Back to the iPhone (Part 4): Joining the T-Mobile “Un-Carrier” Revolution

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Back to the iPhone

In Part 1 of this series, I explained why I missed my iPhone and what caused me to go back to the iPhone. In Part 2, I gave an overview of the iPhone 5s from a hardware standpoint. In Part 3, I touched on iOS 7. In Part 4, I explain what caused me to leave AT&T as a wireless carrier, forego Verizon and Sprint, and join the T-Mobile “un-carrier” revolution.


AT&T: Clueless About Customer Service

Shortly after going back to AT&T as a wireless carrier, I deeply regretted it. Instead of being presented with a welcome mat to bring me back, I felt stabbed with a knife in my back instead. AT&T immediately started adding additional fees on to my bill, while small and subtle, were just ways to inch my bill up even higher. Then AT&T pulled a tactic on me that I flat couldn’t stand: AT&T raised my early upgrade eligibility on me while being under contract. AT&T pulled this stunt on customers across the nation, and we were all deeply enraged about it. One of the reasons I chose to go back to AT&T, and even pick the Note II versus waiting for the Note III or another phone, was because AT&T offered a more flexible early upgrade plan, having the assurance I could get the Note II now and get a newer phone in a decent amount of time without riding out my contract. Once this was gone, my trust in AT&T was 100% shattered beyond repair. After an intense battle with them and throwing an alphabet of government agencies toward them (first having them deny even changing my upgrade eligibility, then saying it wasn’t contractual, and they could extend mine indefinitely if they so pleased), I knew I had to move on.


My LTE service with AT&T wasn’t supreme as well. Between the wild speed fluctuations and random data outages I was having around town, I was paying way too much for the kind of service I was getting and it was clear that AT&T was clueless when it came to understanding the meaning of the word “customer service”.


AT&T forced me to pay the ETF to cancel my contract with them, even though they changed the terms of my upgrade eligibility on me while under contract, and to make matters worse, they stuck me with over $40 of taxes and surcharges on my bill on top of it. They never once made me feel valued as a customer. It was a total nightmare.


AT&T has also recently done the one thing I mentioned in my previous blog entry I wished they’d never do. They’ve forgone all their original Nation plans and are forcing all new customers onto their Mobile Share plans, just the way Verizon has done forcing all of its new customers onto Share Everything Plans. It was one area that made AT&T stand out for the better by offering a choice. Now that choice is gone.


Verizon: A Billing Circus Nightmare

After my dealings with AT&T, I considered going back to Verizon. At least Verizon has a large 4G LTE network, and if I’m going to have to pay the prices for the wireless service, I might as well go with the nation’s largest wireless carrier. Verizon’s new EDGE plan that offered no contracts and the ability to upgrade more frequently sounded appealing to me (granted, AT&T offers NEXT as well, and I even tried to have my plan converted to a NEXT plan, but AT&T wouldn’t budge). Since I also happen to work for Verizon’s exclusive weather information provider, and was a loyal customer with Verizon for a couple years in the past, and due to the fact that I have excellent credit even at my age, one would think Verizon would be dying to get me back as a customer and put me on their EDGE plan? Wrong!


Verizon flat told me “you don’t qualify for EDGE”. I had one of two options. I could either be stuck into yet again another two year contract with long upgrade eligibility dates, or to qualify for EDGE, I would have to jump through a circus of billing hoops, which would have ended in a billing circus nightmare. I had already encountered a billing circus nightmare with Verizon recently. I was having reliability issues with my home DSL connection with AT&T (I finally found an excellent ISP here in Hot Springs that gives me reliable, affordable, unlimited broadband service), so I was going to consider switching to Verizon’s HomeFusion service and bundle it with my iPhone. When it flopped and didn’t activate, Verizon allowed me to borrow a USB stick to get online temporarily, with a 30GB data cap. It was a total nightmare that really tested my faith, and I’m just praising the Lord He allowed me to find the ISP here that works. Verizon did’t disclose the hidden access fees on my account, was telling me I was staying within my 30GB of bandwidth when I’d call into support (since I was unable to login to My Verizon at the time), even though I blew my data cap and ended up with an over $600 bill. All in all, my experience with Verizon’s billing was a nightmare, and Verizon was never once up front with me about how much my mobile broadband service was going to cost when borrowing it (I’ve canceled it now and have been refunded for my equipment and didn’t have to pay an ETF).


