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Why I Remain A T-Mobile Waverer

The nation’s fourth biggest wireless carrier keeps coming up with new reasons to switch. But its network needs to be the biggest one of all.

Why I Remain A T-Mobile Waverer
[Photo: Flickr user Benjamin Gonzales]

T-Mobile USA really, really wants you to dump your current wireless carrier and move to its service. That’s true of all of its competitors, too, of course. But no other U.S. wireless company is so relentlessly creative when it comes to devising new features which might prompt you to switch.

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Today, the company that likes to call itself the Un-carrier announced a new feature called Data Stash which lets you bank any unused 4G data from your monthly allotment for later use. It’s also giving customers 10 GB of stashable data to get them started.

The feature is the latest of multiple rounds of “Un-carrier” moves which T-Mobile has made, such as its announcement last September that it now offers Wi-Fi calling on all phones and has a deal with airline Wi-Fi provider Gogo to permit free in-flight texting and voicemail checking.

Now, this data rollover feature isn’t a boon for everybody. If you never, ever exceed your allowance of data, it doesn’t matter if you can save what you don’t use. But having a nest egg of at least a few gigabytes is helpful in some situations: If you go on vacation one month and use a lot more data than usual, for example, or suddenly decide to go on an atypical video-streaming spree.

As usual with T-Mobile’s Un-carrier rollouts, the pitch by CEO John Legere was brash, profane, entertaining, and occasionally bizarre–he loves to call the other national carriers “Moe, Larry, and Curly”–but sometimes pushed boundaries that left me asking questions about T-Mobile, not the other guys.

For instance, if not rolling over data amounts to an “appalling” instance of a “total scam” which involves carriers “bilking” their customers–all words which Legere used–why has T-Mobile itself not rolled over data until now? And if it’s wrong to take away data which a consumer has paid for, as Legere said, why will T-Mobile do so with any data you haven’t used one year after you banked it? AT&T and Verizon seem to me not to be scammers or stooges, but companies which are so powerful that they don’t always have the incentive to offer the more customer-friendly policies that smaller, hungrier outfits like T-Mobile and Sprint do.

Why Not Switch?

Overall, Data Stash is clearly yet another reason to consider switching to T-Mobile. And my own data-using habits are the sort which might benefit from it. There are months when I don’t use use that much data, and months–especially when I’m on the road–when I gorge.

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And I’ve already positioned myself to make moving to T-Mobile easy if the time ever seems right. I recently bought an iPhone 6–and rather than getting locked into a contract in return for a discount, I paid full price for an unlocked model. That will let me switch between AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile–Sprint still requires an iPhone designed for its network–at will.

(Well, almost at will. I already switched from Verizon to AT&T, and AT&T representatives managed to muck up the phone so that it wouldn’t work on their own network, whereupon they blamed the problem on Verizon and said I’d have to go back to that company to fix it. I managed to successfully troubleshoot it on my own.)

So why aren’t I planning to switch as soon as I can get myself to a T-Mobile store? Two reasons, mostly. One is that the company doesn’t offer shared data plans which permit a consumer to pay for one bucket of data and apply it to both a phone (my iPhone) and a tablet (my iPad). If John Legere were here, he’d explain why consumers shouldn’t want shared data plans. But I like them: They give me one allotment of data to worry about rather than two, and make T-Mobile’s plans look like less of a bargain than they’d otherwise be.

But the biggest reason why I’ve been skittish about T-Mobile is the most fundamental one of all: coverage. A wireless carrier can offer all the fringe benefits in the world, but it doesn’t matter much if your phone doesn’t work. And T-Mobile has long been playing catch-up with AT&T and Verizon when it comes to the breadth of its LTE network.

I understand that a reputation for shaky network quality is likely to fester even after matters have improved. However, when I’ve asked around on Twitter in the past to get a sense of how satisfied T-Mobile customers are. I’ve always heard from enough unhappy customers to leave me wary.

When I asked this time around, though, there seemed to be a more upbeat consensus: T-Mobile is fine, as long as you stick to city use.

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A few of the responses I got:

Those results are wholly anecdotal, and they don’t amount to an unqualified endorsement. But I spend the vast majority of my time in cities; if T-Mobile remains shaky in the boonies, it might be a problem for me only rarely. Bottom line: It looks like all the effort the company has been pouring into its network, which it says now has the most capacity per customer, may be paying off.

I’d still rather pay more money for the best possible service–no matter how many other incentives a carrier offers. Which is why I remain a T-Mobile waverer: Someone who’s fascinated by the company’s strategy and grateful for the way it’s shaken up the industry, but who isn’t ready to pull the trigger. Yet.

Someday, T-Mobile may hold an Un-carrier announcement that’s about one thing and one thing only: The quality of its network. That would be the clearest possible sign that the time was right to switch.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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