T-Mobile USA turns on fast networks to lure iPhone users

The fourth-place U.S. carrier launched a fast network in Las Vegas on spectrum that unlocked iPhones can use

As the latest iPhone went on sale Friday, with T-Mobile USA once again left out of the party, the fourth-place U.S. carrier started turning on a network that is designed to offer high data rates on unlocked iPhones.

On Friday, T-Mobile launched commercial service in Las Vegas on an HSPA+ network that uses frequencies around 1900MHz, a band that's available on unlocked iPhones. T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray announced the launch during an appearance at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco. Las Vegas is the first city to get the new network, in a rollout that will reach other markets by the end of this year, he said.

The launch is part of a larger strategy by T-Mobile to effectively become an iPhone carrier without winning a deal to carry new iPhones in its stores. To that effect, it's also demonstrating iPhones in its stores, even though it doesn't sell them, and developing apps for iOS such as billing and voicemail.

"Our plan now is, we're going to bring a lot more iPhones to our network with what we're doing," Ray said in an interview following his appearance on stage.

In handsets with the right radios, such as the iPhone 5, the HSPA+ network can deliver average download speeds of 8Mbps (bits per second) to 10Mbps, which is in the same ballpark as some LTE services, according to Ray. T-Mobile is converting the 1900MHz spectrum from an older, slower GSM network to the new system, Neville said.

T-Mobile estimates there are more than 1 million unlocked iPhones on its network already. The underdog carrier says it can offer consumers a better deal on service, with unlimited data.

The company's focus is on the HSPA+ rollout now, but next year it plans to launch commercial LTE service. That new network, which will be built with the so-called LTE Advanced system in version 10 of the standard, will provide even faster performance than HSPA+, Ray said. He declined to predict its speed.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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