T-Mobile Drops 706,000 Subscribers

Being the only national carrier without Apple’s iPhone is a difficult place to be, according to figures released Thursday from T-Mobile. The carrier lost 706,000 customers in the final three months of 2011, as subscribers antsy to talk to Siri fled T-Mobile for Sprint, AT&T or Verizon. Of the four, T-Mobile was the only one to lose customers during the pivotal holiday quarter. T-Mobile had been losing subscribers since 2011 began, but the pace had slowed until Sprint became the third carrier to feature Apple’s smartphones with the release of the iPhone 4S, the fastest-selling mobile device ever.

Missing out on the tremendous excitement generated by the latest iPhone thrust T-Mobile back into a rapid pace of subscriber losses, sparking a huge wave of contract deactivations during the October – December period. The company has been saying for months it wants to carry the iPhone and has tried to reach an agreement with the tech giant, but the chipset used in the iPhone does not support the spectrum band T-Mobile’s network operates in.

Techies suggest that chipsets could be used that support multiple spectrum bands, but economist caution that using more expensive chipsets would not be worth the cost with T-Mobile’s relatively small subscriber base. According to the latest figures available, T-Mobile has around 25 million subscribers, while the nation’s largest carrier Verizon has more than 87 million. Given the difficulties involved with carrying the iPhone, T-Mobile has turned its attention to catching up to its larger competitors in network speed, investing heavily in its own 4G network.

Verizon and AT&T have made huge strides in rolling out next-generation technology, which is being called Long Term Evolution, or LTE technology, and Sprint has indicated it will do the same starting next year. But T-Mobile has been relatively tight-lipped about launching an LTE network, and instead upgraded its 3G network and began calling it 4G. That changed on Thursday, however, as the carrier announced it will start building an LTE network in 2013, using the $1 billion worth of spectrum and $3 billion in cash it received as a break-up fee when its merger with AT&T was blocked.