The U.S. wireless market is broken, and T-Mobile is here to save it —at least that's the idea behind the carrier's audacious Uncarrier initiative, which is shaking up everything from how you pay for a smartphone to how soon you can upgrade and in what countries you can use your device without paying through the nose. Unveiled in early 2013, the program took off with T-Mobile's decision to do away with traditional two-year wireless contracts in favor of its monthly Simple Choice plans.
The carrier also separated the cost of new smartphones from wireless plans. And let's not forget that T-Mobile is offering unlimited data — something AT&T and Verizon have eliminated. But T-Mobile didn't stop there. In July, the carrier also announced its JUMP plan, which allows users to upgrade their smartphone as often as twice per year for an additional $10 per month.
"T-Mobile is very deliberately choosing to do things differently as a carrier, and the whole Uncarrier branding is designed to reflect that," said Jan Dawson, an independent analyst. "There aren't substantive differences between the carriers most of the time, and T-Mobile has kind of shaken things up by really being different."
In October, T-Mobile took direct aim at AT&T and Verizon with its new international plan, which allows subscribers to travel abroad and use their standard data plan without having to pay any increased fees. Overseas gouging has been a major pain point for U.S. business travelers. All told, T-Mobile has reinvented nearly every aspect of its business. And that's all part of the plan.
The Uncarrier initiative has already resulted in subscriber growth to the tune of 2.1 million users in the second and third quarters of 2013 — the first sign of growth to T-Mobile's user base in nearly two years. Contrast that with Sprint's third quarter 2013 loss of 360,000 customers. Uncarrier is also forcing the competition's hand. Shortly after T-Mobile unveiled its JUMP program, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon announced similar programs of their own.
Although T-Mobile's Uncarrier initiative has certainly helped attract new customers, it's still the smallest of the big four carriers. And while T-Mobile's LTE network now reaches 233 cities, AT&T and Verizon boast far larger LTE networks. That being said, T-Mobile is continuing to build out its infrastructure, which will be strengthened by the addition of MetroPCS, which T-Mobile merged with this past spring.
Based on the number of customers T-Mobile has gained since it began its Uncarrier initiative, Dawson said, "It's clearly working so far." There are, however, some lingering questions. For instance, T-Mobile seems to be taking more subscribers from AT&T and Sprint, which suggests that T-Mobile may be attracting the most price-conscious customers, Dawson said. "If they [T-Mobile] can keep attracting attention with more big moves," Dawson added, "then they should be able to keep this momentum going.”
Game Changer Award Winners 2013
SMARTPHONE: Motorola Moto X
The Moto X is the first smartphone that lets you perform voice commands without touching your device.
CAMERA: Nokia Lumia 1020
The Lumia 1020 packs a 41-megapixel sensor and lets you zoom in on photos after you take them.
TABLET: Amazon Kindle Fire HDX
Amazon has reinvented tech support with the Mayday button on its new tablet.
GAMING: Oculus Rift
This jaw-dropping virtual reality gaming headset literally puts you inside the action.
WEARABLE TECH: Google Glass
A wearable breakthrough, Glass lets you snap pictures, get directions, speak to text and a whole lot more.
PC PERIPHERAL: Leap Motion
Leap Motion can read your hand gestures for doing everything from gaming to exploring the universe.
Pebble is taking smartwatches mainstream with an e-paper display, useful apps and a low price.
Vine is a whole new way to communicate and tell stories via 6-second videos that are a cinch to share.
ENABLING TECHNOLOGY: Intel Bay Trail
Intel's powerful but efficient new CPU gives 2-in-1 tablets and laptops more speed and battery life.