For the longest time, T-Mobile USA (DT) was at a major disadvantage compared with its competitors. It didn't have a 3G network to compete with Verizon (VZ), Sprint (S) or AT&T (T). But, its fortunes are changing rapidly. Within the next few weeks, the nation's fourth largest cell-phone operator says it'll have its new 3G HSPA network up and running in more than 120 cities by the end of November.

T-Mobile previously lagged behind the big three operators because it lacked the "bandwidth" (frequency space) and proper licenses to roll out a next-generation data network.

But, two years ago, T-Mobile fixed that problem. In government auctions, it spent more than $4 billion for 120 Advanced Wireless Services licenses for new frequencies. Since then it's spent an additional $2.6 billion on upgrading its network to 3G status.

By the end of last week, T-Mobile USA had deployed new 3G, WCDMA/HSPA systems in 92 major cities. It promises to add another three cities by Wednesday, which just happens to be the day its G1, the first Android-based Google ( GOOG) phone, officially goes on sale nationwide. The new 3G network is said to deliver data download speeds of up to 1 megabit per second.

( Photo gallery: Google's T-Mobile G1 Phone)

T-Mobile now says this network will be deployed in more than 120 major cities and some surrounding areas by the end of November. Not bad for a company that had predicted it could have the service in 27 cities by the end of the year.

What this all means is that T-Mobile is catching up to the other majors. According to today's GSMA Newsletter, a recent edition of Wireless Intelligence Snapshot forecasts that the operator's 3G connections base will surpass 1 million before year-end and reach almost 5 million by the end of 2009. That could account for between 10% and 15% of T-Mobile USA's total wireless connections.

Gary Krakow is's senior technology correspondent.