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T-Mobile moves forward with HSPA+ upgrade, slams competition

With dual-carrier technology in place and a much more extensive network, T-Mobile claims it will far surpass other operators’ mobile broadband services

LAS VEGAS – T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) laid down the gauntlet at CES, calling out all of the weaknesses in its competitors mobile broadband networks, coverage maps and strategic plans while emphasizing its own network’s strengths and offering up an upgrade plan that T-Mobile claims will make its formerly lowly 3G network rival any wireless data service in the market.

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T-Mobile is now actively upgrading its high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) to support dual carriers, a plan it revealed last year. The upgrade will essentially stack two 5 MHz HSPA+ carriers on top of one another, doubling the maximum theoretical capacity of the network to 42 Mb/s. The upgrade has already been implemented on trial basis in Las Vegas, producing real world speeds higher than 20 Mb/s, said Neville Ray, chief technology officer of T-Mobile. In a drive test in Vegas of its own and competitor mobile broadband networks, T-Mobile’s enhanced HSPA+ connections nearly matched those of Verizon Wireless’ (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) new long-term evolution (LTE) network —both averaged around 9 Mb/s—while far surpassing the 3 Mb/s speeds Sprint (NYSE:S) and Clearwire’s (NYSE:CLWR) WiMax network, according to Ray.

T-Mobile is rolling the upgrade out across the U.S. throughout 2011 and expects to have 140 million pops covered with the enhanced speeds by mid-year. T-Mobile will offer its first 42 Mb/s USB modem in the second quarter, followed by several other devices in the second half of the year. Even without the network upgrade, though, T-Mobile’s current HSPA+ network has already surpassed its competitors in many metrics, T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm said.

“We were late to the mobile broadband race, but T-Mobile turned out to be the winner of that race,” Humm said. “T-Mobile has clearly the largest 4G footprint in the U.S.”

All of the U.S. operators offer mobile broadband under the term 4G, though they use vastly different technology and configurations.

By the end of 2010, T-Mobile completed the necessary backhaul upgrades to offer its high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) service in more than 100 markets covering 200 million pops. On a market by market basis, the HSPA+ network is 60% larger than Verizon’s LTE network and 40% larger than Clearwire’s WiMax network, according to T-Mobile’s figures.

Though AT&T (NYSE:T) revealed its own 2011 network upgrade plans on Wednesday, T-Mobile didn’t even offer up a comparison with that operator. Ray said that AT&T hasn’t revealed the extent of its copper-to-fiber backhaul upgrade, a key element in supporting mobile broadband speeds. AT&T has only said that it will have two-thirds of its cell sites fed by fiber by year end.
“AT&T is in catch-up mode for the rest of 2011,” Ray said.

All of T-Mobile’s competitors are playing catch-up in terms of market penetration, Ray added, and once T-Mobile finishes its dual-carrier upgrade T-Mobile will either exceed or match them in speed. “They will keep playing catch-up while we keep moving and raising the bar.”

T-Mobile also announced that its HSPA+ device portfolio will soon expand to include tablets. Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) is launching an HSPA+ version of its Streak 7 tablet in the next few weeks, while LG Electronics revealed its is developing an HSPA+ tablet using the new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, the first Google OS optimized specifically for tablets.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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