T-Mobile USA, the last of the mobile operators in the US to announce LTE upgrades has decided to continue using NSN and Ericsson as its suppliers for their LTE upgrade network. The network will be rolled out in 2013and will cover 37,000 base stations. NSN and Ericsson have been supplying T-Mobile USA with 2G and 3G network equipment. Ericsson has been its prime supplier for 3G network upgrade which began in 2006 and NSN has been supplying its Flexi Base Stations for the AWS spectrum bands. T-Mobile has since acquired more AWS spectrum from AT&T as a result of the failed bid from AT&T. Based on the past relationship it can be assumed that Ericsson will continue to be the prime supplier while NSN will be the secondary supplier, mainly for the AWS bands.
From a competitive standpoint this isn’t good news for Huawei or Alcatel-Lucent. Huawei has struggled to get a foothold in the US, although it has seen some success in Canada. This is was probably the last opportunity for Huawei to make any headway with any of the large operators in the US. The next upgrade cycle will happen in 3-4 years time when LTE-Advanced comes along. Alcatel-Lucent is well entrenched into Verizon and also AT&T, but it would be disappointed not being able to convince T-Mobile of using its newfangled lightRadio solution for LTE.
T-Mobile USA would have been an ideal candidate for Alcatel-Lucent to show off lightRadio LTE capabilities, both for metro cells and active antennas. In terms of LTE timing T-Mobile is late relative to its competitors, but is well synced with the release window of new heterogeneous and small cell solutions like those from Alcatel, Huawei, NSN and Ericsson.
At the end of the day T-Mobile wanted to keep things simple as use existing suppliers to take them through the LTE upgrade process. They will however be using newer solutions like NSN’s FlexiZone, Ericsson’s Antenna Integrated Radio (AIR) and possibly also its new LTE pico eNodeB. Also T-Mobile’s LTE network will be Rel 10 compatible, using some of the advanced schemes like carrier aggregation, using relay nodes, multi-antenna uplink and SON enhancements.
It will also be interesting to see how T-Mobile USA brands the LTE network, as its current HSPA+ networks are already branded 4G. Carrier aggregation could be something worth keeping an eye on as T-Mobile looks to LTE-Asooner than Verizon and AT&T and with its network already being Rel 10 capable it would have an upper hand to some extent.