So as the doors to AT&T and Verizon were shut, I decided to look elsewhere.


Sprint: Affordable Service but Coverage Issues

I then considered giving Sprint a try. I like the fact that they offer unlimited data plans, affordable monthly pricing, and customers I know on Sprint are very pleased with them. They’re a good company. Unfortunately, coverage here in Hot Springs is left to be desired. While Sprint is working on modernizing their network and rolling out 4G LTE here through their Network Vision strategy, my uncle on Sprint has issues even making and receiving calls at time, as well as issues with data and texting. So while I like Sprint and would have seriously considered them, and while one of these days, their network will get better here, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem I would have been able to switch to them anytime soon without really suffering with coverage issues.


T-Mobile: What Do I Have to Lose?

After weighing all my options, I decided to give T-Mobile a call. My mother had them for a carrier years ago and loved them. I decided to give them a try and see how things went. I didn’t feel like I had much to lose.


When calling T-Mobile, I was immediately presented with a world of difference between AT&T and Verizon. The sales team was friendly, treated me like a valued customer, and acted eager to welcome me to T-Mobile. They truly rolled out the red carpet for me, They waived my activation and shipping fees on the iPhone 5s and also waived the $10 SIM starter kit fee. They found my credit to be excellent, and they had no issues enrolling me in device financing and for their JUMP early upgrade program.


Their new CEO John Legere has launched the “un-carrier” revolution at T-Mobile, and the more I read up on it, the more I can see it’s working. I believe T-Mobile has what it takes to compete head to head with AT&T and Verizon. John Legere is also the first CEO I’ve found that’s very social and interacts with his customers, He’s tweeted me on Twitter a couple of times, and even responded to my emails when emailing him personally. He’s not afraid to shake up the wireless industry, and even though he’s blunt and bold, he has what it takes to attract customers and knock AT&T and Verizon down some notches.


T-Mobile’s customer service all around has been excellent to me. Every time I’ve either called in, messaged them on Facebook or Twitter, or emailed the T-Force, they’ve always treated me as a valued customer, worked diligently to give me the answers I needed, and have been excellent. T-Mobile doesn’t just understand the definition of “customer service”. They’ve written the definition of customer service.


As for my plan with T-Mobile, I’m thrilled. For a flat fee of $70/month, I have unlimited talk, text, and data. It’s GREAT to have unlimited data again. What’s even more thrilling is my total bill is not only less than it would be on AT&T and Verizon (even with all the perks I’ve added below), just the service portion of my bill is still less than my first iPhone bill was back in 2008, and back then I didn’t even have an unlimited talk plan and was on the lowest talk plan I could be on! Talk about revolutionary! Users that don’t need unlimited data can save a little money with limited data plans. Unlike AT&T and Verizon that charge overages, with T-Mobile, data just slows down after reaching the cap. For me, it’s worth the extra money for unlimited all the way. Even with unlimited, my bill is still less than the other guys.


My plan also includes 2.5GB of Mobile Hotspot each month, and if I were to reach the threshold on my hotspot portion, that data would just slow down. I don’t use this feature a great deal, so I’m comfortable with that. It also feels great not having to pay extra for the feature or having it pull from my data package.


Another perk included in my plan is International Roaming for data and texting in over 100 countries. This is huge. I may be looking at going for my Ph D at a UK college after I complete my M Div at Luther Rice, and while the majority of my work would be done online, it’s highly possible I’d have to step foot on campus for a week set of exams or to meet my professors. If it happens, I can use my iPhone overseas without worrying about data roaming charges. That’s excellent. I don’t have to bother with SIM unlocking my iPhone and getting a prepaid SIM card, or hunting down Wi-Fi just to check my emails. Data speeds won’t be the fastest, and I’d still have to figure out what I’d do with calling, but it’s still a major headache relieved.


For an additional $10/month, I can add T-Mobile’s International Talk and Text plan (which I recently did). It allows me unlimited calling to landlines and mobiles as well as texting in Canada, as well as unlimited calling to landlines in over 70 countries and discounted landline and mobile calling and unlimited texting to over 200 countries. Some of the countries included in the unlimited landline calling are: Mexico, Australia, and the UK. I tried calling and texting a WeatherBug Reporter friend of mine in the UK, and it was flawlessly simple once I got the hang of International dialing, and fun as well. If I do end up getting my Ph D from a UK college and need to call or text my professors, I can do so without breaking the bank.


