T-Mobile, with No iPhone, Eyes Tower Sales, More Android, LTE

Without an Apple iPhone to help boost sales and grow customer numbers, T-Mobile is banking on Android, an eventual move to LTE and potentially selling its towers.

Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile, America's fourth-largest carrier after Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint, is gearing up to more effectively compete against its larger rivals. Without an Apple iPhone to help it, the carrier's game plan includes eventually upgrading to an LTE (Long-Term Evolution)-based 4G network, offering more exciting Android-running smartphones and selling its broadcast cellular towers.

The first U.S. carrier to offer an Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, T-Mobile saw customer growth slow from more than 40 percent to 10 percent between 2002 and 2008, Bloomberg reported Jan. 20. Its anticipated changes, then, are toward the dual goals of adding new customers and boosting sales and profits.

"T-Mobile is now ready to turn the business around," T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm said during a presentation in New York Jan. 20, according to Bloomberg. Humm added that T-Mobile plans to offer the "best" data plan and fourth-generation network.

In November, jumping out ahead of Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile launched a campaign reintroducing itself as "America's largest 4G network" and launching a 4G-enabled smartphone, the HTC-made myTouch 4G. The network is based on HSPA+ technology, which the carrier had previously nicknamed "3.5G." However, during the launch, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray was quick to point out that the network was providing speeds comparable or faster than some WiMax and LTE-based networks.

At the Jan. 20 presentation, Ray said the network is scheduled to get faster still, climbing to 42M bps later this year, up from 21M bps.

A challenge to building out the network for LTE-which executives said will happen in a "a few years," once devices are readily available and on par with its HSPA+ offerings-will be acquiring additional spectrum. One means of doing so could include "partnering with other companies," an unnamed executive told Bloomberg, declining to cite the name of potential partners.

Another way to acquire the necessary assets could include the sale of its portfolio of U.S. cellular towers. A trend among operators, according to Reuters, is to sell their wireless towers to dedicated tower operators and then rent space in them. T-Mobile considered selling its towers in 2007, but decided the timing and financials weren't right. Again, it will only sell them if "the financials work out," Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann told reporters, adding, "We're definitely not in a rush."

T-Mobile has also considered expanding its wireless airwaves access by partnering with companies such as Clearwire, which offers WiMax-based 4G, or LightSquared, the LTE provider that's financially backed by Philip Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partners.

The financially strapped Clearwire is in the process of auctioning off a portion of its considerable spectrum holdings, which has attracted the attention of Deutsche Telekom, as well as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and cable operators Time Warner and Cablevision.

According to the Jan. 20 Reuters report, T-Mobile USA is the "main bidder left" in the spectrum auction.