T-Mobile LTE backhaul nearly complete

Company has already started LTE deployment
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T-Mobile USA has begun the process of switching to a nation-wide deployment of LTE services in the next year. To accomplish this, the company began by building out its backhaul infrastructure, contracting with a wide variety of fiber and Ethernet providers to create a 30 to 50 megabit per second connection between virtually every tower in T-Mobile's network and the public service telephone network.

What this means is that T-Mobile customers are already seeing speeds far in excess of what they might see with other companies, when they connect using the existing HSPA+ 4G network. It also means that they will be able to see speeds that are even faster as LTE rolls out in their area. Effectively, T-Mobile is delivering 4G speeds in excess of those experienced by the LTE customers from other carriers with HSPA+. The primary reason for this is because T-Mobile started by building out its infrastructure first, since existing customers would benefit immediately.

"This means we won't be waiting for backhaul for LTE deployment," said Dave Mayo, T-Mobile's senior vice president of technology strategy. "We're close to being done with our backhaul program." Mayo said that because the company wasn't constrained as to who they could use for backhaul services, T-Mobile could be more flexible. "We think of alternate backhaul vendors as cable companies, power and light companies, even some local exchange carriers," Mayo said.

Because of the lack of constraints (such as the ones faced by wireline companies that have to use their own products for infrastructure), T-Mobile was able to be more flexible. "We moved faster because we started earlier," Mayo said, "and we were able to make choices. We tried to drive the best deal." Mayo said that a critical factor when buying backhaul services is how long it would take to deploy the network connections they were buying.

What this means is that T-Mobile customers are already seeing higher speeds, even before LTE if fully rolled out in the U.S.. But what's equally important is how fast the company moved to get their infrastructure ready. "Very close to finishing," Mayo said. "We have another couple of thousand sites to go, and a handful that we need to find an alternative solution for."

Mayo explained that there are some towers for which there are no network fibers available and some of those will use microwave relays. Meanwhile, T-Mobile has already started its LTE deployment, but it isn't saying how far along that deployment is, or where the LTE sites are up and running. But Mayo did say that the implementation is moving very quickly.

Mayo noted that T-Mobile is eliminating the old T1 lines from its system, and that all but a handful have already been replaced with fast network connections. He did say that many of T-Mobile's competitors still use those slow T1s. He also said that the company has nearly reached its goal of building out all of the sites it needs for LTE deployment. "Our aspiration is to have 37,000 modernized sites," Mayo said.

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