T-Mobile pits its math against Verizon’s; The loser? Common sense

In its attempts to kill Verizon’s(s vz)(s vod) mega-spectrum deal with the cable operators, T-Mobile has opened up a new front in its lobbying war. The no. 4 U.S. operator is challenging Verizon’s claims that it is the most efficient user of mobile spectrum in the country. On Thursday, T-Mobile trotted out an expert to not only refute Verizon’s claims but show that Big Red is actually the most inefficient steward of the nation’s cellular airwaves.

Speaking at a T-Mobile media briefing, Illinois Institute of Technology Vice Provost and computer science research professor Dennis Roberson presented a study that accused Verizon of using flawed math when it made its efficiency calculations. He stated that once that math is corrected – surprise, surprise – T-Mobile comes out on top.

You can look at Roberson’s full regulatory filing and presentation on T-Mobile’s Website, but basically his argument is this: Verizon treats all of its connections as equals in its analysis without accounting for the number and usage levels of smartphones consuming most of the bandwidth; and Verizon treats all spectrum as equal though some frequencies are more efficient than others.

What it boils down to, though, is that Verizon is crunching its numbers one way, and T-Mobile is crunching them another way. I’m sure if he so chose, Roberson could finagle that data to correlate Verizon’s spectrum use to an increase in tooth decay.

The pathetic thing about this situation is that T-Mobile isn’t wrong. T-Mobile is the most efficient user of spectrum in the country, while Verizon is probably the most inefficient. T-Mobile’s argument is sitting right in front of it. Verizon is parked on loads of Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) and 700 MHz licenses that it has yet to touch and – in the case of 700 MHz – actually plans to sell. The Federal Communications has even started calling Verizon on its spectrum warehousing practices.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile has put practically every megahertz of spectrum its has every bought to use either in its GSM or HSPA+ networks. In fact, T-Mobile is so strapped for airwaves, it’s cannibalizing its 2G networks to make room for more efficient mobile broadband technologies such as LTE. T-Mobile couldn’t make a better argument than that to show it’s making the most of the limited resources it has.

T-Mobile is angling to get this deal killed so it can get a shot at buying up the cable operators’ penthouse airwaves. I have little doubt if T-Mobile were to prevail it would make immediate and good use of those frequencies, while its competitors might sit on them for several years.

But I also think T-Mobile is being a bit hypocritical here. T-Mobile today may be coming off as the consumer hero in magenta-colored tights, but a year ago things were very different. At the beginning of 2011, Deutsche Telekom had all but written off its U.S. operator, refusing to invest any more in spectrum or infrastructure. It threw in the towel completely when it agreed to sell T-Mobile USA to AT&T(s t) – which was perhaps the most anti-competitive action imaginable.

T-Mo has basically done a complete 180 in the space of a year, and now it’s asking the FCC to accommodate its new role as industry savior. It may be the everyman’s carrier today, and that’s great. But who knows what T-Mobile will be tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Picsfive