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Why I Hope MetroPCS Winds Up With T-Mobile, Not Sprint

Deutsche Telekom has reached an agreement to merge its T-Mobile USA unit with prepaid-only regional operator MetroPCS.  The deal will give T-Mobile 9 million more customers and the spectrum it needs to create a fast, robust LTE network.

After the deal was announced, Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, reported that Sprint Nextel was considering making a counter offer for MetroPCS or even purchasing the new combined T-Mobile plus MetroPCS.

I do like Sprint, they've been the most aggressive and innovative of the four major carriers in the prepaid space. Sprint pioneered unlimited monthly plans with Boost Mobile and low cost unlimited data with Virgin Mobile.

But for the sake of consumers, I hope that MetroPCS merges with T-Mobile and not Sprint.  I want to see both T-Mobile and Sprint survive as independent operators.  Having four carriers, two GSM and two CDMA, encourages competition and competition drives innovation and helps keep pricing in check.

If Sprint gets MetroPCS, T-Mobile will be in an even weaker competitive position than they are now, way behind Sprint number of customers and lacking the spectrum to field a competitive LTE network. T-Mobile needs MetroPCS' spectrum, Sprint doesn't, it will have plenty once it replaces iDEN with LTE next year.

It's especially important that the US has a least two national GSM operators. GSM, the cellular technology used by AT&T and T-Mobile is more Bring Your Own Device friendly and thus customer friendly than Sprint and Verizon's CDMA.

There's nothing technologically wrong with CDMA, the problem is the way phones are activated on CDMA networks in North America. Unlike GSM, CDMA doesn't use SIM cards and users can't easily change phones by  swapping SIMs. To switch phones on a CDMA network you have to give your carrier the phone's Electronic Serial Number (ESN). The carrier looks up the ESN in a database and determines if it's one of their phones and if it's allowed on your rate plan. That gives the carrier absolute control over which phones can be used on which plans. Sprint uses that power to keep you from using a smart phone on Boost pay as you go or a  Sprint or Verizon phone on Boost or Virgin.

CDMA is going away, slowly. LTE is part of the GSM family and LTE phones from Verizon and AT&T do use SIM cards and you can swap SIMs between LTE phones. (In a move that makes no sense to consumers, Sprint is using embedded non-removable SIMs in their LTE phones.) But there are very few prepaid LTE phones and none that cost less than $100. It will be years before prepaid LTE is ubiquitous and you see $20 prepaid LTE phones hanging on the pegs at Walmart.

T-Mobile needs MetroPCS to survive and provide a GSM alternative to AT&T. The FTC blocked the AT&T/T-Mobile merger in part because it would have given AT&T a monopoly in providing GSM in the US. If Sprint gets MetroPCS, I believe that T-Mobile will also eventually be acquired and AT&T will end up with a GSM monopoly, which will not be a good thing for customers and international visitors.


Comment Page :
  1. Absolutely correct. Nobody wants a GSM monopoly with AT&T. Pricing needs to be kept in check.

  2. Hi Yeswap,
    I have two concerns. 1) Since GSM gives off more radiation than CDMA, and LTE is becoming GSM based, than wouldn't than void the benefit of CDMA having less radiation? 2) Since T-Mobile is a GSM network with worse building penetration than AT&T, wouldn't that mean that Tmobile gives off the most radiation because they have worse reception/signal in buildings and it also has less extensive coverage than AT&T? But since Tmobile offers WIFI calling and signal boosters, would that reduce radiation in bad coverage areas such as buidings/homes with high ceilings?

    1. WTH are you talking about? This is the oddest question. YesWap if you see any merit to it please do answer its very odd though or I don't get the importance.

      I am curious though. Why is in building penetration significantly worse? This was never an issue for me when I was on AT&T but since making the switch to T-Mobile I noticed the big difference - had I known then what I know now about this issue I probably wouldn't have stayed with T-Mobile as long as I have. Will this in your opinion change in anyway as a result of this merger. Thanks.

    2. http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/1550-radiation-risk-some-cell-phones-more-dangerous-than-others.html

      My question is if CDMA LTE gives off GSM radiation or not. And if T-Mobile would be the carrier giving off the most radiation because it is both GSM and bad building penetration. Is there radiation associated with WIFI calling since you're still holding the phone next to ear. Are signal boosters really effective for a high ceiling home?

