T-Mobile adds 1.7M subscribers as 5G launch and Sprint merger loom

T-Mobile continues to grow ahead of what is shaping up to be a busy end of 2019 for the carrier.

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
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Eli Blumenthal
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T-Mobile's low-band 5G network is set to go live before the end of 2019.

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T-Mobile 's position as the fastest-growing US wireless carrier, which it has held more than two years, continued into the third quarter of 2019. The growth bolstered the nation's third-largest carrier while it awaits the status of its pending merger with Sprint and prepares to launch a  5G network that runs on lower-band spectrum and can reach more people than ever. 

In its third-quarter earnings posted Monday afternoon, the self-proclaimed "Un-carrier" added 1.7 million subscribers, 754,000 of whom were postpaid phone additions, to bring its total count to 84.2 million subscribers.

Postpaid subscribers, who pay at the end of the month and are valued more highly by financial analysts, saw a 3% year-over-year increase. 

Revenue for the quarter came in at $11.1 billion, lower than the $11.33 billion analysts polled by Yahoo Finance estimated. Earnings per share were $1.01, higher than the 96 cents analysts estimated. 

The earnings come as T-Mobile prepares for what is shaping up to be a busy end of the year. 

After launching higher-frequency millimeter-wave 5G in a handful of cities earlier this year, the carrier is planning to launch its nationwide, low-band 600MHz 5G network that it says will cover 200 million people before the end of 2019, including indoors and over wider areas. T-Mobile already has two new  phones lined up for the new network, the OnePlus 7T Pro 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. 

The company's first 5G phone, the Galaxy S10 5G, works on its current millimeter-wave network -- which is faster than low-band but struggles in buildings and suffers from limited range. The two new low-band phones, however, won't work on the faster millimeter-wave network. Devices that work on both 5G networks are expected next year. 

T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray tells CNET that the new 600MHz network, which is built on top of T-Mobile's current LTE network, will see peak speeds of "200 to 300Mbps." 

"It's just transformational what we're building," adds Mike Sievert, T-Mobile's president and chief operating officer. "And this piece that we're launching this quarter is just the beginning of a journey." 

Watch this: How fast is T-Mobile's 5G network? We took it for a test drive in New York

Part of that journey, of course, will require Sprint. 

In addition to the new network, the carrier is also in the midst of negotiating with 16 attorneys general, led by New York, California and Texas, over the fate of its planned merger with Sprint. Although the deal has won the blessings of the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission, the states have sued to block the $26.5 billion deal over claims that the consolidation of the wireless market will lead to higher prices for consumers. 

The DOJ approved the deal with the condition that Dish Network step in and become a new national wireless player, helping broker a $5 billion deal that would, among other things, have the satellite TV company acquire Sprint's Boost Mobile prepaid service and gain the ability to use T-Mobile and Sprint's network for seven years while it builds out its own 5G service.  

Earlier this month, T-Mobile was able to persuade attorneys general from Mississippi and Colorado to switch from supporting the states' lawsuit to backing the DOJ agreement. 

In a call with investors, CEO John Legere remained optimistic about the deal, though he said the company now expects the deal to be "permitted to close in early 2020."

What 5G can do for you besides fast phone downloads

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Legere says the company is still "open to and [is] having many discussions with the state AGs." If no settlement is reached the suit is expected to head to trial on Dec. 9, something Legere tells CNET that the company is "perfectly ready and prepared for."
Legere said, "We know their issues and we have answers, and now it's just a matter of which package to put them in." 

Originally published Oct. 28, 1:12 p.m. PT.

Update, 3:04 p.m.: Adds comments from T-Mobile execs.