T-Mobile getting LTE at last

T-Mobile has at last unveiled its plans for deploying LTE, as the company today said it will invest $4 billion to have LTE services available sometime in 2013.

ANALYSIS: LTE spectrum: How much do the big carriers have?

TIMELINE: The birth and death of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger

T-Mobile said during its fourth-quarter earnings report that it plans to shift its current HSPA+ network onto its PCS spectrum band while building out LTE services on its AWS spectrum band. T-Mobile says if all goes according to plan it will have LTE services up and running next year and will "significantly enhance coverage and performance for customers."

T-Mobile's decision to build its LTE network on the AWS spectrum band - from 1710MHz to 1755MHz for uplink and 2110MHz to 2155MHz for downlink -- is unsurprising given that the carrier has by far the strongest portfolio of AWS spectrum in the United States. According to research from Baird Equity Research, T-Mobile currently has 24MHz of spectrum depth on the AWS band and is due to get an additional 7MHz from AT&T as compensation for the failed merger between the two companies.

Mike Roberts, a principal telecom and media analyst at Informa, says T-Mobile's acquisition of an additional 7MHz of spectrum on the AWS band now looks like a coup for a company that until today had announced no firm plans to build out its own nationwide LTE network.

"It's the right move for T-Mobile USA and an embarrassment for AT&T, which set out to tighten its grip on the U.S. mobile market by acquiring T-Mobile USA but ended up funding the potential revival of a competitor," Roberts says. "The spectrum is particularly vital since T-Mobile USA did not previously have enough spectrum to deploy LTE."

Rival carriers Verizon and AT&T have both deployed LTE over the 700MHz spectrum band, which propagates better than spectrum bands such as AWS and PCS that have higher frequencies. Sprint, meanwhile, plans to deploy its LTE network on both the 800 MHz spectrum band and the PCS band that spans from 1850MHz to 1915MHz for downlink and 1930MHz to 1990MHz for the uplink.

T-Mobile's announcement means that every major U.S. carrier will offer LTE in some capacity by year-end. Verizon became the first major U.S. carrier to deploy LTE in late 2010 when it launched the technology in 38 major markets covering roughly one-third of the U.S. population. AT&T followed suit last summer when it launched LTE in Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. The carrier has steadily been expanding the reach of its own LTE network ever since, as this past week saw AT&T launch LTE in New York, San Francisco and other major markets. Sprint earlier this year also announced plans to have LTE available in a limited number of markets by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is essentially a bridge from 3G technologies such as HSPA+ and EV-DO Rev. A to the 4G IMT-Advanced technologies that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says will deliver consistent speeds in the 100Mbps range.

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