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Summary:

The fourth largest U.S. carrier is ready to offer the fastest mobile broadband speeds yet: T-Mobile today announced its 42 Mbps network is available in 55 markets. How will this fast capability work with data plans that are throttled down after a set amount of data?

t-mobile-vs-verizon

The fourth largest carrier in the U.S. is set to offer the fastest mobile broadband speeds yet. T-Mobile announced Tuesday that 55 markets now have access to the operator’s 42 Mbps network. The first device equipped to use the fast mobile broadband, a USB data stick called the Rocket 3.0, launches tomorrow for $99 after $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year data plan commitment. T-Mobile will also sell the Rocket 3.0 off-contract for $199. Post-paid data plans will start at $29 per month, and T-Mobile voice customers receive a 20-percent discount on monthly mobile data pricing.

How will T-Mobile’s improved HSPA+ network rival Verizon’s LTE offering, which launched in December of last year? While I haven’t tested T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps network, I did attend a demonstration of it at January’s Consumer Electronics Show. We’ll have to see a real-world scenario of course, but the demonstration showed consistent download speeds topping 28 Mbps. I’ve used Verizon’s LTE network on several occasions over the past six months – most recently with an LTE-capable MiFi — and haven’t seen such speeds offered by Verizon.

While the potential performance bodes well for T-Mobile, which says 150 million people will have access to improved network speeds by mid-year, there are two questions that come to mind. First is the matter of AT&T’s plan to purchase T-Mobile, because Tuesday’s news complicates matters even more. AT&T hopes to use T-Mobile’s 1700 MHz spectrum to roll out an LTE network. That makes sense on paper, but what if that initial LTE network is actually slower than the updated 42 Mbps network T-Mobile is currently offering? LTE speeds can theoretically be faster than this, but among the major carriers, AT&T is the slowest in making its network faster.

The bigger question revolves around the pricing plans T-Mobile currently offers customers. Yesterday, the carrier revamped voice, text and data plans, for example. All the data aspects are unlimited with an asterisk, meaning customers are buying a set amount of data that will be provided at high speeds, but beyond that amount, speeds will be slowed. That seems counter-intuitive for a network product differentiating itself on speed alone. And the problem may become even more evident with the new 42 Mbps network. The faster a mobile broadband connection is, the more a consumer is likely to use it, so the amount of high-speed data offered in a plan gets used up that much faster.

Put another way: If the fast network becomes a slow network on the last week of every month, no asterisk in the world is going to make for happy customers on what might currently be the fastest mobile broadband network in the U.S.

  1. Part of ATT’s story for buying T-Mo is that T-Mo can’t build out an LTE network. It doesn’t look like they want or need to. How are they going to spin this?

    The proposed acquisition looks worse for consumers every day. The FCC needs to consider how ATT plans to abuse their control of T-Mo’s spectrum at the expense of the public, who ultimately own the airwaves.

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  2. Actually it makes more sense to ” throttle ” down data when speeds get this fast . It would be worse to charge overage fees . Especially when your T-Mobile and are doing everything you can to keep your customer base together . After reading this T-Mobiles new rate structure makes sense . The merger just looks worse & worse .

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  3. ConnectedTraveler Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    If AT&T transitions T-Mobile’s AWS spectrum to LTE what happens to the T-Mobile customers that have expensive phones that use the AWS? Does AT&T give them all new smartphones?

    I’m assuming that T-Mobiles current smartphones aren’t manufactured to work with LTE. Is that assumption wrong?

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    1. Those are great questions that have no answer as of yet. I would expect that AT&T will have to make some type of concession for T-Mobile customers that have 3G/4G phones using the AWS / 1700 MHz band. And you’re assumption is correct: current T-Mobile smartphones support HSPA / HSPA+, not LTE.

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  4. The are still routing all the traffic to where they do CGN (ATL – on the East Coast). Would be nice if they were using mobile IPv6 and routing it outside of the network at the city level.

    I am starting thinking CGN/LSN is playing a big role in why the carriers are capping the higher speed plans.

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  5. pk de cville Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    “Put another way, if the fast network becomes a slow network on the last week of every month, no asterisk in the world is going to make for happy customers on what might currently be the fastest mobile broadband network in the U.S.”

    I’d be happier with this than the current options of buying more bits at exorbitant rates!

    In fact, I think its brilliant. It would powerfully and gently support all customers in becoming download savvy. We’d be in an environment where we could easily learn how much we’re downloading and be able to adjust our habits of consumption to whatever level of monthly data charge payment we desire.

    This is Win-Win in action.

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