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T-Mobile US hits 157M pops covered with LTE, hints at stealing customers from rivals

T-Mobile US is looking to keep the pedal to the metal in its attempts to carve market share out of its larger rivals, announcing today a host network and marketing enhancements designed to attract disgruntled wireless customers as well as hints that it was set to post strong second quarter results.

The network initiative includes the expansion of its LTE network to 157 million potential customers across 116 markets, ahead of its previous estimates of 100 million pops covered by mid-year. The carrier noted that its LTE service was on track to hit 200 million pops covered by year-end. In addition to its LTE network, T-Mobile US reported that its legacy HSPA+ network now covered 228 million pops.

The network expansion will see the carrier still trail behind larger rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, both of which are set to cover more than 250 million pops by year-end, though it does provide compelling competition for Sprint Nextel, which is still struggling to expand its LTE coverage. Sprint Nextel recently noted that it also plans to cover 200 million pops by year-end, though it had a near one-year head start on rolling out its network compared with T-Mobile US.

Just months off of completing its acquisition of MetroPCS that resulted in the launch of its current T-Mobile US operations, the carrier noted that it had “nearly tripled its flow of postpaid net-new customers from AT&T” and that in May the carrier gained more net-new customers than its larger rivals in New York; Los Angeles; Houston; the San Francisco Bay Area; Miami; San Diego; and Washington, D.C. The May timeline is somewhat significant, and perhaps misleading, in that the month was its first full month of offering Apple’s iPhone product lineup having begun offering the devices April 12. Ahead of the iPhone launch, T-Mobile US also rolled out an aggressive trade-in program for customers using iPhones from competing carriers.

Analysts have been expecting a surge in postpaid net additions for T-Mobile US during the recently completed second quarter, with many updating expectations for the carrier to post positive growth across that customer segment. T-Mobile US has seen a continuous stream of defections from its postpaid business, including the loss of 199,000 contract customers during the first quarter of this year.

As for its marketing efforts, T-Mobile US announced a new handset upgrade program and a new family plan.

The upgrade program, dubbed “Jump,” allows customers to pay an extra $10 per month for the ability to upgrade to a new device up to twice per year. The first upgrade has to be after six months of enrollment in the program and requires that customers trade in their old device in “good working condition.” Customers will then be able to select a new device through the carrier’s equipment installment program at the non-subsidized price T-Mobile US offers to new customers, with the remaining balance on the old device is eliminated. The Jump offering is set to launch July 14.

For those looking at multi-line options, T-Mobile US is also set to rollout a family plan that allows for up to four lines of its unlimited talk, messaging and data services, with 500 megabytes of data at HSPA+ or LTE speeds, for $100 per month. Like its traditional Simple Choice Plan, the family offering does not require a contract or credit check.

Future with Dish?

Publsihed reports also indicate that T-Mobile US could be looking at a potential partnership with Dish Network, which recently failed in its attempts to acquire a piece of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire. The Wall Street Journal noted that T-Mobile US CEO John Legere was “intrigued” by the vision laid out by Dish Network Chairman Charles Ergen, which included closer integration between satellite television and mobile communications.

“When he made his bid and made his presentation to Wall Street about what his vision was, in my opinion it was very high level, and people didn’t puke all over it,” Legere said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “I’m intrigued by Charlie’s vision of this integrated capability.”

Ergen told attendees at last year’s PCIA event in Orlando, Fla., that the company was looking to partner with an established wireless operator in bolstering the company’s telecom presence.

“Some people dismiss us and say we can’t compete, while others want to know how they can help us get into the market,” Ergen said during a keynote presentation at the event. “We are not that credible yet. … Invite me back in 5 years and let’s see how we did.”

That presentation came just days after T-Mobile USA announced plans to acquire regional operator MetroPCS, a move that Ergen hinted impacted negotiations Dish was having with T-Mobile USA regarding a spectrum hosting arrangement. Those talks were hindered by the federal government delaying a decision on Dish Network’s use of 2 GHz spectrum holdings for a terrestrial cellular network to go along with Dish Network’s handful of 700 MHz licenses.

Last December, the Federal Communications Commission released rules regarding the 2 GHz spectrum band that provided Dish Network with access to 30 megahertz of spectrum as well as build-out requirements that would require coverage of 40% of the population in those markets within four years and 70% of the market within 10 years.

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