Last week AT&T made a surprise announcement: they would unlock off-contract iPhones hassle-free. Well, relatively hassle free; there have been complaints of long wait times to speak with technicians. But in any case, qualifying AT&T customers can free their iPhones for use on other networks.
There might be no greater beneficiary to this than T-Mobile, which already has 1 million unlocked iPhones running on its network. Might customers flock to them after unlocking their unused AT&T iPhones? SIM-only deals For its part, T-Mobile does make the process of activating an unlocked iPhone easy.
They have iPhone-ready micro SIM cards ready to go. They’re absolutely free, and they’re attached to non-contract plans. That means you can use your iPhone on T-Mobile without committing to a service term. Their plans provide excellent value, too. The 500-minute plan, with unlimited text, starts at $44.99 per month for 200MB of data.
It goes up to $94.99 per month for 10GB of high-speed, data, but as we’ll learn, that might not be all that important. No 3G service.
Unfortunately, iPhone customers who unlock their phones and bring them to T-Mobile will notice one significant departure from AT&T’s service. T-Mobile operates on a different 3G band, and therefore does not support the iPhone’s 3G radio.
That means customers are stuck with slow EDGE speeds. At a time when T-Mobile is offering 42Mbps on its HSPA+ network, this seems even slower. The upshot is that due to the slower speeds, most customers can get by with that 200MB of data, or, at worst, 2GB of data — which costs $49.99 per month. The downside, of course, is the slow pace. If you’re frequently within WiFi hotspots it might not be that much of an issue. But for frequent travelers, the lack of 3G is a deal-breaker.
Update: Of course, not long after writing this post I saw that T-Mobile announced that the iPhone would work on HSPA+ later this year. Good timing, I guess. Plenty of alternatives While the iPhone certainly ranks among the best smartphones on the market — and in terms of simple usability it could very well be the best — there are plenty of comparable handsets that get the job done as well or better. Again, T-Mobile offers lightning fast speeds on its HSPA+ network, and has a large selection of compatible phones.
Many customers will be better off going with one of the Android phones T-Mobile that can make the most of the network. In particular, the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G can provide a wonderful user experience. Still waiting on the iPhone While T-Mobile does have a significant volume of iPhone traffic, especially for a carrier that does not itself offer the device, these customers simply aren’t getting the most out of their phones. On bigger carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T, the iPhone might be the best choice.
Consumers love the simple user interface and the no-hassles usage. But lacking even 3G speeds, it becomes much less useful. T-Mobile offers alternatives, which in many cases are superior to the iPhone. It might be a while until we see the iPhone on T-Mobile as well. While there are strong rumors that Apple will release an LTE iPhone this year, T-Mobile likely won’t have their LTE network up and running until next year.
Even then, it might not be spread far enough to justify the costs associated with carrying the iPhone. So for those who want T-Mobile’s rates and want an iPhone, the SIM-only deal is even better now that AT&T is unlocking them hassle-free. But given the alternatives, it might not be the best idea right now.