Why T-Mobile subscribers in 21 cities are seeing faster speeds

T-Mobile is starting to clock some impressive download speeds on its newly upgraded LTE networks in different parts of the country: 30.2 Mbps in Columbus, Ohio; 24.1 Mbps in Boston; and 19.3 Mbps in Kansas City. And these are just averages. T-Mobile has recorded peaks speeds as high 86 Mbps on what it’s calling its Wideband LTE network.

Wideband LTE is now in 21 cities and metro regions, giving subscribers access to anywhere from 50 percent more to double the bandwidth of T-Mobile’s regular 4G networks. That equates to theoretical peak speeds of 100 Mbps to 150 Mbps, though real world speeds are far lower due to imperfect conditions of mobile networks.

Mobilize 2012 Neville Ray T-Mobile
Neville Ray, CTO, T-Mobile, speaking at Gigaom’s Mobilize conference

[company]T-Mobile[/company] basically has been piling more spectrum onto its network, a process that started way back in 2012, when the failed AT&T-Mo merger landed T-Mobile with a bunch of consolation airwaves. T-Mobile opted to launch an LTE network, and CTO Neville Ray began a complicated refarming process of T-Mobile’s existing frequencies, shutting down 2G capacity and shifting 3G to other bands. In 2013, T-Mobile acquired MetroPCS and a windfall of 4G spectrum in key big city markets, which Ray in turn added to his game of spectral musical chairs.

The end result is that T-Mobile is now able to field big blocks of spectrum in big cities for 4G services, in some cases as much as 40 MHz in Dallas and Detroit, though in most areas it’s using 30 MHz. Meanwhile T-Mobile is starting to launch new LTE networks in a much lower frequency band, which will extend its now urban-focused 4G service outside of cities.

That’s why we’re seeing boasts from T-Mobile of having the fastest network in the country. In many places it’s right, and not just in cities with the wideband upgrade. Even in markets where it may not have more spectrum than its competitors, T-Mobile is still half the size of [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Verizon[/company], meaning it has fewer customers vying for the same capacity.

But the other carriers certainly aren’t standing still. This year Verizon rolled out a new 4G of its own, which it calls XLTE. It uses 30 MHz to 40 MHz blocks of spectrum just like T-Mobile’s, though you’ll need a newer Verizon phone or modem to access its higher speeds.

AT&T is preparing its own upgrade, using a new LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation. It essentially bonds spectrum from different bands together, but the end result is the same: more capacity and higher speeds. [company]Sprint[/company] is in throes of upgrading its Spark network, bringing it to more markets and using carrier aggregation to boost its overall bandwidth.

T-Mobile eventually plans to bring that it will bring its Wideband LTE service to 22 of the top 25 cities, but it’s not quite there yet. While its in 21 metro regions already, some of them are hardly top 25 markets, Boise, ID; and Birmingham, AL; for instance. Here’s a complete list:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Boston, MA
  • Greater Bay Area, CA
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Boise, ID
  • Columbus, OH
  • Connecticut
  • Dallas, TX
  • Detroit, MI
  • Honolulu, HI
  • Houston, TX
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Mobile, AL
  • Orlando, FL
  • Greater Philadelphia Area, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • Seattle, WA
  • Tampa, FL
  • Upstate New York Area

 Neville Ray photo (c) 2012 Pinar Ozger. This post was updated on Monday to clarify T-Mobile’s wideband LTE rollout plans.