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Summary:

T-Mobile USA is feeling optimistic about Android and the future of mobile apps — and cautious when it comes to Symbian. In this interview, I chat with Cole Brodman, chief technology officer of T-Mobile USA, about innovation in the mobile industry and why his company is confident that its new HSPA+ network should be enough to compete with Verizon’s LTE network.

Android

Om: How does T-Mobile compete given the success of iPhone and the current environment?

Brodman: I think it’s breadth vs. one size fits all. Our view is that Android is a great operating platform to be delivered across multiple phones, smartphones, and potentially mobile computing devices. Our goal would be to work with our partners to make that a robust horizontal platform to scale across different types of devices and enable more innovation to occur on the device type and, at the same time, leveraging a common ecosystem of development. We’ll follow up G1 this year with multiple Android devices in the second half that we’ll be launching with at least three partners. Then our goal would be to…continue that evolution so that eventually we will see Android in the feature phone category as well as moving up to more capable devices like netbooks and midrange computing devices from different nontraditional partners, maybe HP or Dell or others that are innovating in that space.

Om: Are they building Android-based netbooks?

Brodman: We have seen multiple partners talking about building Android-based netbooks. I’ve seen devices working, but I won’t go any further than that.

Om: It seems like you’re making a big push with Android and BlackBerry. What about Symbian and Windows Mobile? Do they even figure into your plans?

Brodman: Yes, that is a great question, Om. I think you hit the two key ones. In the smartphone category, we believe in BlackBerry because of their strong consumer and prosumer relevance and [their] still best-in-class solution for push-based communication — and Android for the breadth of the application innovation and the richness of the operating platform. Those are two significant partnership bets that we’ll make. We’ll have a couple of Windows Mobile devices we’re launching in the next couple of months that we’re really excited about, the new 6.X platform. They’ll be out late this summer. I think the promise of Windows Mobile 7 is still to be seen, but we’re hopeful from what we see from Microsoft and what we hear from partners about WM7. But for us, there was less opportunity to drive with WM7, than there was to see how it develops. [With] Android I think we have a unique opportunity to work with Google and try to drive it. [As for] Symbian, when Freedom was originally announced, we were very encouraged by it, but I’m not seeing a lot of momentum, so the fruits of that alliance commercially has yet to be seen, and I think we’re definitely more cautious on what we see happening there.

Mobile Apps

Om: What are they key applications that will emerge in the next 12 to 36 months that are actually going to change our expectations of mobile?

Brodman: I’ll start by saying if I knew, we would certainly be working on every single one of them. That’s part of the power of leveraging something like Android, having a broadband network and having the tools to be much more web-connected in the way the web 2.0 and web 3.0 will be built. That’s the long way of saying, “I don’t know in three years exactly what’s going to be hot, but I know that somebody out there in a garage or part of an existing venture will figure something out, and we’ll be there with that partner to bring it to market.” Android, broadband and all of these things we are talking about more web like models will allow us to ride a new curve of innovation. One of the things just now starting to happen are apps that can emerge that are better than the fixed Internet because all of a sudden they can be taken advantage of in the context of the mobile user. Mobile applications will be created that the fixed Internet couldn’t have taken advantage of, so that’s pretty exciting.

Om: My theory is that on the wired web, the wired Internet connection was very crucial to the application. On mobile, it seems like it’s not only the data connection but also the location beacon that matters. These two together make a mobile experience. Any thoughts?

Brodman: I think you’re spot on, and a practical example for me is something like Google Search. So a voice-powered front end to a pretty powerful search paradigm that Google’s developed…and then localizing it so they can use their location to make the search results more relevant, that’s a great service. I use it multiple times a day because it’s so easy to use. That, I think, is just one example, and that’s happening today. I believe that adding location context is really important, and I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible there.

Om: Do you see future apps being developed around location? Is that a starting point for all innovation going forward?

Brodman: I don’t know if it’s the starting point for all applications, but if you buy the premise that the mobile web is about providing mobile context to the fixed web services, creating better than fixed web applications, then location is one of those small handful of attributes that makes that really relevant. So it’s not going to necessarily permeate everything, but I think it’s going to be important in the development of other applications. The mobile device, unlike social networks, tends to be a very personal device. Providing that kind of lens on top of social networks could be very interesting.

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  1. I believe they announced a while back to update their cell bandwidth at the cost of $200M. If all they get for that money is some crappy 20 Mb/s (and maybe, hopefully higher capacity in 4 years – at an investment of how much?) I think they are doing something wrong.

