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Mobile Communications

T-Mobile is taking an ax to wireless rivals -- and I know why

I have had the pleasure (or lack thereof) of using AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all in a period of less than a year, and the experience has given me some first-hand knowledge about how the carriers are doing -- and what they're doing wrong. I first left AT&T for Verizon in 2015 because of AT&T's absurd pricing, $140 a month for my data plan and another $25 to $40 a line (though now that price has been cut by AT&T to $15 per line). So with five lines, I was paying about $280 a month, plus taxes and other fees. That prompted my first move, to Verizon's "better" network.

With its boasting that it has the largest, most powerful network in the U.S., I figured, "Why not?" I had high hopes for Verizon for the first month I was with it. Even better, jumping to Verizon saved me about $100 a month and I did finally get service in my house (a step up from AT&T). But for a network that's supposed to have the best service, I suddenly had more dropped calls than I ever had with AT&T. Coverage in my area was a complete bust.

While driving home from work in Massachusetts, I lost service five to 10 times in the course of a seven-mile commute -- a problem I never had with AT&T (and do not have with T-Mobile today). I called Verizon to complain, and 48 hours later, I was told that a technician had determined that foliage along my route was causing the problems. That didn't explain the dropped service along major sections of I-90 (better known locally as the Mass. Pike) in areas where both AT&T and T-Mobile offered solid coverage.

Frustrated by the problems, I decided to switch carriers again. I had two options: Sprint or T-Mobile. Despite fears that its network would be irreparably weak, forcing me back to AT&T once and for all, I opted for T-Mobile.

I'm glad I did. The dropped calls along the Mass. Pike largely stopped. Reception at home is solid, especially when I'm using Wi-Fi calling, which delivers crisp and clear communications. Best of all, the price is right: I now pay $140 a month for four lines with 10GB of LTE data per line.

Meanwhile, the carrier wars are blazing back and forth on TV and in ad campaigns online. Verizon, which remains in second place among the major carriers in the U.S. behind AT&T, recently launched an ad blitz centered around this commercial: A Better Network as Explained by Colorful Balls. The main problem is that the ad is based on year-old old data, which you'll notice if you read the fine print at the bottom of the screen.

T-Mobile has responded to Verizon's campaign, as has No. 4 carrier Sprint. And T-Mobile minced no words in a recent statement pushing back against Verizon's claims: "T-Mobile's LTE network is not just the nation's fastest, it's also the nation's fastest growing. In just the last year alone, T-Mobile has more than doubled its LTE coverage footprint, added 800,000 square miles of LTE coverage, expanded to cover 304 million people in total -- 98% of the people Verizon covers, rolled out Wideband LTE in 268 total markets for even faster LTE, and launched Extended Range LTE in 300 markets for coverage that goes 2x farther from the tower and works 4x better in buildings than before."

Outspoken T-Mobile CEO John Legere isn't the kind to rein in attacks against rivals, so it's no surprise that T-Mobile has gone all out to highlight the inconsistencies in Verizon's advertising. It's released several videos including one that tells its own story using colorful balls (in classic T-Mobile pink) and more recently there was an ad produced for this year's Super Bowl.

T-Mobile offers a lot of data to back up its boasts, and as a customer, I can't disagree. According to a T-Mobile spokesperson, between 2012 and 2015, the company's customer base doubled from about 30 million customers to more than 60 million, with 9.5 million of them moving over directly from one of the other three major competitors. (This is just post-paid users.) In other words, T-Mobile has added about 10 million new subscribers each year for the last three years, a growth rate that far outpaced AT&T, Verizon and Sprint during that same period.

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray noted in a late December blog post that T-Mobile has no plans to slow its expansion. He also called out other companies who say that they can deliver 5G-type speeds when they don't have true a 5G network. And not surprisingly, he sees T-Mobile as ideally positioned to continue to grow when 5G does become a reality. (For what it's worth, AT&T last week announced plans to run field trials for 5G in the Austin area.)

Another facet of T-Mobile that I like is how active it is on social media; it actually tries to respond to customer issues (in contrast with Verizon, which seemed to ignore any problems, even on social media). Simply take a look at the Twitter accounts for both T-Mobile and Legere. T-Mobile even has a fun page showcasing some of the most unexpected locations it serves -- like Skykomish, Wash., population 205.

Legere is also active online, responding to users, poking fun at the competition and actually engaging with people on Twitter. That brash approach to connecting with customers is something I like in T-Mobile and it highlights the contrast with AT&T and Verizon. The other wireless carriers act like corporations used to, with stuffy business models and remote leaders who have virtually no connection to their customers.

What makes a company great in 2016 is both high quality customer service and delivering on what they sell. To me, that looks much more like T-Mobile and much less like AT&T and Verizion. T-Mobile may not be a start-up, but its management sure performs as though it is and boldly claims that the future is bright.

So count me in as part of the "Un-carrier Revolution."

IDG Insider

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