T-Mobile’s latest sales pitch might as well show up wearing a suit and slippers.
On Thursday, the nation’s third-biggest wireless carrier announced a bundle of services for business and government customers that have been forced by the pandemic to pivot to work-from-home workforces.
Called WFX Solutions, the new package combines a suite of calling and collaboration tools, business smartphone plans with generous mobile-hot spot data allocations, and a home internet service built on T-Mobile’s 4G and 5G networks.
All aim to turn remote-working employees’ homes into even more of an extension of their office—except with the same potential as ever for distraction from pets and kids.
“The workplace has been transformed forever,” CEO Mike Sievert declared in opening a 25-minute streamed presentation. “In a post-pandemic world, 87% of U.S. business leaders expect to see some of their employees working from home three or more days a week.”
The most interesting part of WFX (short for “work from anywhere”) looks to be the Home Office Internet service that T-Mobile will offer to employers that want to put remote employees on a more reliable connection. As in, you can’t buy this service—quoted at $90 a month, with possible discounts for larger businesses—for yourself.
“This is a separate work connection,” said Mike Katz, EVP of T-Mobile for Business, when I spoke to him via a video call on Thursday. He compared it to a work-from-home type switching to an LTE or 5G hot spot to avoid congestion on home Wi-Fi.
The company will begin offering this service on March 22 in markets covering some 60 million households, about half of the total in the U.S. and a far bigger footprint than T-Mobile’s limited rollout of home LTE service. Said Katz: “Starting with 60 million homes is more than any other ISP offers.”
T-Mobile isn’t saying how fast this service will run; its home LTE service advertises 25 Mbps and up, but the midband 5G T-Mobile is quickly deploying on frequencies picked up when it bought its competitor Sprint can deliver downloads 10 times as fast.
Business, not pleasure
The service’s limited fine print is free of any hint of a data cap, but it will come with stringent content filtering on by default to block bandwidth-heavy sites that lack obvious business uses—including Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, but also T-Mobile’s own T-Vision streaming-TV service.
Katz described this filtering as a way to help employers focus this connection on business purposes: “They’re going to deploy this to their employees; they want it to be dedicated for work.” Analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics says that blocking entertainment services by default also helps T-Mobile meet its network-management goals: “They want to keep the capacity for these business video calls.”
The second WFX offering, Collaborate, aims to streamline such workplace calls. Built on services from San Francisco-based Dialpad, it provides office-grade collaboration tools that include automatic transcription of conference calls and video calling from UberConference, a con-call app that launched in 2012.
Consumers may wonder when they can get T-Mobile’s 5G connectivity at home.
The last leg of the WFX tripod is a souped-up version of T-Mobile’s smartphone service. The new Enterprise Unlimited plan, available March 5, offers unlimited-on-phone data plus 10 GB of mobile-hot spot use per month—up from the 5 GB in the company’s Magenta consumer plan.
T-Mobile will offer that plus Collaborate for $37 per month for 11 or more lines as an alternative to enterprise smartphone plans from AT&T and Verizon. Many of those competing plans offer business and government customers discounts on pooled bandwidth that they must then monitor to avoid getting dinged with overage charges.
“T-Mobile will do well with these plans,” Entner said, commenting that enterprises will pay a premium not to have to worry about surcharges. “People and companies like predictability.”
But the consumers to which T-Mobile has directed so much of its attention over the last 10 years may wonder when they can get its 5G connectivity at home and escape the embrace of the local cable company. T-Mobile’s answer there amounts to: We see you, but we hope you can wait a little longer.
“There’s not nearly enough competition in this space,” said Katz, noting that he has only one wired broadband provider available to him at home. “That affects everybody.”