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T-Mobile vows to match Verizon's coverage in next 12 months

T-Mobile says it's ready to compete not just on speed, but breadth of coverage too.

T-Mobile has its sights set on Verizon Wireless.

The nation's third-largest carrier believes it will be able to match Verizon's industry-leading wireless coverage within the next 12 months, and maybe sooner, according to T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray.

"We plan to materially close the gap by the end of the year," Ray said in an exclusive interview Thursday.

Ray and T-Mobile have reason to be bullish. Testing firms OpenSignal and Ookla both crowned T-Mobile the fastest wireless network, and OpenSignal said T-Mobile has surpassed AT&T on network availability, just behind Verizon. T-Mobile CEO John Legere on Thursday published a blog post highlighting the scores, essentially taking a victory lap.

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T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray at a past company event talking about network speeds.

James Martin/CNET

Armed with the test results, T-Mobile said it will start to talk more loudly about breadth of coverage. The new approach marks a departure from its emphasis on speed. The knock on T-Mobile has been that while it may boast high speeds, its network was only good in the big cities. Go further out, and your bars would quickly drop.

T-Mobile no longer believes that's the case. The company said it covers 311 million people with its LTE network. That's a measure of how many people can theoretically get the service, not actual subscribers. T-Mobile said that's just a few million away from Verizon, but that still represents a large swath of sparsely populated land.

Verizon dismissed Ray's comments, and touted its capital investment in its network.

"Talk is cheap, and it won't make the nearly 1 million-square-mile gap in LTE coverage -- or the stark advantage in reliability and consistent speeds that VZ's network has over TMobile -- disappear," said a spokesman.

Spectrum play

T-Mobile is also banking on its participation in the ongoing government auction of spectrum to help boost its coverage. At stake is low-band 600-megahertz spectrum that's ideal for going large distances and punching through walls.

Despite the auction process still getting going, T-Mobile's Ray vowed it will be the first carrier to make use of that spectrum. The company is preparing its network now to use the new spectrum as soon as late 2017.

AT&T and Verizon are also participating in the auction.

Even without the spectrum, Ray believes he has a network that's on par with the competition.

"There are no trade-offs today," he said.

Updated at 2:35 p.m. PT: To include a comment from Verizon.