experience. We will continue to expand the network in 2011 and at the same time, work to double the speeds in many locations. In Mississippi, people living in the Biloxi metro area are covered by our 4G network which has been available since October 2010.

Q: What seems to be holding T-Mobile back from launching 3G or 4G coverage in more areas? I’ve heard rumors that it has something to do with the military. Could you clarify this for us?

Karimli: I am not familiar with the rumor you mentioned, but I can tell you that putting fiber Ethernet in place is a key gating factor for delivering faster speeds. Backhaul is a big part of the story for why our network delivers the 4G performance that it does. In the vast majority of our cell sites, we’re using fiber for backhaul today. Specifically, more than 70 percent of our HSPA+ cell sites now have fiber Ethernet sites have backhaul in place and we believe that we are significantly ahead of other carriers in terms of fiber deployment.

Q: The rumor about why Mississippi and some other states don’t have 3G is: Supposedly, the AWS spectrum was originally used for military purposes, and because these states have strong military presences (lots of military bases) and they had not yet replaced their hardware in order to migrate away from the AWS spectrum, T-Mobile cannot launch 3G and 4G services in those areas that are near those bases. Any truth to it?

Karimli: Yes, there are areas in Mississippi where the Department of Defense have not cleared the AWS spectrum for our use. However, it’s our understanding that could change this spring.

Q: Is there a possibility of repurposing the spectrum for the GSM network for LTE or even HSPA+? If you could do so (at least, if you repurposed GSM network spectrum for HSPA+), wouldn’t that mean that the iPhone as it is currently available, as well as many other GSM devices made for North America, could work on the T-Mobile 3G network?

Karimli: We continue to grow into our AWS spectrum as well as looking at various options for spectrum in the future. These options include re-farming (of 1900 MHz spectrum), acquiring new spectrum or network sharing, among others.

Q: This year seems to be the year of 4G. Will there be some high end 4G “superphones” and low end sub$300 (off contract) Android 4G smartphones coming to T-Mobile real soon? Or maybe a 4G iPhone? How many 4G devices does T-Mobile plan to launch over the course of 2011?

Karimli: T-Mobile has announced six 4G capable devices including the myTouch 4G, T-Mobile G2 with Google, T-Mobile® Rocket 2.0 4G Laptop Stick, Dell™ Inspiron™ Mini 10 4G and the recently announced Dell Streak 7 and T-Mobile G-Slate with Google. We’ll launch additional 4G smartphones capable of delivering peak download speeds of up to 21 Mbps in the first half of 2011, and 4G smartphones capable of delivering peak download speeds of up to 42 Mbps in the second half of the year. We are not sharing additional details at this time.