T-Mobile USA's Challenger Strategy begins with 4G struggle

T-Mobile USA isn't just planning an LTE network, it's "making amazing 4G services affordable" the carrier claims, as part of its "Challenger Strategy" to claw back subscribers from its rivals. Having blamed the lure of the iPhone 4S for stealing contract customers away in Q4 2011, T-Mobile USA now faces the perhaps tricky task of developing two networks it calls "4G" – HSPA+ and LTE – without leaving customers confused.

"We want to be known for delivering the best value in wireless because of the advanced technology we deliver at an affordable price" Philipp Humm, CEO and President of T-Mobile USA, said in a statement today. "Over the next two years, we're prioritizing and investing in initiatives designed to get T-Mobile back to growth in the years ahead — beginning with the transformation of our network."

That network has long used the 4G nomenclature for a service that experts might not call 4G at all. Like AT&T, T-Mobile branded HSPA+ as 4G so that it could market itself as competitive with LTE from Verizon and others. Now, with the chunk of AWS spectrum AT&T was forced to hand over after the collapse of its acquisition plans, T-Mobile finally has the room to build out LTE of its own.

That won't happen until 2013, however, with HSPA+ still seeing significant investment before then. 37,000 cell sites will get new hardware to improve HSPA+ bandwidth, with a total of $1.4bn in network investment over the next two years. LTE, though, will be provided in the "vast majority" of the top 50 markets, with 20MHz service for 75-percent of the top 25 markets. There'll need to be some spectrum juggling first, though, T-Mobile retiring some 2G coverage so that it can "refarm" to accommodate LTE.

"As data usage and smartphone adoption accelerate, fewer customers are utilizing 2G services. This enables T-Mobile to refarm existing spectrum holdings, reducing the amount of 1900 MHz PCS spectrum being used for GSM; to deploy HSPA+ 4G services in the PCS band; and to make room in the AWS band for LTE. In addition to creating capacity for LTE in AWS spectrum, deploying HSPA+ in the PCS band will harmonize T-Mobile's spectrum bands with the U.S. market and international carriers. As the company refarms spectrum, T-Mobile will continue to support its 2G customers" T-Mobile USA

Whether 2013 and T-Mobile USA's coverage plans will be sufficient remains to be seen. The carrier will be several years behind its big-name rivals, and is seeing valuable income it needs to fund the LTE deployment reduced by pushing its Value plans to distract from the iPhone 4S.