T-Mobile USA criticizes rivals' high-speed plans

NEW YORK Tue Nov 2, 2010 9:01pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - T-Mobile USA said plans by its rivals to bring the latest high-speed mobile technology to consumers could backfire and leave them with hefty costs or phones that don't work well.

Verizon Wireless, the No. 1 U.S. mobile service, plans to launch a high-speed service with a network covering about a third of the U.S. population by the end of this year using an emerging technology known as Long Term Evolution (LTE). AT&T, ranked No. 2, plans to follow with an LTE service next year.

But Neville Ray, the Chief Technology Officer of T-Mobile USA, told Reuters in an interview that while the No. 4 U.S. mobile service will support LTE eventually, it is in "no rush" to do so because it will take years for the new technology to work well.

Ray said his biggest concern with LTE is the availability of viable phones as he sees early devices having many problems including weak battery life and heat problems.

"Smartphone ability in LTE is going to be very very limited for a long period of time," said Ray who's company is the only one of the top four U.S. operators that has yet to unveil a plan for the next generation mobile services.

While analysts say that T-Mobile is behind its rivals because it doesn't have enough wireless spectrum to support LTE, Ray said the company has plenty of spectrum options and instead voiced concerns about the readiness of the technology.

"LTE is going to mature and we're all going to watch the maturation," Ray said. "Is it going to be a great technology in the next couple of years? Very questionable."

Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L), has said that it will have several LTE phones on the market early next year.

But because the technology is so new, Ray said those phones will be too expensive for consumers, unless Verizon pays more than usual to bring working devices to the market.

"That's going to be a tough proposition. Now, maybe Verizon will solve it for the customer but that's going to be a very difficult economic problem for them," he said.

As for AT&T, Ray said that if it had used spectrum it has earmarked for LTE to support existing customers it may not have faced such criticism from consumers about its network's performance in recent years.

AT&T, the exclusive U.S. provider for Apple Inc's (AAPL.O)iPhone, has been working to boost its network in markets including New York and San Francisco as iPhone users' heavy mobile data usage caused problems such as dropped calls.

"They've held back a lot of spectrum for an LTE launch at some point in time, which has driven a tonne of pressure on their existing network," the executive said.

For its part T-Mobile USA is working on getting as much mileage as it can out of its existing HSPA network with an upgrade to a technology known as HSPA plus.

It announced on Tuesday that it has already completed the upgrade in markets with a population of more than 140 million people and plans to have coverage for 200 million people by the end of 2010.

This compares to the Verizon Wireless plan for its LTE service covering 110 million people by the end of 2010.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Carol Bishopric)