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T-Mobile beats quarterly estimates on new-customer growth

(Adds detail from conference call)

By Sheila Dang and Akanksha Rana

Feb 7 (Reuters) - T-Mobile US Inc on Thursday reported quarterly revenue and profit that beat Wall Street estimates, as the wireless carrier added more customers than expected after expanding its network, particularly in U.S. rural markets.

Shares of the company were up 1.6 percent at $68.04 in morning trading.

The company, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscriber count, is awaiting approval of its deal to buy smaller rival Sprint Corp as it strives for more scale to compete with bigger rivals Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc.

T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere said during an earnings call with analysts that he still expects the deal to be approved in the first half of this year.

T-Mobile said it added a net of about 1 million so-called postpaid phone subscribers in the fourth quarter compared with 891,000 additions a year earlier. Analysts were expecting 912,000 new subscribers, according to research firm FactSet.

Analysts watch the postpaid figure, because those customers pay a recurring monthly bill and are more valuable to carriers that prepaid users.

The wireless carrier said it expects to add, without Sprint, 2.6 million to 3.6 million net new postpaid customers in 2019.

T-Mobile added network capacity in rural areas of the United States, which allowed it to build more retail stores in those areas and expand the carrier's geographical footprint, said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst with New Street Research.

T-Mobile has just a 10 percent market share of business customers, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert during the call, giving the carrier opportunity for more growth.

"Now that the network is there ... we're starting to see these kinds of customers come in, in historic numbers," Sievert said.

The company's net income fell to $640 million, or 75 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, from $2.71 billion, or $3.11 a share, a year earlier, when it recorded a big one-time tax related gain.

Revenue rose to $11.45 billion from $10.76 billion.

Analysts were expecting revenue of $11.39 billion and profit of 69 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

On Monday, T-Mobile told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission it would not increase prices for three years, with few exceptions, if it gets approval to buy Sprint for $26 billion.

(Reporting by Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru and Sheila Dang in New York; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Steve Orlofsky)