T-Mobile USA has recently made some major changes to the way they are providing their wireless service with a brand new “Un-carrier” initiative. This new perspective for a wireless carrier has made plenty of people wonder what’s different, as well as if any of those changes can benefit them. However, before you jump carriers on a whim, it’s always best to do your research to make sure that you’re getting the best deal for the service that’s right for you. I’ve done plenty of research over these changes, so hopefully I can help you break down the changes and other announcements that T-Mobile USA has recently made. Please note that the changes noted in this article are specific to T-Mobile USA, and any comparisons made are to other American carriers.
The biggest change with the “Un-carrier” initiative comes in the form of revamped service plans. All 2-year, phone-subsidizing plans with different combinations of minutes, texting, and data are all a thing of the past. Instead, T-Mobile USA has introduced the “Simple Choice” plan, a one-size-fits-all approach to plans. With a Simple Choice plan, everyone gets unlimited minutes, texting, and 500MB of high-speed data no matter what. This comes at a base price of $50 per month. You can then add your choice of data to meet your needs, at either $10 per 2GB or a flat rate of $20 for unlimited data. Technically, all plans have unlimited data as you’re throttled down to 2G speeds (theoretical maximum of 236 kbit/s) once you’ve used up the high-speed data that you’ve bought. While data plans which have a limited amount of data come with full tethering support, unlimited data plans require you to add amounts of tethered data as an add-on.
Because these are non-subsidizing “Value” plans, your phone’s price won’t be hidden into your monthly rate. If you need to pay off a phone, that amount will be added; if you have a phone paid in full, then your monthly rate becomes cheaper. If you set up a payment plan, the monthly rate for your phone depends on your credit and phone’s value.
If that seems a little confusing, let’s show some examples of what people might get:
- 2.5 GB of data (which includes tethering) = $50 base + $10 for 2GB = $60 per month
- Unlimited high-speed data for your phone and no tethering: $50 base + $20 unlimited data = $70 per month
- Unlimited high-speed data for your phone plus 4.5GB of tethering = $50 base + $20 unlimited data + $20 for 4GB of tethering = $90 per month
- Unlimited high-speed data for your phone and no tethering plus a new iPhone 5 16GB: $50 base + $20 unlimited data + $20 phone payment = $90 per month after $99 down payment
Again, the great thing about these plans are that you’re no longer under an annual contract, you pay less monthly if you’re not paying towards a phone, and you’re free to upgrade your phone whenever you want. In most cases, you should see some substantial savings compared to the other big carriers. Even while you are paying more when you’re on an installment plan for a phone, you can still probably end up saving money.
Family plans also have a simple structure under the Simple Choice framework. While your first line costs $50 per month as a base price, your second line will only cost $30 per month and your third, fourth, and fifth lines will only cost $10 per month each. You’ll still have to separately add data packages to each line, so scenarios can look like this:
- Two lines with unlimited data on both: $50 base for first line + $30 base for second line + $20 unlimited data for first line + $20 unlimited data for second line = $120 per month
- Five lines with unlimited data on each: $50 base for first line + $30 base for second line + $30 base for lines 3-5 ($10 each) + $100 unlimited data on all lines ($20 each) = $210 per month
Considering they include unlimited everything, those really aren’t bad prices.
Service and Coverage
If the prices get you interested, you’ll next need to know whether T-Mobile USA services your area well. Generally, you’ll find great HSPA+ speeds in all metropolitan areas and surrounding communities. Plenty of locations offer speeds that are equal to competitors’ LTE speeds, although T-Mobile’s technology is not LTE (for more information on the different technologies, check out this article). Once you get out into rural areas, your service may start to get flaky or slow. In all cases, it’s always best to check T-Mobile USA’s coverage maps to see what coverage is offered in your area. Their maps have been very accurate for me, so you can trust what they say.
Speaking of LTE, T-Mobile has just recently announced the availability of LTE service in 7 cities — Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Jose, Calif., or Washington, D.C. — which are accessible with the iPhone 5, Blackberry Z10, and Samsung Galaxy Note 2. T-Mobile USA’s LTE service should be compatible with any future LTE devices sold by T-Mobile USA. The coverage of their LTE service should also improve during 2013, supposedly covering 100 million Americans by mid-2013 and 200 million Americans by the end of 2013. Speed tests on their LTE network have been impressive, but as the network is still rather new, traffic is light.
Finally, before committing to a new wireless carrier, you’ll want to know if you’ll be able to use your favorite phones on the new network. Essentially, most if not all GSM phones that are branded for AT&T (and then unlocked) or for T-Mobile should work. Also, any factory unlocked GSM phones should work as well. If you like to look at the technical data, make sure that the phone supports 1700, 1900, and 2100 Mhz bands as those are the frequencies that T-Mobile USA uses. CDMA phones which are intended for Verizon or Sprint will not work, period. When it comes to iPhones, you’ll ideally want to own an iPhone 5 that was bought from T-Mobile or unlocked from Apple on or after April 12th, 2013. These phones support all the frequencies that T-Mobile USA uses. All iPhone 5 phones bought before April 12th will work with T-Mobile USA’s LTE network, but will only get HSPA speeds in areas where T-Mobile USA has refarmed to the 1900 Mhz band. If you do get an iPhone 5, it’s best to check that 1700/2100 Mhz is shown on the box, as some employees are accidentally still selling their older models which don’t support those frequencies. Additionally, iPhone 4 or 4S phones bought at any time from T-Mobile or unlocked from AT&T will only work with the HSPA network in areas that were refarmed to the 1900 Mhz band (which most have been done). Otherwise, you’ll have to do with getting EDGE speeds. While there aren’t any coverage maps which display what areas have been refarmed, T-Mobile USA does periodically let people know which areas they’ve completed in their .
Whether T-Mobile is right for you is a hard question to answer, depending on whether the plan ends up being cheaper for the same or more service, if you are in an area with good coverage, and whether you’re using a phone which is completely compatible with its network. It’ll still take a bit of your own research and comparisons in order to make a complete decision. However, it never hurts to take a look at T-Mobile USA’s new advances and whether they could benefit you.
Are you using T-Mobile or considering switching to T-Mobile? If so, what do you like the most? If not, what’s keeping you from switching? Let us know in the comments!