T-Mobile LTE Network Under Way, Thanks to Ericsson, Nokia Siemens

T-Mobile has partnered with Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks to build its LTE network. While due in 2013, subscribers will feel speed increases this year. Could it mean that a T-Mobile iPhone is on the way?

T-Mobile subscribers should expect to experience increased speeds as early as this year, as the carrier's planned $4 billion Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network rollout gets under way.

America's fourth-largest carrier announced May 7 that it has signed multi-year agreements with Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks, which will provide and install Release 10-capable equipment at 37,000 cell sites across T-Mobile's 4G network (currently based on Evolved High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) technology). These steps will serve to quickly increase signal quality and network performance, said T-Mobile, adding that it also expects to be the first North American carrier to "broadly deploy antenna-integrated radios, enabling accelerated deployment and reduced site loading."

While well behind the LTE rollouts of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, T-Mobile is making "great progress," said Neville Ray, T-Mobile CTO.

"With these partners on board and the AT&T AWS [Advanced Wireless Services] spectrum secured," Ray added, "we're on track to enhance our 4G experience this year and deliver nationwide LTE in 2013."

While the LTE build-out will help T-Mobile compete against its larger rivals, it also signals that the carrier may be smoothing the pathway for Apple€™s iPhone. Right now, T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier not to offer the device, but many suspect the next iPhone€”iPhone5€”will be LTE-ready and T-Mobile€™s new network could give it the opening to support Apple€™s signature smartphone in the United States.

T-Mobile's late arrival to the LTE game€”made possible by AT&T's failed attempt to acquire the brand from parent company Deutsche Telekom€”enabled it to take advantage of the "latest and most advanced" LTE infrastructure, the carrier said. Last week, AT&T handed over the spectrum licenses promised to T-Mobile, should AT&T's bid fail; along with spectrum that T-Mobile plans to "refarm," it will be able to launch LTE in AWS spectrum and up to 20MHz of LTE in 75 percent of the U.S. top-25 markets.

By the end of this year, T-Mobile also plans to launch HSPA+ service in the 1,900MHz band to a "large number of markets." The technology currently covers 229 markets and more than 220 million people.

"In contrast to our competitors, nearly half of T-Mobile's postpaid smartphone customers are using a 4G device," Ray said in the statement. "Not only are we delivering a fast 4G experience to a higher percentage of our customers, we're also making it more affordable to step up to 4G."

While ringing its bell, T-Mobile added that its Bobsled voice over IP (VOIP) software now has more than 1 million users. The app enables mobile users to place free phone calls over a data connection or WiFi network, using Google Android or Apple iOS-powered smartphones or tablets.

The software has found a strong international following and is even more popular with users who aren't T-Mobile subscribers€”a fact that T-Mobile says proves its universal communications strategy is "resonating" with people.

It may also prove that people like placing free calls instead of expensive international calls€”or that people are taken with the Facebook app, introduced in April 2011, which enables non-T-Mobile subscribers to place calls through Facebook Chat.

Of Bobsled Calling's more than 1 million users, 95 percent aren't T-Mobile subscribers, according to T-Mobile. Further, while 90 percent of the messages sent through Bobsled Messaging are from users based in the United States, 80 percent of the calls made to phone numbers through Bobsled Calling are from users outside the United States.

"T-Mobile is committed to expanding innovative communication experiences beyond our own wireless customer base to include people across all networks, devices, countries and carriers,€ Brad Duea, T-Mobile senior vice president, said in a statement. "The popularity and continued growth of the Bobsled service is testament to consumers' desire for simple ways to stay connected with friends and family."