"I think T-Mo is experimenting [with unsubsidized phones] and trying to find differentiation in a very crowded market, especially one for the fourth-largest contender," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, in an email.
A key ingredient to whether T-Mobile's bid will work is whether the Federal Communications Commission finally decides to support the unlocking of phones, as President Obama supports, analysts said. That would make it easier to bring an unlocked phone to T-Mobile and take advantage of its unlimited rates.
"T-Mobile will appeal to a certain group of customers who don't want to get tied into a two-year commitment," Gold said. "If the FCC really does support unlocking, it will help T-Mobile support folks who want to migrate."
Still, T-Mobile must prove it can offer good service and wireless coverage. "If they want to compete, T-Mobile has to offer better coverage than they do now, and LTE is one way to do that."
Despite the high hopes from T-Mobile's Legere, Gold said he doubts other U.S. carriers will follow the no-subsidy, no-contract pathway right away. "If T-Mobile is successful, other carriers will have to offer a competing service. If T-Mobile is not successful, the other carriers can all say, 'See, we told you so. Customers want subsidies and that's what we offer.' "
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