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T-Mobile Exec on Why Its 4G LTE-Launch Timing is 'Perfect'

T-Mobile USA's SVP of B2B services, Frank Sickinger, shared some LTE-related numbers and had some interesting things to say in a recent interview about the carrier's upcoming LTE rollout in the United States.

It's well known among mobile watchers that T-Mobile will be the last major U.S. carrier to rollout an LTE network. The popular opinion is that T-Mobile has fallen behind other carriers when it comes to LTE. Sickinger, not surprisingly, begs to differ.

For T-Mobile, "it's not just about having [an] LTE [network], it's about building a massive LTE footprint," Sickinger says. "We already have sites that are lit up with LTE. But for us it's about having the entire network modernized [before launch]. That's not always the case with the competition."

T-Mobile's wireless evolution from EDGE technology to HSPA and eventually HSPA+ has been a long and laborious process, but the carrier is just about ready to rollout LTE across America. Following a breakup of the proposed T-Mobile/AT&T merger in late 2011, T-Mobile was able to secure significant new spectrum from AT&T, according to Sickinger, which helped it expand the overall network and boost the HSPA+ coverage.

Now the carrier is in the process of "modernizing" 37,000 HSPA+ sites across the United States so they'll be LTE 10, or LTE Advanced, compatible for a launch later this year, Sickinger says. As for specific numbers, the SVP says T-Mobile LTE coverage will reach 100 million U.S. customers by July 2013 and 200 million wireless customers by the end of the year. (In November 2012, AT&T said its LTE network covers more than 150 million people. Verizon Wireless says it has the "nation's largest LTE network" and it is available to more than 200 million people.)

Sickinger acknowledges the perception that T-Mobile fell behind rival carriers when it comes to LTE. But says he has a "uniquely positive" outlook for the future.

"My belief is our [LTE launch] timing is perfect. If you look at the pioneering work, there were a lot of misfires. CDMA carriers had no choice [but to quickly embrace LTE] because they had no data path," Sickinger says. "They were forced on that path. They had to use bleeding-edge equipment. We're using proven, but still bleeding-edge equipment. We're really making smart moves from a technology perspective. And we're deploying [LTE] quickly."

Sickinger also says T-Mobile's first LTE handsets will provide a better overall experience than early LTE-compatible handsets, many of which suffered with battery life issues due to use of multiple cellular radios, among other things. T-Mobile's LTE handsets will use a single radio stack for all wireless-data technologies--LTE, HSPA+, EDGE, etc.--which will translate into better battery life for many users, Sickinger says, adding that those handsets will be cheaper to manufacture, in some cases, and will cost less.

That all sounds fine and good, but the fact of the matter is that T-Mobile is the last major U.S. carrier to get an LTE network. I've been using a T-Mobile smartphone for a long time, and frankly its network coverage has never been up to snuff compared to AT&T or Verizon, at least where I live and work. If Sickinger is correct and its network provides a better LTE experience, people will forget about its delay to market soon enough. But the jury is still out on that front.


Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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