He’s built an impressive portfolio of Android devices for T-Mobile USA. In 2010, he’s set his sights on rolling out an HSPA+ upgrade that will add speed to those devices’ smarts.
Cole Brodman, senior vice president of product development and chief technology and innovation officer for T-Mobile USA, is a big part of the reason that the fourth largest operator in the United States is still competing with the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
As a T-Mobile veteran of 14 years, Brodman has been around since the early days when the carrier was still branded as VoiceStream Wireless. Before that, he did a stint with Nortel Networks, where he held positions in product management, development and product marketing in the telecommunications and wireless product organizations for over six years. Having recently seen the slow demise of Nortel, he knows first hand the unpredictable, competitive and ultimately tumultuous nature of the wireless industry.
One could argue that Brodman has singlehandedly kept T-Mobile in the game and occasionally stolen the spotlight. By title alone, he’s the one responsible for cultivating a sophisticated, cutting-edge device portfolio that is key to the carrier’s ability to differentiate in today’s highly competitive market. Under Brodman’s leadership, T-Mobile has established itself as the Android carrier and is on the verge of completing a major network upgrade that will keep pace with its assortment of highly-capable Android smartphones like the G1, the myTouch 3G, the Samsung Behold II and the Motorola CLIQ.
FINDING ANSWERS WITH ANDROID
Brodman met Andy Rubin, the man behind Google’s Android platform, when the two collaborated on bringing the Sidekick to T-Mobile. (Back then, Rubin was the founder and CEO of Danger before he went on to found Android, which was acquired by Google in 2005. Microsoft later acquired Danger in 2008.)
Brodman credits Rubin with essentially developing the first “smart phone,” a lightweight version of today’s pocket computers that for its time could do some pretty cool tricks – e-mail, text communication, light Web, calendar – on a 2G connection. Brodman says his relationship with Rubin was the initial seed that would eventually lead to T-Mobile’s participation in the Open Handset Alliance and to the carrier’s commitment to the versatile open platform that would eventually ignite the industry.
Brodman recalls working on the development of myFaves, a personal media sharing and storage concept that T-Mobile offered on a majority of its phones.
“I think I realized that it was going to be very difficult for us to extend the promise of myFaves, because the operating systems that we were working on top of were simply not open enough or robust enough to do the things that we thought were necessary for people to be able to communicate the way they wanted to,” Brodman says. “When Andy walked through the door with Android, we thought this is potentially one of the answers.”
On Oct. 22, 2008, under Brodman’s lead, TMobile launched the first-ever Android phone, the much-hyped G1, otherwise known as the HTC Dream. By April 23 of 2009, T-Mobile announced it had sold more than 1 million G1s.
Fast forward to present day and T-Mobile is still fighting tooth-and-nail to keep up with the pack. As one of the carrier’s biggest assets, Brodman has built rock-solid OEM partnerships with the likes of Motorola, HTC and Samsung. It doesn’t hurt that Google seems to favor T-Mobile over all others when it comes to getting the Bellevue, Wash.-based operator its most top-secret exclusive (i.e., the Nexus One).
While devices are important, so too is a fast, smooth-running network that can keep up with today’s powerful smartphones. How does a national carrier that only recently completed rollout of its 3G network expect to compete with those carriers that are busy name-dropping the cities in which they’ll offer 4G?
Brodman says a network upgrade to HSPA+ is the answer. While it’s not considered 4G, HSPA+ could offer speeds comparable to those achieved on LTE and WiMAX networks. According to a white paper from Qualcomm, the evolution path of HSPA+ shows the technology could achieve downlink speeds up to 84 mbps and uplink speeds of 11 mbps by the technology’s ninth release sometime around 2012. As it stands, HSPA+ is in its seventh release and Qualcomm says it can achieve 28 mbps downlink and 11 mbps uplink.
That said, Brodman agrees that marketing the network without the 4G stamp will be the trick.
“There certainly will be a lot of confusion in the marketplace around the technical jargon, but consumers don’t really care about the terms. It’s going to be up to us to show them in a way that is maybe more consumer-friendly or consumer front-facing that the network and the applications and the devices and the value we provide is better than the competitors’,” Brodman says. “I think with HSPA+ our opportunity is really to take it out of the ‘it’s faster, 3G, 4G’ industry mumbo jumbo and into applications that consumers really understand.”
EYE TOWARD INNOVATION
Where does T-Mobile go from here? Brodman says his focus will be on expanding on those points where it already has seen success while remaining innovative in a market that demands new ideas every day.
“We’re strong believers in continuing to drive the Android ecosystem and application innovation on the opensource Android platform. So, we’re seeking to develop with our manufacturing partners more and more devices that we think bring that to more and more consumers,” Brodman says, adding that Android is the right platform to usher in a more broad-reaching definition of smartphone.
“I like the idea of democratizing smartphones. In other words, how do we make them affordable for more and more members of the family? Not just from a device price… but affordable in terms of life-cycle use and life-cycle cost,” he says.
And on the network side of things, Brodman says that 2010 is the year that T-Mobile consumers will see some of the fastest speeds on the market, regardless of what number ‘G’ the industry chooses to label it.
“Our goal is to have a nationwide footprint by the third or fourth quarter of this year in HSPA+. It will start to allow us to take advantage of better and better connectivity on the nonvoice side, whether they’re on a smartphone and they want to view a video their kid sent to them, or they’re on a netbook or laptop or a tablet device and they’re trying to sync their calendar or pay their bills… Our objective is to use that network on behalf of the consumers that find T-Mobile attractive and offer them increasing capabilities throughout the year,” he says.