T-Mobile Quietly Preparing LTE Network for BlackBerry Z10 Delivery

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-03-18

T-Mobile Quietly Preparing LTE Network for BlackBerry Z10 Delivery

T-Mobile has taken its first public step in launching its LTE network as the carrier rushes to get the service ready for its launch of the BlackBerry 10 by the end of March. As of March 18, T-Mobile announced that it had released an over-the-air upgrade for the Samsung Galaxy Note II that will enable the device to use LTE in areas where it’s available as of that day.

T-Mobile’s other LTE-capable phone, the Nokia Lumia 810, will get a similar OTA update in the very near future, a spokesperson told eWEEK in an email. Currently, T-Mobile has acknowledged that LTE is up and running in Kansas City and in Las Vegas. But reports on the company’s user forums claim that it’s also running in San Diego, Calif., San Antonio, Texas, and perhaps Austin, Texas.

In a prepared statement provided to eWEEK by a company spokesperson, T-Mobile is rolling out LTE everywhere at once and is expected to be ready by the end of March, as predicted in eWEEK last year.

“Our LTE rollout is moving at breakneck speed and will be available to customers in time for the launch of the new Blackberry Z10 by the end of this month,” the statement read. “We’re on track to have 100 million Americans covered by LTE midyear and 200 million people with LTE by the end of 2013. This is in addition to the blazing-fast 4G experience we give customers right now, covering 220 million people,” the T-Mobile spokesperson’s email read.

The BlackBerry Z10 does support LTE on Band 4, which is the LTE band that T-Mobile is offering. Most of T-Mobile’s customers will get 20 MHz bandwidth access to LTE, but a few will initially get a slower, 10 MHz slice. A source at T-Mobile told eWEEK that while the Galaxy Note II and the Nokia Lumia 810 will need software upgrades to make use of the LTE service, customers who take delivery of the BlackBerry Z10 will simply be able to use LTE when they’re in an area that has the service.

Meanwhile, users on T-Mobile’s support forums report success with using the Google Nexus 4 with LTE in San Antonio and San Diego. Apparently with the Nexus 4, all it takes is a menu choice, although I haven’t had a chance to confirm this, since I don’t have a Nexus 4.

However, I am testing a BlackBerry Z10, and I plan to go in search of LTE in and around the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area this week. These cities have traditionally been among the first to gain access to new wireless communications options, such as the 1900 MHz version of HSPA+, which has been running in the area for a while.

T-Mobile Quietly Preparing LTE Network for BlackBerry Z10 Delivery

There have been a few scattered reports of BlackBerry Z10 users encountering T-Mobile LTE signals in New York and other areas. Clearly the company is in the midst of a massive rollout, and as they turn on their LTE cell sites, even for testing, somebody finds them. While it seems incredibly ambitious for T-Mobile to roll out its LTE service essentially all at once, the company has in fact been planning for this for some time. In 2012, the company upgraded its backhaul to Gigabit Ethernet or faster for all of the sites that will support LTE. Then it refarmed much of its HSPA+ spectrum to 1900 MHz. Part of the reason for the refarming effort was to attract users with iPhones and other devices, but it was also to free up the spectrum that T-Mobile needs for LTE.

Another factor that allows T-Mobile to make its LTE rollout happen so quickly is that the company has worked with its partners to develop a combination radio/antenna module that can be put into action quickly and easily. While it’s not quite plug-and-play, it can be done very quickly.

This sort of quiet launch is something that T-Mobile has done before. You’ll recall that the company launched its 1900 MHz service in downtown San Francisco close to the Moscone Center during Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference so that iPhone users could make use of it. By the time T-Mobile actually wanted to talk about the refarmed spectrum, it was nearly done.

You can expect much the same thing with regard to the LTE launch. If you have an LTE-capable device currently running on T-Mobile, such as one of those newly enabled Galaxy Note II devices, or if you have an iPhone 5 or a BlackBerry 10 device, then keep an eye on the communications flag at the top of your screen. You could see LTE show up at any time.

But the official word is that it won’t happen until March 26, when T-Mobile holds a press event in New York to announce the availability of LTE service along with the start of BlackBerry Z10 sales. By then, T-Mobile should have completed the nearly unbelievable task of launching LTE for nearly half of the U.S. population. The company should be covering nearly two-thirds of the population by the end of 2013. Considering how massive this rollout is and how ambitious the schedule, it’s no surprise that some T-Mobile LTE signals are leaking out here and there.

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