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T-Mobile emphasizing services over speed while waiting for LTE

So what does America's number-four U.S. carrier do while waiting to recover from a failed merger and waiting to catch up? Spin the story.

The HTC One S Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone is headed to T-Mobile within 60 days. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--T-Mobile has a plan. The smallest and weakest of the four top U.S. wireless providers may be bruised after a breakup with would-be spouse AT&T, but it isn't beaten. So goes the company line.

It all starts with investing $4 billion to upgrade its network and roll out 4G LTE, which it expects to launch in 2013, behind Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. It's also wooing wholesalers to jump on its network, and will rededicate itself to providing the best customer satisfaction.

The latter was a theme repeated several times at Mobile World Congress this week. While U.S. carriers typically don't make much noise at the Barcelona-based show, T-Mobile did piggyback on HTC's announcement to unveil the HTC One S, likely to be the carrier's first available Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich phone.

The carrier also invited members of the press to one-on-one meetings to get hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G, a 4G HSPA+ handset that T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm first revealed in January at CES.

T-Mobile will use the forthcoming devices to showcase its special relationship with Google Music.

At this week's meeting, T-Mobile's spokespeople embraced the company's new interim message that T-Mobile doesn't want to just be known as the budget carrier, but as the carrier that offers the "best" overall experience. That's a blanket statement that manages to join T-Mobile's customarily lower price and strong customer service response with its product lineup.

The take-home message as I see it: we may not offer the absolute highest specs or speed, but we will give you approachable, affordable devices and good care.

Cherry-picking those devices was another topic of our one-on-one. Note that T-Mobile doesn't carry a single Motorola device, a product lineup that company reps said was intentional.

Pursuing relationships with Samsung, HTC, and Nokia is part of T-Mobile's way to "focus" the device lineup and keep from "confusing" customers by offering too many unknown brands, they said during our meeting. (T-Mobile does offer LG and BlackBerry handsets as well.)

That might not be the way to win new users with the LTE question hanging overhead, but by the sounds of things, that's T-Mobile's story for now, and it's sticking to it.