Ina Fried

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More From T-Mobile CEO: On Pricing, LTE and That Ever-Elusive iPhone

With the AT&T deal dead and no similar transaction in sight, T-Mobile CEO Philipp Humm has his work cut out for him.

So just what is he going to do?

Well, some of the details are still being worked out. But Humm said a big part will be continuing with the “value plans” that the company introduced last year. Those plans, which offer lower monthly rates to those who forego a device subsidy, can indeed save many customers money, but they are also complicated to make sense of.

“I think it’s more complicated because it means you separate out the handset from the rate plan,” Humm said. “On the other hand, it is more honest. It is a way for customers to optimize based on what they need.”

Humm notes that some customers want a big data plan but don’t need the latest smartphone, while others want the latest phone but not a lot of data. T-Mobile’s value plans ensure neither will overpay.

T-Mobile also intends to stick with plans that slow users down after they hit the amount of data they have paid for, rather than implementing an overage charge.

“What customers hate is when they are using data and suddenly they are being cut off or they have to pay gigantic overages,” Humm said. “Our model doesn’t do that. You stay connected and you don’t have to pay more.”

And while other carriers struggle to figure out a way to allow customers to share gigabytes across multiple devices, Humm said T-Mobile is sticking with an approach that allows customers to add a discounted second rate plan.

When it comes to getting the latest devices, Humm insists that isn’t a problem despite his No. 4 market position and the fact that the company uses a rather unique wireless band.

Of course, there is one big exception: The iPhone.

All of the other major U.S. carriers — AT&T, Verizon and Sprint — now carry the Apple device, leaving Humm odd man out.

He isn’t giving up hope, though.

“The key reason we didn’t have the iPhone in the past is we are on different band than globally the market was,” Humm said. “That is something which will change over time. Chipsets are also evolving to be able to allow for more bands.”

As always, though, the decision is up to Apple, Humm acknowledges.

On the marketing front, Humm said that T-Mobile will probably resume the approach it had been taking prior to the AT&T deal, in which it sharply attacked its rivals and pitched itself as a more consumer-friendly alternative.

“We will pick up our challenger strategy the way we had presented it last year and sharpen it further,” he said.

Long-term, the company still has to figure out what it is going to do about a next-generation network. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have all either launched an LTE network or plan to do so this year.

Because of spectrum limitations, T-Mobile has focused instead on speeding up its existing HSPA+ network, which it also bills as “4G.” For now, Humm insists that is good enough, saying customers care more about reliability and speed than they do network technology.

The real benefit of LTE, Humm said, is on easing network congestion, and he notes that isn’t a problem T-Mobile currently is struggling with.

“LTE has the advantage on the long haul; it is more effective spectrum ultilization,” Humm said. “That’s only something which will help (over) the long haul. You are talking about maybe in three, four, five years.”

LTE is still the long-term plan, Humm said, adding that he thinks the company will find a way to get the spectrum it needs.

“We’re not against LTE,” Humm said. “We will over time evolve to LTE. We just don’t see a need to move there very fast.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik