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John Legere: The Uncarrier’s Uncommon CEO

John Legere didn’t hold back this year in the speed with which he rolled out wireless initiatives or the pace with which fourletter words flew from his mouth.

Successive rounds of Uncarrier initiatives initiated by the T-Mobile president/CEO continue to reinvigorate the carrier and intensify wireless competition.

For the quarter ending September, T-Mobile marked its 10th consecutive quarter of more than 1 million total net subscriber additions under Legere’s leadership. The company added about 2.3 million net new subscribers, including MVNO net adds and T-Mobile-branded prepaid and postpaid net adds. The carrier also marked its fifth consecutive quarter of more than 1 million postpaid net adds, and for the seventh consecutive quarter, T-Mobile led the industry in branded postpaid phone net adds, which came to 843,000.

More important, T-Mobile remained in the black for the second consecutive quarter, posting net income of $138 million compared with a year-ago loss of $94 million. Total third-quarter revenue was up 7 percent from the year-ago period to $7.8 billion.

Sharper pricing and marketing initiatives don’t tell the whole story behind T-Mobile’s turnaround. The carrier improved and expanded its network, thanks to the spectrum and cash it received from AT&T as part of a break-up fee when federal opposition forced AT&T to pull back from acquiring the company.

As of the end of September, the carrier expanded its LTE network to reach 300 million people, achieving its year-end goal ahead of schedule. The company also expanded the number of markets with “wideband LTE” 15MHz+15MHz spectrum to 245, with plans for 260 by the end of the year. Wideband LTE boosts data capacity and boosts data speeds up to 50 percent.

The company this year also expanded “extended-range LTE” to almost 175 million people in 204 markets by the end of September, and it’s on track to expand it to more than 350 markets by year-end 2015. Deploying LTE in 700MHz Band 12 spectrum boosts network reach, improves in-building coverage, and extends LTE coverage well beyond major population centers.

To accommodate additional subscriber growth and more data usage, T-Mobile is gearing up to buy 600MHz spectrum in federal auctions planned for early 2016, having recently gone to the bond market to raise $2 billion for that and other purposes.

In January 2015, Legere enabled subscribers to roll over unused high-speed data for up to a year. The carrier continues to eliminate data-overage charges, automatically slowing data speeds to 2G after a subscribers’ high-speed 4G cap is reached.

Most recently, Legere launched Uncarrier 10 initiatives, including one that lets many subscribers stream DVD-quality video from 24 online streaming services without using up the data in their LTE data buckets. People using the Binge On service must have LTE data buckets of at least 3GB.

In other Uncarrier 10 initiatives, the carrier doubled the amount of LTE data that subscribers can get from any existing plan at no extra charge.

To improve video-streaming resolution, consumers can turn off Binge On, allowing for high-resolution streaming from a phone to a connected TV.

For Binge On streaming of 24 video services, the carrier is making use of proprietary technology that makes video streaming more bandwidth-efficient by reducing “wasted overhead.” The technology also lets Binge On users fill their LTE data buckets with three times more video than before when streaming video services not yet included in Binge On.

The 24 services included in Binge On will be expanded as more services meet T-Mobile’s technical criteria, the company said.

T-Mobile’s initiatives propelled the carrier out of last place by subscriber base in 2015, putting it ahead of Sprint, which dropped to fourth place.

Whether T-Mobile thinks it can move in to second place isn’t known. Legere might simply be using Un-carrier- initiated growth to make the company a desirable candidate for an acquisition or merger, perhaps with a cable operator or satellite-TV provider Dish.