You might recall that T-Mobile was late with 3G. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint all had their third generation wireless data networks at a near ubiquitous status around 2008. T-Mobile, on the other hand, was a year or more late with achieving the same level of penetration.
It looks like T-Mobile is going to be late again with deploying its 4G LTE network, although it’s using HSPA+ as a way to bridge users to faster speeds while they begin investing in the next generation technology. T-Mobile has stated that it won’t introduce LTE for “a few years” according to a Bloomberg article.
Is this a problem? Well, sort of, but not really. Many of these network protocols, with further investment to infrastructure, can provide faster speeds even beyond what is originally intended (think EVDO Rev A, etc). T-Mobile has announced that its HSPA+ network will be capable of 42mbps download speeds (or 25mbps in practice) by the end of this year in most places. They’re even talking about going beyond that further down the line to speeds as great as 672mbps.
What’s the downside to T-Mobile investing heavily in its HSPA+ network, granting T-Mobile subscribers speeds that rival those of first generation LTE networks? Opportunity cost. Upgrading a network is extremely expensive, and T-Mobile can’t aggressively grow its 3G HSPA+ network while getting ready for LTE. They have to prioritize.
But wait a sec…it sounds like T-Mobile has a good thing going with HSPA+. That’s true, except that you can only take HSPA+ so far. With LTE, if you upgrade a network to LTE Advanced (which we have to imagine is in the long term pipeline for the likes of Verizon, AT&T, etc), speeds can reach an insane 1000mbps, or 1gbps. We’re probably five years or more away from being able to download emails 100 times faster than the average wired broadband connection with LTE Advanced, but it’s about potential. Additionally, LTE networks can support more simultaneous calls and data transfer than can 3G networks. If T-Mobile breaks away from being the smallest carrier, capacity might become an issue.
The real future is with LTE, no doubt, due to its tremendous throughput potential and capacity advantages. If T-Mobile can keep their HSPA+ speeds on par with what is possible through LTE or WiMax (which they seem to be succeeding in doing), then transition to LTE as the protocol matures and speeds march forward, they might have a fighting chance to “keep up” with the mobile broadband wars.