    3. The studies I've seen are inconclusive. No one knows for sure if mobile phone radiation is harmful to heath or not. If you're concerned about radiation select a phone with a low SAR rating and use a wired headset.

      Looking at the SAR charts on the site linked above I don't see any correlation between SAR and network technology. I see many GSM models with lower SARs than some CDMA phone's and vice versa.

      T-Mobile and AT&T are both GSM. I've never heard that CDMA has better in building penetration than GSM.

      Lower frequencies do penetrate walls better and AT&T in many areas uses 850 Mhz while T-Mobile uses 1900 Mhz. From what I've read, coverage is far more dependent on the number, placement and tuning of towers and the load on the network than whether the frequency used is 850 vs 1900. In my experience here in San Francisco has better coverage, including in-building coverage than AT&T even though T-Mobile using 1900 Mhz and AT&T and combination of 850 and 1900.

    4. WiFi is a radio technology, like cellular. I imagine its health effects, if any, are the same.

      Although they are part of the GSM family of protocols; LTE and UTMS (HSPA) are CDMA based.

      Those foil signal boosters you stick on top of the phone battery are useless. The signal boosters that work use an antenna on the roof connected through an amplifier to another antenna inside the building.

    5. Yeswap I read an article about GSM emitting more dangerous radiation than CDMA in this article : http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/1550-radiation-risk-some-cell-phones-more-dangerous-than-others.html

    6. Do signal boosters attached to the roof give off dangerous radiation?

  3. Also, if and when Tmobile gets the iPhone, do you think they will raise prices? And if they do merge with Metro and become a bigger company with more users, do you think that they would get rid of the Value plans and raise their prices to be less competitive?


  5. LTE will converge all the networks to have universal 4G byod if things work out. It's all up to whether this merger will go through and the FCC deciding whether LTE interoperability is technically feasible for the US market. I say, what's the point of sim cards if it's not? And btw, the cdma phones in the USA being locked down is because of Verizon and Sprint wanting control. In gsm dominated markets, carriers sign up for cdma because they have no remaining choice and are forced to put gsm like RUIM sim cards . if they didn't have byod friendly sim swap capability, they'd be out of business in markets like EU, India and Asia. In fact, RUIM based cdma handsets are interoperable with gsm sims. You can use a ruim card in gsm handsets. Ruim has been replaced by CSim cards which continue their interoperability. I don't see how LTE can't be made operable if two supposedly incompatible technologies like cdma and gsm can be made that way . Albeit overseas and not in the contract heavy U.S.

  6. Wake up and smell the interoperability. MetroPCS already roams on Sprint where they have no native footprint.
    They are both CDMA. The AWS 1700mhz in their more modern home markets in the Northeast can be moved to 1900mhz where Sprint already is.
    The only thing that could be done to make it a sure thing would be to begin using C-SIMS.
    Welcome to corporate selfishness in the U.S. market. Not a CDMA phone using a C-SIM. Hopefully with LTE this changes.

  7. You bring up an interesting point. I wonder what becomes of those roaming agreements between MetroPCS and Sprint when and I'd the merger between T-Mobile and MetroPCS is consummated.

  8. To me, the loss of CDMA 1xRTT roaming on Sprint PCS 1900Mhz would be offset by gaining operability with T-Mobile's PCS 1900MHz and AWS 1700/2100MHz spectrum licenses (per T-Mobile's stated "Challenger" strategy). The prospect of BYOD for a merged T-Mobile + MetroPCS network with HSPA+ on PCS & LTE Advanced on AWS is particularly compelling.

    Considering that unlocked handsets that support PCS HSPA+ could be SIM-swapped onto the merged network (such as the VZW iPhone 5 or the international Samsung Galaxy S3), then this would make more handset choices available than either carrier would have been capable of providing independently.

    These factors provide a better argument in favor of a T-Mobile + MetroPCS merger than a Sprint + MetroPCS for myself. For more reading see: http://gigaom.com/mobile/what-t-mobile-gains-from-a-metropcs-merger-surgical-spectrum/

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