What we want to hear from T-Mobile Tuesday: the iPhone, LTE and the end of subsidies

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Few mobile carrier press conferences attract the attention of an Apple or Samsung event, but there are a lot of expectations building around T-Mobile USA’s “Uncarrier” shindig taking place Tuesday morning. T-Mobile hasn’t officially revealed any specifics about what it will announce at 11 a.m. ET at New York’s Art + Technology Center, but there have been a lot of hints, leaks and speculation.

I don’t know for certain what will emerge at the event tomorrow, but I expect we’ll hear at least one, if not all, of the following three revelations:

T-Mobile finally gets the iPhone

iPhone 5 product shotThe build-up to this single handset announcement has been endless, but tomorrow may well be the day that T-Mobile officially becomes an iPhone retailer. T-Mobile has confirmed the iPhone is coming. It just hadn’t set a date.

According to CNET’s sources, the iPhone will play a prominent role at tomorrow’s event. That’s sweet, but T-Mobile really needs to give specifics on availability and pricing tomorrow or it really shouldn’t even bother mentioning the iconic Apple device. Practically every discussion about T-Mobile USA for the last two years has revolved around when or if it would get the iPhone. As T-Mo has made abundantly clear, it’s getting the iPhone. The only thing we want to know is when we can buy it.

LTE goes live

This one is almost a given. T-Mobile has promised we’ll see a live LTE network this month, and there are only a few more days left in March. We’ve already seen a big spike in LTE testing activity in eight major cities across the country, and TMoNews has obtained internal documents indicating T-Mobile will launch in seven markets this week.

Either way, the carrier is well ahead of schedule. After its planned merger with AT&T flopped, T-Mobile launched an ambitious spectrum-refarming project designed to give it an LTE network in the second half of 2013. The impending launch of the iPhone, however, gives its LTE rollout new urgency since it wants to support the iPhone 5’s full radio capabilities as soon as it goes on sale.

Death to all device subsidies

New CEO John Legere has promised T-Mobile will remake the mobile industry by ending its long practice of heavily discounting devices in exchange for long-term pricey service contracts.

T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere

T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere

We’ve already seen the basic framework of that strategy emerge over the last year in T-Mobile’s Value plans, which still require contracts but offer much lower voice and data rates. Over the weekend, T-Mobile revamped its Value plans once again, making unlimited voice and SMS standard on all pricing tiers.

What we’re still waiting to hear about are the specifics of T-Mobile’s big strategy – to see whether it can truly separate service from the handset. Many operators have complained about the subsidy system in the past, but so far T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier to do anything about it.

What I’m waiting to see is whether T-Mobile truly follows through on its commitment to eliminating subsidies completely or if it just maintains its current policy of offering unsubsidized plans as an option. If it’s the former, T-Mo would take a huge risk, but it could change the U.S. mobile industry for the better.

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