Ina Fried

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T-Mobile Shouts Back at AT&T While Its Network Team Quietly Builds Away

It wasn’t that long ago that T-Mobile USA and AT&T were extolling each other’s virtues as they prepared to become a single wireless company.

Ah, how times have changed.

Now the two companies are spending big bucks to take potshots at one another. AT&T placed newspaper ads last week insisting that its smaller rival drops more calls. On Wednesday, T-Mobile fired back with ads of its own, suggesting that AT&T is staying up nights worrying about its little company.

“We love a good scrap, especially when the winner is the consumer,” said Mike Sievert, T-Mobile’s chief marketing officer (and, once upon a time, an AT&T wireless executive himself).

But while Sievert and T-Mobile’s marketing team prep ads, T-Mobile is also working on a new network that it hopes will make it a more serious longer-term competitor.

After trailing all its major rivals in building an LTE network, T-Mobile is preparing a rapid nationwide deployment this year, expecting to cover more than a third of the U.S. population by mid-year and reach 200 million people by the end of the year.

And, at long last, T-Mobile has said it will begin selling Apple products, filling the biggest hole in its product lineup.

“We’re feeling really confident,” T-Mobile engineering VP Mark McDiarmid said in an interview this week.

T-Mobile plans to offer the 4G LTE network alongside its existing HSPA+ network, which it has also dubbed 4G. But after years of touting how HSPA+ can be nearly as fast in some real-world scenarios, the company is now proudly showing test numbers that show just how much faster LTE will be, especially when uploading data.

McDiarmid has plenty of work to do, though. For now, T-Mobile has yet to turn on its LTE network for customers anywhere, though it has things ready to go in Las Vegas and Kansas City as soon as the company is ready to sell devices and make an announcement.

The company also has other technical battles on the horizon, including merging its operations with MetroPCS, once that deal is completed later this year. The move will give the new T-Mobile the spectrum it needs, along with greater scale, but will also be a fair bit of work, given that MetroPCS and T-Mobile are based on different network technologies.

In the meantime, McDiarmid said, he is happy just to see the company’s name staying in print — even if it is in ads from its rival.

“I was kind of excited to see our name printed so boldly,” he said.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle