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Two months as T-Mobile US: Where it’s been, where it’s going

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Exactly two months have passed since T-Mobile and MetroPCS officially merged, becoming the new T-Mobile US(s tmus). We’ll be hearing a lot more specifics about how T-Mobile performed in its first-ever independent earnings report later this summer, but we thought 61 days out was as good a time as any to take at what the new T-Mobile has accomplished so far.

After failing to merge with AT&T(s t) in 2011, T-Mobile and its former parent Deutsche Telekom chose another partner in MetroPCS in hopes of finding a new avenue for growth. About a month before the merger became official, T-Mobile had the coming-out party to end all parties. It launched its new LTE network in seven markets, completely overhauled the way the U.S. mobile industry charges for service and devices, and even debuted the long-awaited iPhone.

03/26/2014 T-Mobile iPhone 5 unveilingBut since that blockbuster day, T-Mobile has been relatively quiet. It hasn’t launched any new LTE markets, nor has it announced any new activity with its ongoing HSPA+ network overhaul. It started selling the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One along with the other major carriers, but it hasn’t landed any big device exclusives. There haven’t been any big tweaks to T-Mobile plans or device pricing (except to raise the cost of the iPhone 5).

While T-Mobile may be outwardly quiet, though, an awful lot of activity is going on behind the scenes. T-Mobile has a big media event planned for next week, in which it promises to announce its “boldest moves yet.” I don’t know what exactly T-Mobile plans to reveal, but here’s what we know CEO John Legere and company have been working on:

  • T-Mobile has started its migrating MetroPCS customers off of CDMA and onto its GSM networks. Last month, T-Mobile started selling three GSM smartphones to Metro customers in three cities and began inviting other customers to connect their unlocked GSM/HSPA+/LTE smartphones with Metro plans. Typically it can take years for an operator to fully merge to disparate network operations, but T-Mobile seems to moving as quickly as possible. The sooner those CDMA devices are gone, the sooner T-Mobile can shut down Metro’s networks and the sooner it can use that spectrum for LTE and HSPA+.
  • T-Mobile may not have announced any more LTE markets since its original seven, but we know it’s been hard at work building out new markets. TMoNews has been tallying up LTE sightings in dozens of different markets, from San Francisco to New York. T-Mobile has said it plans to accelerate its rollout, covering a population of 100 million by midyear. Well it’s exactly midyear, so expect T-Mobile to announce a lot of new official LTE markets next week.
  • MetroPCS may have brought in valuable new spectrum in key markets, but T-Mobile has been opportunistically poaching new airwaves wherever it can find them. Last week it announced a deal with U.S. Cellular to buy a big regional Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) license covering the Mississippi Valley. Those frequencies will add considerable heft to its mobile data networks in key cities like New Orleans, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis and Nashville.
  • T-Mobile isn’t just expanding its LTE footprint; it’s also pushing LTE’s technical capabilities. GigaOM has learned that T-Mobile will be among the first operators in the world to implement 4X2 MIMO smart antenna technology, which will increase overall uplink and downlink capacity and help devices maintain better signals when at the edge of a cell. T-Mobile is also weighing its first step toward LTE-Advanced through a technique called carrier aggregation, which could double device speeds in several of its markets. We could get a preview of both these technologies next week.


It’s only been two months, so it’s still far too early to weigh in whether the merger has been a success. But T-Mobile has set a very specific goal for itself when its planned marriage to AT&T(s t) fell apart in late 2011, and MetroPCS is a key part of that plan. T-Mobile is trying to position itself as the anti-carrier, or as it calls it, the “Un-carrier,” Whatever the big operators do, T-Mobile will do the opposite.

Consequently T-Mobile has been overhauling every aspect of its business — from its consumer-facing strategy to its underlying network technology. MetroPCS is important to that scheme, not only because it brings the valuable spectrum it needs to compete head-to-head with AT&T(s t) and Verizon(s vz)(s vod) in mobile data, but also because it already hosts a huge prepaid customer base that has traditional shunned the big carriers.

I reached out to T-Mobile, but it wasn’t willing to talk before its big media event in New York next week (which is understandable). I suspect we’re going to hear a lot more than just network overhaul details at the event next week, ranging from plans to unsubsidized device pricing. We might even see T-Mobile’s first consumer shared data plan (it’s already launched them for business customers).

