T-Mobile launches 3G network in NY

The company finally rolls out its long-awaited 3G network, but it still has a ways to go in matching speeds of its competitors.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

T-Mobile USA said Monday that it's finally launching its long-awaited 3G wireless network.

New York will be the first city to use the new network, which will initially use a technology called UMTS, or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, but will eventually use an even faster technology standard called HSDPA, or High-Speed Downlink Packet Access. T-Mobile will continue rolling out the network across other major cities throughout the year. By the end of the year, the company expects that its high-speed data network will be up and running in most major metropolitan areas.

T-Mobile, which is a distant fourth place in the U.S. wireless market with about 29 million customers at the end of December, spent more than $4 billion to buy spectrum in the 2006 Advanced Wireless Service auction held by the Federal Communications Commission. The new spectrum more than doubled the company's spectrum offering and finally gave it the necessary bandwidth to build a high-speed wireless network.

Often seen as a laggard in the U.S. wireless market, T-Mobile has mainly competed against the other big three mobile operators--AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint Nextel--by offering customers value service plans that are often cheaper and include more free talk time. So far, the company hasn't released details of new pricing for its 3G network, but it's expected to once again beat its competitors on value.

That said, T-Mobile still has some way to go in matching data speeds of its competitors. Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, whose networks both use the CDMA technology, have 3G networks that use EV-DO. This technology provides data download rates of 500 kilobits per second to 1,000Kbps, peaking at 2Mbps.

These carriers are currently upgrading their networks to the next version of the technology, called EV-DO Revision A, which will give downloads a 10 percent bump in performance and triple upload speeds.

T-Mobile's 3G network will initially use a GSM-based technology called UMTS, which typically provides download speeds of 220Kbps to 320Kbps with bursts at 384Kbps.

The blog Electronista reported earlier this weekend that T-Mobile customers in Brooklyn, N.Y., who already began using the new service before the official launch, have reported UMTS downloads at 300Kbps or more. This is faster than the typical download speeds found using the current 2.5G EDGE network, which offers downloads at about 200Kbps or less.

While UMTS is considered a 3G technology, there is an even faster version of the technology known as HSDPA. AT&T, which also uses GSM, has already begun upgrading from UMTS to HSDPA. And it typically gets average download speeds of 967Kbps, with peaks at 1.63Mbps.

HSDPA is based on UMTS, so upgrading the network is supposedly easy. T-Mobile has already said that it plans to offer its first HSDPA device within a few months. Its parent company Deutsche Telekom is already rolling out HSDPA throughout T-Mobile networks in Europe. So it's very likely that T-Mobile's network will catch up in terms of speed very quickly.

The company is also augmenting its 3G service with an expansion of its T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi network. The hope is that customers will use dual-mode Wi-Fi and cellular phones to leverage both T-Mobile's 3G network as well as fast Wi-Fi networks.

While many T-Mobile customers will likely rejoice that the carrier has finally added 3G capability to its network, it will be interesting to see how quickly the company can get the service to all its markets, and how much it will ask subscribers to pay.

T-Mobile may not stop with its 3G rollout in its efforts to expand its market in the U.S. Parent company Deutsch Telekom is also supposedly in talks to acquire Sprint Nextel, according to a story published Monday in The Wall Street Journal. But I think this scenario is highly unlikely. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog detailing why I think it would be dumb for T-Mobile to acquire Sprint and its cadre of problems.

Share your thoughts on the T-Mobile 3G launch and tell us what you think.