YOU ARE AT:CarriersCES 2013: T-Mobile USA goes full unlimited, no contract; expands network upgrade

CES 2013: T-Mobile USA goes full unlimited, no contract; expands network upgrade

T-Mobile USA’s plans to become a disruptive force in the domestic mobile space heated up this week as the carrier unveiled its “Unlimited Nationwide 4G Data” plan that provides unlimited voice, messaging and “4G” data services for $70 per month without a contract.

The plan expands on the carrier’s previous “unlimited” offering launched last year that was limited to its contract plans. T-Mobile USA noted that the unlimited contract offering was selected by 46% of new customers in December.

The move builds on T-Mobile USA’s intention to become more competitive in the mobile space, especially in the no-contract arena. The new offering also further aligns T-Mobile USA’s pricing structure with that of MetroPCS, which T-Mobile USA is in the process of acquiring. MetroPCS updated its rate plans last year, providing for unlimited voice, messaging and data access for $55 per month without a contract.

T-Mobile USA will continue offering lower-tiered, capped data packages including 2 gigabytes of full data speeds for $60 per month or 100 megabytes of full data speeds for $50 per month.

Speaking on the MetroPCS topic, T-Mobile USA President and CEO John Legere told attendees at an investor conference this week that the deal was progressing ahead of schedule, with plans to file a new proxy on terms of the deal by next week. If the deal garners shareholder approval in the late February, early March time frame as expected, the deal could close by early April.

However, news this week that Dish Networks had put in a bid for Clearwire could throw a wrench in the T-Mobile USA/MetroPCS plans. Analysts have noted that the Dish offer indicates the company is willing to throw some money around in order to garner a foothold in the mobile space. With a complicated ownership structure at Clearwire expected to hinder Dish’s overtures in favor of current majority owner Sprint Nextel, Dish could look at MetroPCS as a consolation prize. MetroPCS noted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that Dish had been one of the companies it was in discussions with about a potential deal before accepting the offer from T-Mobile USA.

T-Mobile USA’s management looked to head off such a showdown, noting that the carrier would be an ideal candidate for a wireless partnership. Dish recently won access to 30 megahertz of wireless spectrum in the 2 GHz band that could provide a nice buffer for an established carrier looking to bolster their spectrum portfolio. T-Mobile USA has noted that its offer to acquire MetroPCS was made in order to gain access to valuable spectrum assets in order to allow broader and deeper deployment of LTE services.

Network expansion, HD Voice

T-Mobile USA also announced continued expansion of its network re-banding efforts, noting that HSPA+ services running across its 1.9 GHz spectrum band were now available in Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego and Virginia Beach, Va. The expansion propels the offering to 126 million potential customers.

The network re-banding , which will see the carrier move its HSPA+ services to the 1.9 GHz band in order to free up the 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum for its LTE launch, will also allow the carrier to move further with its plans to lure iPhone customers from AT&T Mobility. T-Mobile USA announced last year an initiative to seek out those customers with unlocked devices as the AT&T Mobility iPhones have access to HSPA+ in the 1.9 GHz band. T-Mobile USA also announced late last year that it will begin offering its own version of Apple products sometime this year.

In addition to aligning its HSPA+ service with that of AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA’s plans to run its LTE service across its 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum – and that of MetroPCS (see above) – aligns that network with expected LTE launches by Verizon Wireless using that spectrum. This should enable T-Mobile USA greater access to devices as well as cheaper prices on network equipment. T-Mobile USA CTO Neville Ray said the carrier expects to have LTE coverage at 100 million potential customers by mid-2013, with 200 million pops covered by the end of the year.

While LTE is the future, T-Mobile USA reported that its current HSPA+ offering is now home to HD Voice services. The technology is designed to provide improved call quality with reduced background noise. To take advantage of the service, both phones on a call need to be HD Voice-enabled, which is currently limited to a handful of smartphones, including the HTC One S, Nokia Astound and Samsung Galaxy S3.

Sprint Nextel last year announced support for HD Voice services with the launch of the HTC Evo 4G LTE smartphone running across its Network Vision upgrade program.

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