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T-Mobile's network gets a boost with more capacity, LTE-powered calls

The company says it has expanded the availability of voice-over LTE to 15 markets, while its higher capacity network reaches 16 markets.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere at T-Mobile's Uncarrier 5.0 event Wednesday in Seattle. James Martin/CNET

SEATTLE--T-Mobile isn't done tinkering with its wireless network.

The company said on Wednesday that it has expanded its higher capacity wideband LTE network to 16 markets. It has also increased the number of markets able to handle a voice call that travels over its LTE network to 15 markets.

"The network is in fantastic shape, and people don't know it," Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert said in an interview.

Offering the fastest network with the most capacity is critical for a wireless carrier, whose customer loyalty and growth partly hinge upon the reputation of its service. T-Mobile has made a lot of noise about being the fastest network in the nation, but the breadth of its coverage remains limited to larger metropolitan areas.

There's been an increasing amount of marketing noise from the various carriers over the upgrades made to their networks. These upgrades constitute the use of more spectrum; the result is an increase in capacity and speeds for everyone on the network.

Wideband LTE is just another industry term for the use of multiple bands of spectrum, which T-Mobile first talked up at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The other carriers have taken to creating marketing terms. Sprint touts its Spark network, which it boasts is faster and offers a wider lane for wireless traffic. The Spark service is powered by not only Sprint's core spectrum, but spectrum is obtained from its acquisition of Clearwire and its now-defunct Nextel network.

Verizon recently started using the term XLTE, which uses two bands of spectrum to alleviate the congestion it was previously seeing in busy markets such as New York.

T-Mobile's announcement of voice over LTE, or VoLTE, in select markets provides a glimpse into the future of network services for all of the carriers. By moving the voice portion of wireless traffic on the more efficient LTE network, it can eventually provide better services and features on top of a typical phone call. For now, those calls are still in limited markets.

Other carriers have been more cautious with the deployment. Verizon has been reluctant to offer VoLTE until it ensures the phone calls work as well on its LTE network as it does on its older network.

Breadth of coverage is just as important as speed. T-Mobile earlier this year began running commercials and advertisements claiming that it covers 96 percent of the country. But that figure includes coverage from its slower network; its faster LTE network is largely concentrated in major cities.

T-Mobile is working to change that. In January, the company bought a swath of unused spectrum from Verizon Wireless for $3.3 billion that will help expand its coverage to more regions outside of the metropolitan areas.

"The network has changed a hell of a lot," said Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray.