There aren’t many people that can boast that they have devoted their entire career to the growth and development of one company. But that’s exactly what Erin Raney, Senior Director Technology & Innovation at T-Mobile, has done. Since joining what was then VoiceStream in September 2000, Raney has risen through the ranks and for the past seven years, has been the founder and leading force of T-Mobile’s Tech Experience innovation programme and in 2022 opened T-Mobile’s first technology innovation centre, the Tech Experience 5G Hub.
Armed with a civil engineering degree - and later earning an MS in telecommunications - she was motivated to branch out and start her working life in telecommunications by her father. “Really, the rest is history,” she jokes, although clearly proud reflecting on her career.
Now 23 years deep, she has seen a wealth of change at T-Mobile - whether that be in the company’s name, core offerings or the technology that’s driven such advancements.
Having never dreamed of working in telecommunications until the mobile phone boom during her college years, Raney’s leap of faith into the relatively unknown has no doubt paid off. All those years later, Raney has worked her way through the organisation, presented with opportunities to deploy and manage a variety of network services.
“T-Mobile has evolved so much,” she details. “When I started it was right when Deutsche Telekom was about to acquire VoiceStream. We had around three million customers at the time, now we have over 116 million. We've grown significantly from our customer base and our network has grown significantly with it.
“Now, we have the largest 5G network and have made huge strides in investment in our network. What's really exciting is when we think about the services,” she laughs, reflecting on her career beginnings.
“Back when I started it was just making a simple call and being able to do that maybe from your car while you're in a major city or an urban area. Now you think about all the things that you leverage our network for from a services perspective, from just about anywhere. The technology evolution is truly fascinating.”
Seeing both T-Mobile and industry technology evolve throughout her tenure, Raney said the fact that wireless is part of all elements of life really excites her.
“Everything we do has connectivity or can benefit further from connectivity. And it's beyond our smartphone - whether it's healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment, the list goes on. That's what excites me, that wireless can bring so much benefit to just about any business along with enriching our personal lives and our connection to our world. So the possibilities truly are endless. I love the variety and making such a positive impact.”
T-Mobile: Making strides in innovation
Established as VoiceStream Wireless in 1994, T-Mobile has grown exponentially in both its customers and services. The brand was purchased by Deutsche Telekom in 2001 and renamed T-Mobile USA, in July 2002 and renamed again to T-Mobile US in 2013 after merging with MetroPCS.
A wireless service provider, T-Mobile provides connectivity with a core mission to be the best in the world at connecting customers to their world. Now looking beyond smartphones and traditional means of telecommunication, T-Mobile is working in bringing its connectivity to a global level and ensuring access and enabling new services both to transform and create a better world and also grow the business.
“What's been really exciting in the last year-and-a-half or two years,” Raney adds, “is the launch of our home internet products. We’re going beyond the smartphone and now connecting homes. I think that's our next charter - how do we go bigger? How do we create more services? How do we connect our world and how do we enable these new solutions?”
The Tech Experience 5G Hub
Around seven years ago, Raney created the Tech Experience Program and Center, and has since spearheaded the Tech Experience 5G Hub, a 24,000 sq ft technology innovation centre in Bellevue, near Seattle, next to T-Mobile’s National Technology Lab.
Dubbing it an “incredible opportunity”, Raney and her team propel technology and really engage with a larger community and ecosystem.
She continues: “It's been a fantastic ride and journey. This is really the heart of T-Mobile's technology team and where all of the new design development comes from when we talk about T-Mobile's network. Everything gets designed, validated and tested here.
“It's just perfect to have our innovation centre adjacent to our technology labs. Our strategy is, is anything that exits our lab we have it here available in our Innovation Centre. So our developers and our innovator community have first access to the latest capabilities.
“It’s about bringing those capabilities forward as quickly as possible because we really want to accelerate this innovation in addition to enabling it.”
Calling it a “new space to T-Mobile”, Raney shares how its wireless network, investment and resource available goes beyond its smartphone and consumer focus.
