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T-Mobile's "radical" changes double-down on flat-rate data plan

John Cox | March 28, 2013
In a profane, foul-mouthed, ad-libbed presentation, T-Mobile CEO John Legere Tuesday trumpeted his company's previously announced "unlimited" data plans, scrapped its cellular contracts, launched its belated LTE network, and revealed that T-Mobile, finally, would offer the iPhone.

"There are no caps or overages," according to T-Mobile.

But there are some wrinkles. Tethering for example is "included" in the $50 and $60 monthly rate plans; but not in the $70 unlimited plan. When you get to the unlimited plan, tethering apparently 500MB per month. Yet, according to the press release, "T-Mobile Smartphone Mobile HotSpot for on-the-go tethering Internet access. Through Simple Choice, T-Mobile offers an additional 500MB of 4G data for tethering, enabling customers to tether from their iPads, Macs and other devices." That wording suggests the 500MB limit applies to all data plans.

Neither Legere nor Chief Marketing Officer Michael Sievert seemed able or perhaps willing to offer a coherent explanation of this arrangement. "Take those questions and ask our competitors what [tethering] would cost with them," suggested Legere.

T-Mobile promises there will be no additional charges if you use more than your 500MB or 2GB data limit. Instead, "Once the rate plan allotment of high-speed data has been consumed, customers will experience reduced Web speeds without overage charges for the remainder of the billing cycle." No one from T-Mobile explained, and no one from the press asked, what "reduced Web speeds" would mean in practice.

Sievert says the company will focus on "fair use." That apparently means if you are using 50GB of data a month, your data speed will not be "throttled" unless T-Mobile determines your use is "inhibiting fair network access by other customers," he said. Legere promised that any time T-Mobile applies this fair use constraint on a customer, it will publicly post an explanation of why it did so.

T-Mobile customers with an acceptable credit rating can get monthly bills, and possibly special phone offers or benefits; customers lacking good credit will pay upfront. Legere said T-Mobile is eliminating the distinction between pre-paid and post-paid subscribers.

* "Better" networks

T-Mobile announced the first seven cities switched on for its new LTE network, which is intended to be the still-higher speed LTE-Advanced: Baltimore; Houston; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Phoenix; San Jose; and Washington, D.C. Legere said testing in New York City, due to be live in a few months, shows LTE download speeds of 16Mbps.

Legere promised that 100 million people will be covered by the initial LTE offering by mid-2013, and 200 million by the end of this year.

In addition, your LTE phone - including Apple's specially tweaked iPhone 5 - will fall back to T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 (Mbyte) "4G" network when LTE isn't available (or to somewhat slower HSPA+ versions where the 42MB variant isn't available). Legere rightly touted this network as being as fast or faster than his rivals' networks, including rival LTE cell sites, in many locations.


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