It’s probably a bit early, but there’s a possibility that Legere might say T-Mobile will stop selling CDMA devices to MetroPCS customers completely. That’s a stretch because it would require a complete integration of T-Mobile and Metro’s backend and provisioning systems. T-Mobile may be aggressive but there are limits.

T-Mobile, however, has already gotten the ball rolling in Boston, Las Vegas and Hartford, Conn, and it plans to put a GSM device in every MetroPCS customer’s hands by the end of 2015 if not sooner. Why not go for broke?

12 Responses to “Two months as T-Mobile US: Where it’s been, where it’s going”

  1. Robert Thomas Johnson

    i gotta say t-mobile sucks at times but like when i go to southfield, mi i get LTE coverage, and its really fast but when im at home in the pontiac, michigan area i just get 4g which isnt bad either, but when im at work in ortonville michigan area it sucks ass, cuz all i get for data is 2g. like ortonville area is kinda country but like coverage for data really sucks, but for calls not really ive never had a drop call with t-mobile, but some people say they have idk. i have the tmobile note 2 which isnt bad unless i cant get 4g coverage. sometimes data coverage is very spotty but hey i only pay $124 A month for 2 phones beats paying over 250 a month with ATT. ATT can suck it i would rather have a cheaper bill and ok service then very expensive bill and awesome service. But TMO you really need to update ur towers all over michigan cuz data coverage in michigan is kinda crappy. ITS LIKE Super Spotty All Over

    • Robert Thomas Johnson

      but hey unlike Att, Verizon NO Data Limit For TMobile like i have unlimited Talk, Text And Data. And I Even Get LTE With No GB Limit

  2. Michael Torres

    T-Mobile LTE is basically everywhere in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, at least judged by my iPhone 5. I hope they tweak the plans a little bit as I still feel like I am paying too much. I don’t need unlimited minutes, just data and messaging. I’d love to see a new minutes structure.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      I wouldn’t expect that happen anytime soon, Michael. This is how carriers compete against over-the-top services. They just make minutes and texts unlimited but a mandatory part of their plans. You pay for them whether you use them or not.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Frank,

      I expect it’s going to me more than that. Like I said in the post, T-Mo could be announcing consumer shared data or the the sunsetting of all CDMA devices. We’ll see.

  3. Kevin,

    I don’t understand why you say it’s a stretch that T-Mobile stops selling CDMA devices completely. T-Mobile is ALREADY selling MetroPCS branded phones that are GSM. Limiting customers options on new devices to gsm ONLY sounds like something they can’t do soon enough rather than something that’s far-fetched. That’s a much different thing than discontinuing the MetroPCS brand.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Saykare,

      I think the big issue is the logistics. MetroPCS and T-Mobile have completely different billing, customer management, provisioning and customer service systems. Unless these new MetroPCS GSM customers are really just T-Mobile customers (with the MetroPCS logo stamped on their bill) it takes work to combine those two systems. It would actually just be easier to discontinue the MetroPCS brand.

  4. I like what T-Mobile is doing, but when it comes down to it people want coverage. I have both T-Mobile and Verizon, while T-Mobile may have smoking speeds. Once I leave that small footprint I am on Edge and my Verizon has LTE. I am hoping to see the Edge network be converted to HSPA+ soon.

    • r00fus

      Tmobile is great for many folks that can’t spend $100/mo (or $200+ for multiple lines) to get unlimited voice.
      It used to be that giving my parents (my old) iPhones would require me to a shell out a pretty penny (ie, $20-$30/mo/line)

      With Tmobile, I’m paying just $10/mo per additional line, and each line has 500MB data (LTE if you have an LTE-capable phone)… with 5 devices, it’s just $110/mo for service.

      Coverage isn’t as great as verizon, but most of us don’t travel much. If you’re a road-warrior, yes, I do thnk coverage is more important… but many many folks can benefit from TMO who aren’t traveling a lot.

  5. muaddib28

    Minor notes: T-Mobile recently launched the HTC One, not the One X, which was from last year. T-Mobile also launched 2 exclusives, the Nokia Lumia 925, and the Sony Xperia Z.