After the call dropped for the third time, I finally set down my T-Mobile phone and asked my brother-in-law to let me make the call on his Verizon phone. This was while driving around a subdivision in Homestead, Fla. — not the urban center of Miami but certainly not a rural part of the country, either.
A few weeks later, while trying to check email on my phone, I was surprised to see not LTE, or 4G or even the Edge network active on my phone, but rather GPRS, which explains why none of my messages were coming through. I had to look it up later to remind myself what it meant. This was outside of Redding, Calif. — again, not the biggest population center in the nation, but not exactly the sticks, either.
Earlier this year, I accepted T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s challenge to switch to the Un-carrier, and the experience in my hometown of Seattle has been great. Calls are reliable and crystal clear, data is fast, and I don’t have any complaints in my day-to-day use in and around the city.
As part of its Un-carrier 8.0 announcement this morning, T-Mobile boasted that its LTE coverage now reaches a total population of 260 million people in the United States, an increase of 10 million people in the last two months. That includes 121 metropolitan areas with Wideband LTE, providing more capacity and 50 percent speed increases. In New York City, the company says customers are seeing download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps.
But I’ve experienced something very different on two trips this fall, on opposite sides of the country — illustrating the ongoing need for improvement of the T-Mobile network. This is in line with a recent RootMetrics study that showed T-Mobile improving significantly in urban areas but still lagging AT&T and Verizon in overall performance.
On the company’s conference call with reporters this morning, I told Legere and CTO Neville Ray about my experience. I also asked Legere how he can recommend T-Mobile to people who live or travel outside of urban areas.
Ray addressed the issue first, saying the company’s LTE rollout “is moving at a tremendous clip,” leveraging spectrum from Metro PCS and, more importantly, rolling out LTE in the low-band spectrum. The company says it is on track to cover a population of 300 million people with LTE in 2015.
“We’re moving very quickly into deployment across those broader areas of the U.S. geography,” Ray said. “We want to put to bed this difference, or any gap between us and the other guys that are out there. We’re working furiously to make that happen.
Ray added, “The coverage improvements that we’ve secured over the last 6-12 months are tremendous, but we’re not everywhere yet. So we keep pushing, we keep deploying. We’re moving very, very quickly. And more coverage is coming.”
Legere said the question of coverage is “one that I deal with every day in a very frank and open fashion with customers.” He cited the ongoing improvements and pointed out that the company offers its Test Drive program to allow prospective customers to try out the network before signing up. The company’s Wi-Fi calling technology and Personal Cell Spot also boosts the coverage.
“But to flip that to a question of, ‘How can I suggest to customers that they buy this service?” isn’t fair, he said.
“We have 17 percent market share, and I guarantee you that … for a lot of people this is and will be the best solution,” he said. “If there is somebody who we don’t cover appropriately, we’re the first people to let them do a Test Drive and move on temporarily to another service.”