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To switch or not to switch: Test-driving T-Mobile's LTE network

Susie Ochs | July 23, 2014
T-Mobile offers free music streaming and allows potential customers to take its network for a spin before signing up for an account with them.

legere test drive

T-Mobile's Uncarrier 5 event last month in Seattle was without a doubt the loudest press conference I've ever attended. Whichever rods and cones in my eyeballs detect the color magenta pretty much melted. John Legere was his magnificently foul-mouthed self, and his bombastic speech was accompanied by chair-shaking blasts of music and sound effects, concert lighting, and screaming fans (OK, most of them were T-Mobile employees, but there were thousands of them there, and they were loud). I don't recall actual pyrotechnics, but it wouldn't have been surprising.

But hey, if you're the scrappy fourth carrier, the one trying to shake up the industry and steal customers away from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint by any means necessary, you have to pull out all the stops. (You even go way too far, and have to apologize the next day.) And T-Mobile had a lot to announce: a free seven-day trial for people to test its LTE network on an iPhone 5s, to see if they want to switch before they actually switch, as well as a "free the music" scheme, in which streaming music from apps like Spotify and Pandora no longer count againt your data plan.

When the dust settled and I'd nabbed a selfie with the CEO wearing magenta Chuck Taylors, I also had a iPhone 5s in a bright magenta T-Mobile Test Drive box burning a hole in my backpack. So I've been carrying both, to see how T-Mobile's LTE network stacks up to AT&T. I'm very familiar with the latter network, having been a subscribber for ten years without really loving the experience. Would I find T-Mobile fast enough to make the switch?

Coverage and speeds

Verizon and AT&T both beat T-Mobile to the LTE punch, but T-Mobile has been upgrading its network and boasts a wide coverage area. You can enter your exact address to get an idea of what coverage will be like, but while my map promised fully magenta "Excellent" coverage at both my home and work, in practice I only had a bar or two of LTE at either place.

My house in Oakland is at the base of a pretty huge hill, and it seems to wreak havoc on cellular reception. AT&T provided great coverage when I lived in San Francisco, but when I moved to Oakland last year I've found I get one bar at the most, next to no data, and sometimes my phone just says "Searching." I even installed a land-line (yes, in 2013!) just to be sure I'd have a backup way to make calls.


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