Home What's Brewing? T-Mobile Invites iPhone Owners to the Party Promising the Unlimited Data Plan...

T-Mobile Invites iPhone Owners to the Party Promising the Unlimited Data Plan AT&T Took Away

“Greater choices for consumers.”  That’s what the Department of Justice said it preferred when it turned “thumbs down” on the proposed merger of Seattle-based T-Mobile USA and AT&T last year.

It appears that “more choice” is exactly what American consumers may be getting through an imaginative, new offer T-Mobile is making to iPhone users.

Bring in your iPhone 5 to a T-Mobile store and the carrier will help you unlock it so you can switch to a better “deal” with T-Mobile “4-G” including an unlimited data plan for just $60 per month. AT&T eliminated its “all-you-can-eat” data buffet for new customers some time ago. Translation: This offer sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Celebrate your power of choice!

Before you unlock or unleash, it’s worth knowing a few of the “underpinnings” in this overwhelming T-Mobile offering.

Firstly, T-Mobile has “positioned” its HSPA+ service as the performance equivalent of “4G,” something not everyone agrees on. While most HSPA+ networks around the world boast a theoretical download speed of 21Mbps, T-Mobile in the states (and owner Deutsche Telekom in Germany) feature 42Mbps networks. Not too shabby, but a hotly debated issue is the “4G” tag for these HSPA+ networks, which most accept would be better defined as 3.75G networks.

The standard known as LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is considered a “true” 4G network. However, LTE is not compatible with 2G and 3G networks and thus, functions on an entirely different wireless spectrum. Unfortunately, this means that erecting an LTE network requires it to be built from the ground up. An apt analogy is that HSPA+ is the tip of the mountain with 3G technology, and LTE is the foundation for a new mountain range.  312 operators in 98 countries are investing in LTE and it is widely considered as the bridge to the future, at least at today’s crossroads. The rumor is that Apple’s iPhone 5 will feature LTE support and thus be capable of traveling “worldwide.”

Previously, T-Mobile offered its HSPA+ network on different frequencies than what AT&T and others are using. The net result was that only certain non-T-Mobile phones like the GSM Galaxy Nexus could utilize the carrier’s HSPA+ support.  Then, at  Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference earlier this summer, T-Mobile had a stunning announcement.  iPhone compatibility has arrived with its new HSPA+ band at 1900MHz.   iPhones and other smartphones could now benefit from T-Mobile’s HSPA+ .

In June, a study conducted by PC Mag, showed that not only does T-Mobile hold its own, “It’s really fast, covers a lot of the country and is inexpensive.” In fact, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42Mbps network bested Verizon’s LTE network in 11 cities and outside of cities, it “blew away other 3G networks.”

Seattle, Las Vegas, New York City and D.C. are front and center in the initial launch and T-Mobile plans to roll-out the 1900 MHz band in a large number of markets by the end of the year as part of a $4 billion network modernization effort.  One has to wonder whether a large chunk, if not all of that $4 billion, was the consolation prize from AT&T’s extravagant guarantee to T-Mobile that its merger with the company would not be hindered by the U.S. government as eventually transpired.

T-Mobile’s new iPhone campaign, “Unlimited & Unlocked.” offers iPhone users in-store technical assistance. They’ll demo how to download the software that will unnlock their devices.  Beginning this Wednesday—the same day that Apple is widely expected to announce the next model of iPhone — T-Mobile will issue an iPhone 4S demo unit to each of its stores, where sales staff can use it to help customers set up their own phones on the T-Mobile network.

Ultimately, T-Mobile feels it can offer iPhone users greater value, including its unlimited data plan starting at $60 a month for a single line. Among the major carriers, only Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan to new users, but that costs $80 a month. T-Mobile also announced that it would be building iOS versions of its myAccount, T-Mobile TV, and Visual Voicemail apps so the company will fully support iPhones even while it does not sell iPhones.  Like we said, “Imaginative!”

According to MacWorld magazine, it still isn’t entirely clear whether customers who buy any new iPhone model that Apple might announce will be able to immediately take advantage of T-Mobile’s aggressive new program. Apple released the iPhone 4S on October 28 last year, but didn’t make unlocked versions of the phone available until the following month, giving its official partners a head start.

T-Mobile will face another challenge in terms of the device’s subsidy with a two-year contract by AT&T and Verizon. Those legacy partners offer discounts on the current-generation iPhone, with models starting at $199.  The same model of unlocked iPhone costs $649.  The iPhone 5, unlocked and unsubsidized may retail at $800.  Finally, those iPhone users who have not yet reached contract maturity on current 4G models may be subject to an “Early Termination Fee” if they decide to jump ship, although you can take your phone number with you!

Time flies even faster than 4G speed.  It’s been ten years since Bellevue-based T-Mobile was acquired by Deutsche Telekom AG, and rebranded as T-Mobile USA in 2002.  The company that began as Western Wireless in 1994, then became VoiceStream Wireless, almost didn’t make it to the ten year milestone since it seemed a foregone conclusion AT&T would absorb it a year ago.

Celebrating its tenth year birthday this week, T-Mobile at ten has 33.2 million customers and employs about 4,000 people in the greater Seattle area. For consumers looking for more choices in their smartphones, we’re very glad T-Mobile is moving forward! [24×7]