T-Mobile launched it’s long awaited 3G service in New York today, but subscribers should be forgiven if they are left wondering just what the excitement is about. Beyond being limited to the city, the service works on only four handsets: The Nokia 3555 and 6263 and the Samsung t819 and t639. All are fairly basic and lack any real data capability; there’s no Windows Mobile, no BlackBerry, not even Symbian. The good news is that if you happen to have one of these handsets, the faster service is available at no extra charge. Neville Ray, senior vice-president of engineering for T-Mobile USA, says “converged” handsets will be along in the third quarter.
Forget about it if you are thinking of using an unlocked HSDPA handset, whether North American, European, or Asian, on the new T-Mo network. Introducing another abbreviation to the wireless alphabet soup, T-Mo's 3G uses Advanced Wireless Services or AWS. Unlike other 3G, AWS uses separate bands, 1700 MHz and 2100 MHz for transmit and receive. So even a Europe-ready 3G handset that operates at 2100 MHz (U.S. 3G mostly runs at 850 and 1900 MHz) won't work on T-Mo.
The service will get more interesting as better handsets come along and the network spreads to other cities. T-Mo hopes to light up 20 to 25 markets by the end of the year.
But T-Mobile clearly is still struggling to get full access to the AWS spectrum that it purchased last year and on which its 3G roll-out depends. Those frequencies were mainly used by federal government agencies, particularly the Defense Dept., that have been very slow to vacate them. "We've made great progress over past six months," says Peter Dobrow, director of public relations for T-Mobile USA. The majority of incumbents are moving off at a pace we are far more comfortable with and that allows us to look at the launches we are talking about for 2008. It has been a difficult process for the incumbents, the FCC, and us."