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T-Mobile vows to cover 300M people with LTE next year

The wireless carrier will focus first on rural and suburban areas. "We've come a long way with this," says CTO Neville Ray.

T-Mobile is closing the coverage gap with the big boys.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray at a company press conference earlier this year. CNET/James Martin

The company said on Tuesday that its 4G LTE network covers 260 million people, and it plans to cover 300 million people by the end of the year. In comparison, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the nation's two largest carriers, both reach more than 300 million people with their own 4G LTE networks.

In the battle for wireless supremacy, strong coverage -- or even the reputation for strong coverage -- is paramount to winning and keeping customers. While Verizon and AT&T jumped out to a large lead with their 4G networks essentially done, T-Mobile has steadily gained ground and rebuilt the perception of its network.

"We've come a long way this year," said Neville Ray, chief technology officer of T-Mobile.

The Bellevue, Wash., wireless carrier has greatly improved its coverage in major cities and densely populated areas, but it still has a ways to go before it reaches parity with the larger carriers. In less populated areas, T-Mobile's coverage often lags, and the network is particularly weak inside buildings, a result of the kind of spectrum it employs.

T-Mobile has a nationwide swath of lower frequency spectrum it acquired from Verizon early this year. On Tuesday, the company said it began deploying the low-band 700 megahertz spectrum in Cleveland, Colorado Springs, Colo., Minneapolis and Washington D.C.

Low-band spectrum is often referred to as "beachfront property" by telecom executives because of its attractive characteristics. The spectrum can be dispersed over greater distances, requiring fewer cell towers, and it can also better penetrate walls, improving coverage inside homes and offices. Because T-Mobile only employs mid-band spectrum, indoor coverage is lacking.

But broadcasters are still using a chunk of that spectrum. As a result, T-Mobile can only utilize part of it as it works to vacate the spectrum. In New York, for example, T-Mobile plans to deploy in New Jersey and Long Island before moving into the city, Ray said.

He added that the priority for the low-band spectrum is to deploy it in rural and suburban areas before heading into metro regions, where its other existing spectrum already provides coverage.

"We're building from the outside in," he said.

Lastly, the company said it is upgrading its networks with wideband LTE, which is a souped up form of LTE created by combining multiple bands of spectrum. The company said it has upgraded the networks in 121 metropolitan areas with wideband LTE.

"Wideband is moving at a furious pace," he said.

While on a webcast to discuss the company's "Data Stash" rollover program, CEO John Legere reiterated the company's goal to transition its 2G network over to 4G LTE, noting that he plans to have the work completed by the middle of next year.