Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

T-Mobile Launches Big Push to Get Customers to Bring Their Own iPhone

Like a host with an empty wine cellar, T-Mobile is throwing a party but encouraging guests to bring their own bottle. Or, in this case, to bring their own iPhone.

This week, the No. 4 U.S. carrier is kicking off a push that will encourage customers to bring their own unlocked AT&T iPhone and pair it with one of the carrier’s plans.

By taking out the cost of subsidizing the iPhone, T-Mobile can offer significantly cheaper rate plans, said marketing director Harry Thomas, in an interview.

T-Mobile plans to put a working, unlocked iPhone in each of its stores, and launch an “unlocked and unlimited” marketing campaign to attract more unlocked iPhones. It already has upward of one million iPhones without heavily touting the option.

Among the plans T-Mobile is pairing with the iPhones are a recently announced unlimited plan, as well as several plans that come with a certain amount of high-speed data and then unlimited slower-speed data. With plans starting at $60 a month, T-Mobile says it can save heavy data users more than $50 a month compared to AT&T.

T-Mobile won’t sell used iPhones, but Thomas said there are plenty of them available on the secondary market. Nor will the carrier do the physical unlocking of devices, but AT&T has said it will unlock customer devices for those who have fulfilled their contract and are in good standing.

There’s one major problem with T-Mobile’s pitch. Its network isn’t yet all that iPhone-friendly given that its high-speed network has historically run in a band of spectrum not supported by the iPhone. T-Mobile is in the process of shifting around its network so that Apple phones can run at full speed, but for now, nearly all customers will be running at far slower 2G speeds.

By sometime in the fourth quarter, T-Mobile plans to offer full-speed iPhone service in a number of cities, although it hasn’t said which ones. T-Mobile is in the process of upgrading its network cell tower by cell tower to support the same frequency used by the iPhone.

Thomas said the company thought about waiting with its push for new iPhone customers, but decided it needed to start now, noting some customers are already bringing their own iPhones.

“We thought we needed to respond to that consumer demand,” he said.

While not broadly available, customers may already be getting the faster data in certain places in certain cities, including Seattle, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

Visual voicemail also won’t initially be available, but the company hopes to have an app to enable that feature before the end of the year.

Plus, even as T-Mobile works to make its HSPA+ network iPhone-compatible, T-Mobile faces another challenge. Apple is preparing to introduce its next iPhone this week, and that device is expected to support LTE — another type of high-speed network, and one that T-Mobile isn’t expected to launch until sometime next year.

As for the iPhone pitch, Thomas said that T-Mobile is planning a significant marketing push, but the bulk of its TV and other advertising will focus on its traditional lineup of phones and plans.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

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