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Wednesday
Mar232011

AT&T buys T-Mobile - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

Oh no!  AT&T is buying T-Mobile!

 

The Good

Well, most of the benefits will be for current AT&T subscribers.  After all, they have nothing to loose, and everything to gain.  They are already paying outrageous prices, dealing with crappy network coverage, and droping calls.

AT&T 3G data speeds was actually considered good at around 3 Mbps down, 1.2 Mbps up, but they are no longer the king of 3G speeds thanks to T-Mobile and Verizon.  T-Mobile, on the other hand, have an excellent backhaul, so much so that their "4G" HSPA+ network is pushing a little over 6 Mbps down and close to 3 Mbps up.  Funny thing is that their improved backhaul also helped realize the full potential of their current 3G technology, which is also seeing those wonderful 6 Mbps/3 Mbps speeds.  Will that mean AT&T subscribers will benefit from T-Mobile's backhaul?  I sure hope so.  If we're not going to have another GSM carrier to jump to, at least improve the one we're stuck with.

Speaking of improvements, having access to T-Mobile's current cell towers will now allow AT&T to improve coverage.  If your AT&T phone had bad coverage at home, but your friend with a T-Mobile phone has all 5 bars in the same place, they can soon be yours, too.  Carriers can only build so many towers.  It's not just the cost of property for the towers, but also the availability of property for purchase.  Now AT&T have access to the properties that T-Mobile owns to put up their equipment instead.

More good news for AT&T, they now has more radio spectrum to play with.  The 1700MHz and 2100MHz bands T-Mobile owns can now be used by AT&T to build out their LTE network if that's how they want to play it.  This will mean AT&T now have a way to compete with Verizon's LTE network.  Good news indeed for AT&T subscribers.  Of course, you will need new phones to take advantage of this, but that's not a new concept.  Verizon subscribers will need to upgrade to an LTE phone or device to take advantage of the faster network already (I drool at the thought of playing with the HTC Thunderbolt).

 

The Bad

If you are a T-Mobile fan and loved the convenience of a GSM network, and you hate AT&T, you're stuck with no where else to go.  T-Mobile is the only other carrier in the US that has a GSM network, and that is being absorbed by AT&T, which will be the only GSM carrier in the US soon.

T-Mobile's excellent backhaul is so fast, it actually faster than AT&T's current offering.  With the additional load, we could expect the speeds to come down once T-Mobile's backhaul is integrated with AT&T.  T-Mobile customers who was used to the speed will cry foul, while AT&T customers will either see a small bump in speed or no changes at all.    The real question is will the speed diminish once the AT&T hordes combined with current T-Mobile subscribers start guzzling from the same community cup?

As for the current T-Mobile's 3G radio spectrum, who knows what AT&T will do with their current set up.  Will AT&T leave it alone for current T-Mobile phones?  I doubt it.  Even Sprint had to eventually discontinue Nextel's iDEN network, even though it took a long time to do so.  There are talks that AT&T plans to convert the 1700/2100 MHz spectrum that T-Mobile is currently using  for 3G for their own 4G LTE network.  This will compete with Verizon's LTE network.  This will also mean that current T-Mobile phones will no longer work after AT&T decides to start this conversion process.  Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T, confirmed that T-Mobile customers will eventually have to "upgrade" to AT&T compatible phones.

If you loved that T-Mobile was pretty open about having unlocked GSM phones on their network, you will now lose this freedom with AT&T.  From my experience, AT&T doesn't even want to acknowledge they are a GSM network, and doesn't acknowledge that there are other phones out there that can work on their network.  T-Mobile is not oblivious to this.

Not to mention the awesome non-contract (month-to-month) plan prices are probably going away.  T-Mobile is the only carrier that has steep discounts on their monthly plans if you purchase a phone unsubsidized (full price) or if you brought your own unlocked GSM phone, such as those jailbroken and unlocked iPhones.  My favorite was a 500 minute plan with unlimited data and text for only $59.99/mo, in contrast to $79.99/mo on contract.   T-Mobile does throttle you to modem speeds if you go past 5GB of data, however.  It's still better than AT&T's overage charges. 

One more thing, Android enthusiasts.  As you may or may not know, all Android phones that AT&T carries (including the high-end Motorola Atrix) are blocked from side loading apps (installing apps outside of the App Market).  T-Mobile doesn't have this policy.  So if you're a T-Mobile customer who enjoys that ability, be aware that that freedom will be taken away once they make you move to an AT&T Android phone.

Of course, it also means we have one less carrier to choose from, and less competition.  There will only be 3 major cell phone providers.  If you're a fan of the GSM network like me, you now only have one choice.  I'm now reconsidering CDMA networks - namely Sprint.  Like AT&T, Verizon is just too expensive.

 

The Ugly

If you're coming from T-Mobile, you're going to drive through some bumpy roads.  Transistions are never easy, and that's exactly what you'll be going through.

For example, will you be grandfathered in to your current plan?  Who knows.  It'll be more plans that AT&T have to keep track of.  Having to switch to phones that will work on AT&T's spectrum wouldn't be fun, either.  Sure most people upgrade their phones every other year, but some don't.  At least they would have the choice of keeping their current phone.  However, with the switchover, those people will not have that choice.  They will have to get a new phone that will work on AT&T's network.

Then there is billing.  Let's not get into that.

 

 

We take the good with the bad, but it really does seem one-sided, doesn't it?  Current AT&T subscribers will see most of the benefits while T-Mobile customers will see the short end of the stick.  Overall, it's a bad thing, since consumers will now have only 3 major carriers to choose from in the US.  Well, I guess there are the smaller regional carriers...

Oh, no?  Didn't cheer you up?  Me neither.

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