I'm sure we all of us has fantasized being in charge of an established company. Maybe you have an idea that could turn them around, or make them better. My ideas seem to keep me up at night, so I decided to write them down. Maybe someone who matters (or their competitors) will pick it up. If so, don't forget to write me a check.
T-Mobile has always been looked at as the underdog, but they are also looked at as the favorite carrier of smartphone enthusiasts. They are more flexible than any of the carriers here in the US, and they are the only other carrier that uses GSM. GSM allows us to swap phones easily due to the use of the standard SIM card. However, their use of the AWS (1700 MHz) band for UTMS and HSPA+ (3G/4G) limits their phone choice. However, they are already changing for the better.
The Ship is Already Turning Around
I am happy to hear they are starting to refarm their 1900 MHz band that's currently being used for GSM for HSPA+. This will allow more unlocked phones on T-Mobile's network, and will also allow the use of Apple's iPhones and iPads at full speeds. My international model of the Samsung Galaxy S II will also work on T-Mobile, as do other global unlocked phones. I can't wait! If you can't make them come to you, why not come to them?
Another benefit to this move? Areas where T-Mobile does not have 3G/4G coverage (1700/2100 MHz HSPA+), but already have EDGE (2G) and voice will now have coverage! That's because the area is already being blanketed with service in the 1900 MHz band for EDGE.
Their primary reason to refarm their 1900 MHz band isn't to make more phones available to them (though I wished it was - they could have done this sooner!). Instead, their motivation is to reclaim their current AWS (1700 MHz) band for a new LTE network. That's good news!
However, I wonder if the rest of the world will deploy LTE using the same band. LTE is a good reason to start with a clean slate - lets collaborate and make everything work! But alas, it doesn't work that way. Every country and region has their own way of assigning or licensing bands. Here in the US, we have the FCC.
Still, T-Mobile USA is heading in the right direction. Of course, I still have some ideas that I would implement if I were in charge of T-Mobile.
Be the Most Open Carrier
As stated before, T-Mobile is the choice of smartphone enthusiasts. This is because T-Mobile as a whole is more accepting of unlocked phones. However, almost every T-Mobile store I go to, their employees are ignorant of cell phone world that's beyond T-Mobile's sandbox.
Unofficial iPhones on T-Mobile may be the only exception, but I've seen many confused looks when I brought in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (GSM international model) which supports the AWS band. Also, the enthusiast customer-base is more interested in contract-free plans because they are the ones who bring in their own phones.
T-Mobile should start training their retail stores to be more accepting and open. If you are number 4 carrier, you should start thinking differently. You should also start marketing yourself as such. There's no shame in being a "dumb pipe". In fact, it's a great selling point.
In advertising, push your contract-free plans more than your contract plans. Make sure to let people know they can bring in any unlocked GSM phones. Educate people on how to unlock popular locked phones. Point them to Newegg, Expansys-USA, and Apple to purchase new unlocked phones that T-Mobile doesn't carry natively. And of course, sell unlocked phones in retail stores. Market them as "unlocked global phones". Hell, make sure to point out it also works on AT&T. If you can't get them on your service, get them with a one-time sale of a phone!
In the spirit of being open, start selling contract-free SIM cards with service at retail stores! Those nice "online exclusive" plans such as the 100 minute voice, unlimited text, unlimited data (5GB high speed) for $30/mo - make them available in stores, too! There's something about instant gratification. It can be a deal maker.
T-Mobile should mirror the experience found overseas. When I was visiting Hong Kong, I was able to walk into any 3HK store (their local carrier) and purchase a plan that made sense for my short visit and just their SIM card. The kicker? They even knew the APN settings for MMS and data. Very few employees in T-Mobile and AT&T know what APN is, nor do they know how to deal with a customer who just wants a SIM card and a short-term plan. Cater to the visitors from abroad, and cater to your US customers who think differently.
Plans that Makes Sense
Play to your strengths. So you say your number of contract customers is down? Why not play up your no-contract plans? With the economy the way it is, people see value in a low-cost monthly bill that's possible due to unsubsidized phones.
They should also use Ting as an inspiration. Ting is a Sprint MNVO that lets you choose to have voice, text, and/or data. They let you mix and match. Also, any unused minutes, text, or data in your chosen tier gets refunded or applied to next month's bill.
There are some people who simply do not talk on the phone much. Heck, I don't even text all that much. I'm a data man who occasionally uses minutes and texts. I was doing fine with 500 minutes, 1000 text, and unlimited data - which is what I used to have with AT&T (and it still cost $85/mo - damn AT&T).
Right now, T-Mobile's offer of 100 minutes, unlimited text, and unlimited data (5GB full speed) for $30/mo works for me. Add the $10 for unlimited mobile-to-mobile and the plan is sweetened. But I'd still like to see the uncoupling of these services. It allows the customer to feel like they have control over their plan and their bill.
While I know this was a long read, I do believe they make sense for both the consumers and the company. It's a good way to bump up to number 3 at least. Their competitor who can steal these ideas and bury T-Mobile would be AT&T. AT&T is the only other GSM carrier in the US. If they become more flexible, push out discounted no-contract plans, and offer unlocked unsubsidized phones. Because they already have 3G/4G (HSPA+) on the "right" bands, unlocked phones from all over the world can already benefit on AT&T's network. However, AT&T has their heads deeper in the sand than T-Mobile and won't acknowledge this. Heck, I've had the Samsung Galaxy S II (international GSM model) on AT&T when the iPhone 5 didn't come out as people hoped for (July 2011).
So if I was in charge of AT&T, I'd do all of this. But since I like the underdog, I'd like to see T-Mobile take the ideas instead.