Ina Fried

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T-Mobile Taps MetroPCS’ Spectrum to Boost LTE Network Speeds

T-Mobile has started rolling out higher-speed LTE service by tapping the airwaves it acquired as part of its MetroPCS acquisition.

need_for_speed

Just before Thanksgiving, T-Mobile quietly turned on the faster service in parts of North Dallas. The higher speeds come by combining T-Mobile’s LTE spectrum with that originally held by MetroPCS. Combining the spectrum allows so-called 20-by-20 service, or double the amount of spectrum T-Mobile had been able to offer in most markets.

T-Mobile plans to eventually offer the expanded LTE service in 90 percent of the top 25 U.S. markets, but timing depends on how quickly it can move around some of its existing network traffic.

“We actually have been working on it for a little while,” said Grant Castle, a T-Mobile network vice president. T-Mobile had touted the increased bandwidth as one of the benefits of the MetroPCS deal, though it hadn’t committed to offering 20-by-20 service until next year. The company expects to have 10-by-10 LTE service in 40 of the top 50 markets by the end of the year.

With each of the major carriers now offering LTE networks in most big cities, a race is on not just to add cities but also to improve the speeds and capacity of the LTE networks in existing markets.

Verizon, which was the first and fastest to deploy a nationwide LTE network, has been working to add another flavor of spectrum, known as AWS, to its LTE network in an effort to add capacity and boost speeds, especially in high-traffic areas of key cities. Some phones are already able to take advantage of that spectrum and some others can take advantage of the additional airwaves via a software update.

Sprint, meanwhile, has announced plans for Sprint Spark, which will boost Sprint’s LTE speeds by tapping the airwaves that Sprint got in acquiring Clearwire. The carrier is launching Spark initially in five cities, with plans to cover 100 within three years.

Unlike those service improvements, though, T-Mobile’s moves will work with all LTE-capable devices on its network, Castle said.

AT&T is enhancing its network with a combination of small cells, macro cells and distributed antenna systems as part of its “project VIP” slated to be complete by the end of 2015.

Taking advantage of the new speeds, though, will require new devices that are designed to use the additional airwaves. So far Sprint has announced seven devices that will support the faster network, including the Samsung Galaxy Mega and Galaxy S4 mini, the LG G2 and Nexus 5, HTC’s One Max and a pair of mobile hotspots.

Last month AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg put the current LTE networks to the test. Check out this post to see what he found.


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