She highlights how creating programmes and facilities like the 5G Hub, T-Mobile’s Accelerator Program and its DevEdge Program provides accessibility for technological development, and that T-Mobile’s programmes will only grow in size and scale to enable a larger community to be able to leverage the technological revolution.
She adds: “We've seen some great results in terms of companies that are doing innovative cutting-edge solutions. It's truly game changing and I'm just excited to see that momentum continue to grow.”
Raney says her main inspiration in her working life stems from the hub she helped bring to life, having a facility to engage with a large variety and community of students, startups, enterprise customers, community leaders and industry leaders.
“What inspires me is hearing their ideas and their stories about how wireless and 5G can help them. That's what really excites me,” Raney shares, dubbing the Tech Experience Program her proudest achievement to date.
“It's been an amazing experience to see how this programme's grown, the impact it's had on our business, and again, our community,” she says proudly. “I would say most importantly, proud of this team - this team that has joined me on this wild ride and taken this risk.”
“When you talk about innovation, you don't know what's next or the path to get there. You're in uncharted territory, it’s all about taking risks and believing in the possible. I’m very proud of what we've accomplished together as a team.”
Partners ‘absolutely essential’ to T-Mobile
“We obviously have the connectivity, we have the nationwide 5G network, but our partners are essential to creating new transformative solutions,” Raney details. “They provide the compute, the devices and modules, and the applications that create the impact and value for our customers.”
With a similar history to T-Mobile in pursuing advanced 5G application and realising 5G’s potential, Nokia collaborates with T-Mobile on the latest in 5G technology offerings and capabilities. The pair mentor startups to develop 5G proofs of concept and go to market strategies.
By working with Dell, T-Mobile is developing solutions that make it easier for enterprise and government customers to embrace the 5G era thanks to Dell’s edge computing technologies - providing superfast speeds, ultra-low latency, and control they need to use new applications that can help to increase revenue and lower costs.
“Our partners are absolutely essential,” Raney says, singing their praises. “We cannot transform this industry, or take advantage of the full capabilities of 5G without them.
“It's so important that we collaborate and work together. What's really exciting is that T-Mobile is the leader of 5G, delivering the country’s largest, fastest and most awarded 5G network. And our 5G Standalone Architecture (SA) is the most advanced, providing optimal performance and leveraging new capabilities such as network slicing. The partner ecosystem is super excited to work with us and about what they can do with our 5G technology.”
Looking ahead to T-Mobile’s bright future
Anticipating the trajectory of the future of 5G, Raney is under no illusion of how busy the next 12 to 18 months are going to be for her, her team and T-Mobile as a company.
“The joke here is we say: ‘This was the busiest year ever’, and then we have the next year, and we're like: ‘No, no, - this was the busiest,” she laughs. “My team has been educating and showcasing the wireless capabilities of 5G for the past seven years. We have been talking about this for so long, and now it's incredible to have the network and ecosystem, and the potential and growth is exponential.
Excited to see the fruits of their labour, she acknowledges the relief of seeing their hard work pay off, but adds how the pressure and expectation to continue to deliver cutting edge 5G and navigate unchartered territory - all while growing their business - in a saturated market still poses a significant challenge.
With that comes the AI revolution. “You see how these new technologies trend, which can all complement wireless services. I do believe that AI will be a pretty significant technology that we'll see become very relevant with wireless networks and access to computing solutions.”
Recognising her responsibility and privilege of being a pioneer at the forefront of this technological shift, Raney is instilled to work smarter and not harder - although she acknowledges her continued hard work has been at the centre of bringing her work to life.
“The biggest challenge in this role is the unknown,” she concludes. “When you think about innovation, to steer a programme and to lead a team - when you really don't know where you're going - can be a challenge. This is a new business for us when we think about it. Trying to make the right decisions and to lead this team in this programme in the right direction, we know we'll make some mistakes. You have to take those risks to do that.
“But you’ve got to believe in yourself, the capabilities of the team and the capabilities of what T-Mobile has. That will help you stay the course.”
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