    Furthermore, they need to start building fiber to their cell sites, otherwise T-Mobile won’t be able to compete 1:1 with Verizon and AT&T when they upgrade to LTE. That is, if the latter two build high-capacity/fiber to their cells. Microwave is a great but not 100% reliable temporary solution, and it will prove to be too costly taken on a range basis. Similar issue with other short-range wireless techs, such as Free Space Optics. Fiber is the only solution. Anything less, and you’re wasting a great mobile solution on half-baked technology.

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    1. Jesse Kopelman Tuesday, May 12, 2009

      That’s $200M for about 10,000 sites . . . 20Mbps crappy? Keep in mind that most carriers spent around $500M to get so-called 2.5G, which offered around 100kbps. Fiber to every cell site? That would be a multi-billion dollar project and neither AT&T nor Verizon are doing it (neither is Sprint). As for microwave, in reality it is more reliable than landline solutions (in terms of availability). Stupid/mean people are constantly cutting major fiber lines, knocking out multiple sites at a time. The reason the industry generally prefers land lines is because they are leased and go onto the balance sheet as an expense rather than a capital cost.

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  2. Interesting comment:

    We’re at 6 Mbps per second per site.

    I am curious about AT&T, VZW etc but I suspect they are in the same ballpark.

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    1. They are all in the same ball park but they all will have to move really fast in order to get bandwidth to their customers.

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      1. Jesse Kopelman Tuesday, May 12, 2009

        No OM, that’s what bandwidth caps are for.

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  3. I really like Cole Brodman – I think he’s a real forward thinker for a company that I haven’t much cared for in the past.

    After reading this, and a number of other, interviews I really feel like T Mobile is going to be very much on the uptick.

    I think the $200 Million price tag is a pretty fair value for what they are bringing in, and I agree with Jesse you have to look at what some paid to get to the legendary “2.5 G” and you see that the price tag is fair.

    This is going to be something VERY interesting to keep an eye on for the near future.

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  4. Om, thanks for the interview. Good read.

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  5. [...] at Strategy Analytics, far outstripping the 79 percent gain for the iPhone. T-Mobile USA CTO Cole Brodman, meanwhile, in an interview with Om ranked Android alongside the BlackBerry as one of “two [...]

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  6. [...] Read the original here: The GigaOM Interview: Cole Brodman, CTO, T-Mobile USA [...]

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  7. Om, is the vid of the interview online anywhere, yet? This is the kind of thing my extended geek family likes to stream via the AppleTV and [argue about] discuss after supper.

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  8. [...] of Android as part of T-Mobile’s larger plans, in an extensive interview with Om Malik published earlier today. Having introduced the first Android-powered phone last fall — HTC’s G1 [...]

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  9. eric jonasson Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    is the limit on backhaul or radio cell b/w

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  10. [...] CTO, Cole Brodman, has revealed in an interview with GigaOm that the company is banking heavily on a mobile future filled with Android devices of all shapes [...]

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  11. [...] All and all, an interesting outlook for T-Mobile. To read the full interview, click here. [...]

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  12. What, you didn’t think to ask him about the Palm Pre?

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  13. Eric in Cupertino Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    I left T-Mob to use the E71′s 3G on ATT…. I’d gladly switch back if they’d work with someone on a Symbian Foundation device.

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    1. Hi Eric, T Mobile is GSM, you should be able to use just about any Symbian device, including your E71, on their network, provided the device is not SIM locked. Getting a subsidy? Well, that is is a different story.

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      1. Eric in Cupertino Wednesday, May 13, 2009

        Yea I used the N80 and E51 on Tmob…. and it was slow…. with ATT I force OFF the 2G/GSM and my E71 still works perfectly in Cupertino and Sunnyvale…. When I switched I picked up the Fuze for free and sold it the next day… which paid for my E71 and a few tanks of gas. hahah.

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  14. [...] plans to deliver many Android devices later this year, with three partners. Now, GigaOm has an interview up with Cole Brodman, CTO of T-Mobile U.S.A.  Brodman confirms that we’ll see new Android devices later this [...]

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  15. [...] Brodman, chief technology office of T-Mobile USA, in a recent GigaOM interview said that the company is currently providing 6 Mbps per site. “Tomorrow I think the first [...]

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  16. [...] chief technology officer, Cole Brodman, at the launch of the new Google Phone, the MyTouch. (Read my interview with Cole.) After the panel discussion, the two of us got chatting about why carriers love social networking [...]

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  17. [...] But apart from that, it is a “very worthy competitor to current smartphone champions.” (Read my interview with Cole Brodman, CTO of T-Mobile [...]

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  18. [...] The GigaOM Interview: Cole Brodman, Chief Technology Officer, T-Mobile [...]

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  19. [...] big backer of HSPA+ in the U.S. is T-Mobile USA. Back in May, T-Mobile CTO Cole Brodman told me that “in 2010, you’re going to see us start to integrate HSPA+ into our network. [...]

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