Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) T-Mobile
USA is currently a distant fourth place in subscribers (appr. 32.3 million),
behind Verizon Wireless (VZ)
(appr. 104m), AT&T Inc. (T)
(appr. 98m), and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S)
(appr. 51m). However, T-Mobile still has some loyal fans who swear by it.
I. Unlimited Data* for Everyone! (*Restrictions
On Tuesday, the company unveiled [press
release] its long-awaited family plans and dropped some good news for its fans
-- it will be offering "unlimited" connections after all. Okay,
so there's a tiny bit of a catch here. T-Mobile is adopting a unique
approach. It will offer capped quantities of high-speed data
at prices outlined in our
previous piece. Once you exhaust your allotment, though, there are no
overages -- you simply get bumped down to a slower data rate.
The plan is quite sporting and is really second
only to Sprint, who claims ostensibly to offer fully unlimited high-speed data.
To recap, T-Mobile offers a broad range of data
options -- 200 MB for $15 USD/month or 2 GB for $20 USD/month, 5 GB per
month allowance for $30 USD/month, or a 10 GB allowance for $60 USD/month.
A 2-line family plan with unlimited voice and text
starts at $100 USD/month for a 2 GB/month high-speed data allowance, with
unlimited data, text, and voice. The actual price is likely be around
$130 USD/month before fees, as T-Mobile charges a $15 USD/month smart phone
The new offerings make AT&T 
and Verizon's data plans look even worse. Verizon, the nation's largest
carrier charges customers more
than any other carrier for data, doesn't offer unlimited data plans, and
offers them the less options when it comes to capped plans.
T-Mobile's "unlimited" data plans will
also be available on tablets and wireless internet PC sticks.
II. The Great 4G Robbery -- More Marketing
It's hard to deny that T-Mobile is offering some
great value to customers at these price points. If there's one
disappointing thing to the news, it's T-Mobile continued insistence at rebranding
HSPA+ as "4G". John Clelland, T-Mobile marketing SVP
states, "T-Mobile is committed to making the always-on benefits of
smartphones and tablets more accessible and worry-free for all Americans.
Customers want to enjoy all that the mobile Web has to offer, but they don't
want to pay for more than they need or worry about bill shock. Our incredible
value comes from the combination of our nationwide 4G network, exceptional
device portfolio and affordable plans that offer unlimited data access without
Let's take a quick refresher on this issue.
Currently Verizon offers
LTE -- a true 4G technology -- in a handful of cities.
is offering WiMAX -- another true 4G technology -- in a handful of cities.
Meanwhile AT&T and T-Mobile, behind in their 3G technology
deployment, have decided to focus on expanding their 3G coverage and rebranding
an advanced 3G technology HSPA+ (often referred to as "3.5G") as
The common defense among AT&T and T-Mobile
fans is that Sprint and Verizon haven't lived up to the data speeds promised in
their respective technologies' 4G specs. This is certainly fair -- they
haven't -- but it overlooks that AT&T and T-Mobile aren't even living up to
the lesser HSPA+ spec. Overall, the net result is that no one is living
up to spec., but Verizon and Sprint offer a bit faster connections where 4G
coverage is available.
A final note is that HSPA+ and 4G aren't just
flexible terms that these carriers come up with. They're specifications
that were drafted by formal vendor-neutral bodies of professional engineers.
It's disappointing that AT&T and T-Mobile choose the path of
continued skullduggery, trying to bamboozle clueless users into thinking 3G (or
3.5G, perhaps) is 4G. One can only hope customers educate themselves, so
as to understand their true options.
III. Forever Unlimited?
That issue aside, to quickly recap it appears
T-Mobile has positioned itself in a virtual tie with Sprint as the best value
for customers on the market. Which is better depends on local coverage
(3G/4G), how important high-speed data is for you, and how much data you use.
That leaves AT&T in second place, and Verizon in last, as generally
the worst value on the market (though in a few regions its strong coverage
trumps the cheaper plans).
The one looming questions is what will happen when
and if the AT&T/T-Mobile
merger gets federal approval. AT&T could opt to preserve the
brand and pricing -- or it could opt to force customers into its own less
favorable offerings. In that respect, T-Mobile customers' greatest enemy
may be uncertainty.