T-Mobile boasts 1M users of Bobsled, touts $4B network expansion as FCC defends merger breakup with AT&T

T-Mobile USA says that its Bobsled web phone service has surpassed the one million user mark, a milestone that comes just a year after the Bellevue carrier launched the offering. The service allows users to make free calls over mobile and Wi-Fi devices, and last fall added the capability to place calls to traditional landlines, putting it in direct competition with Microsoft-owned Skype.

“The popularity and continued growth of the Bobsled service is testament to consumers’ desire for simple ways to stay connected with friends and family,” said Brad Duea, senior vice president of T-Mobile USA.

Bobsled will have a long way to glide before it catches Skype, which boasted 170 million users and 207 billion minutes of voice and video conversations in 2010. T-Mobile said that it has handled 10 million calls to date via Bobsled, with 80 percent of those calls originating outside the U.S.

While the Bellevue carrier is investing in Bobsled, the company’s bread and butter remains the traditional cellular network. And in a separate announcement this week, T-Mobile inked agreements with Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks to help build out its $4 billion 4G network.

That network upgrade will help T-Mobile roll out a LTE network next year, with the spectrum coming from licenses obtained from AT&T as part of the merger breakup between the two companies. T-Mobile plans to offer the fast LTE network in 75 percent of the company’s top 25 markets.

The carrier, the fourth largest in the U.S. with 32 million subscribers, still has a long way to go to reposition itself following the failed merger. The network upgrade – which also includes the planned roll out of 4G HSPA+ in the 1900 MHz band by the end of the year — is one important step on that path. After all, the company notes that the new 4G HSPA+ band will allow customers to use more devices on the network, such as the iPhone which has yet to come to the carrier.

Meanwhile, at the CTIA Wireless conference in New Orleans today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski defended the regulatory group’s decision to block the merger. And he said that it was not causing price hikes oin mobile phone rates and a lack of spectrum, something AT&T has claimed.

“Some have argued that ‘specific transaction’ is somehow causing a shortage and causing a price change,” Genachowski said, according to CNET’s report. “But the overall amount of spectrum hasn’t changed, except for the amount we’ve added to it.”

“The kinds of challenges we have in mobile are the kind we want — challenges stemming from mobile demand,” Genachowski added, according to a report by All Things D.