My plan also includes a feature called HD Voice, which currently only works when calling other T-Mobile smartphones. I tried it with a friend of mine with a T-Mobile iPhone 5c. Call quality was definitely clearer on HD voice. It was so much more pleasant than regular calling. I wish more carriers would adopt HD Voice, or more people would switch to T-Mobile. 🙂 Call quality on T-Mobile in general has been excellent though. It’s definitely better than what I had with AT&T and Verizon.


T-Mobile’s plans also include a feature called W-Fi Calling, although the iPhone doesn’t directly support this yet. I did message T-Mobile and tell them a few ways they could offer it to T-Mobile customers using an app. Additionally, iOS 7 supports FaceTime audio calling over Wi-Fi, so iPhone users calling other iPhones on iOS 7 do get this feature that way.


T-Mobile calls their plans “Simple Choice” plans, and it’s an excellent definition. Their plans are simple, easy to choose from, and are filled with perks and affordable prices. It’s such a better choice over the complicated share plans offered by AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile also offers “Simple Choice” Family plans as well.


In addition to the $70 plan plus the $10 International plan, T-Mobile is letting me finance the iPhone 5s on device financing. The great news with T-Mobile is they’ve completely eliminated the 2 year contracts. I no longer have to worry about being stuck in a two year contract. That feels excellent. The only side affect of eliminating contracts is I don’t feel comfortable with paying full retail price for my iPhone right up front, especially since I want the highest end model I can get. T-Mobile gives me the best of both worlds offering device financing. I paid about $349 down and about $20/month on my bill to finance the 64GB iPhone 5s in Gold. Right now T-Mobile is offering the 64GB iPhone 5s in gold with $249 down, about $25/month. For those not wanting the top of the line iPhone, T-Mobile even offers a lot less down. All in all, device financing is a great way to enjoy the phone I want at the price I can afford.


T-Mobile also offers an early upgrade feature called JUMP, or “Just Upgrade My Phone”. With JUMP, I can upgrade my phone up to twice a year. Since a new iPhone usually comes out once a year, more realistically I’ll be upgrading about once a year. It’s great though since I can now get a new iPhone every year if I wish without being locked into a two year contract or long upgrade eligibility dates. JUMP is a separate charge on my bill from device financing. It’s about $10/month. AT&T NEXT and Verizon EDGE aren’t separate costs on the bill, but the tradeoff is the monthly financing charges for the phones are usually higher than T-Mobile, plus AT&T and Verizon continues to charge much higher rate plans than does T-Mobile, So even with my regular service charges, device financing, International talk and text, and JUMP, my bill is still cheaper than it would be on AT&T or Verizon, and I’m getting unlimited data and all the oner perks I mentioned. JUMP also includes device insurance with it, so you’re getting insurance and early upgrading all in one. AT&T NEXT and Verizon EDGE doesn’t. To get device insurance, it’d cost extra.


The ultimate question hinges on, how is my coverage? For starters, T-Mobile does have 4G in Hot Springs, but it’s HSPA+, not LTE. AT&T and Verizon both have LTE, and Sprint has plans to roll it out here. So I hope T-Mobile gets to cranking out LTE in Hot Springs soon. It’d really allow them to compete and swing a bunch of disgruntled AT&T and Verizon customers here. That said, I’m seeing decent speeds on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, and since I mainly use my iPhone for checking emails and business work and don’t do any gaming, it’s been comfortable. Since I would like to do more video streaming and conference calling on my iPhone now that I have unlimited data, I hope T-Mobile will crank up the speeds so I can enjoy all of that. T-Mobile still uses GSM, so when I’m on 3G/4G, I still have simultaneous voice and data.


There are a couple of coverage hiccups I am having. One is there’s a 2G/EDGE tower down the road from my house conflicting with the 4G HSPA+ tower, causing my speeds near my house to drop to 2G/EDGE. When this happens, I lose simultaneous voice and data, and my speeds drop quite a bit. They’re usable, but since T-Mobile’s coverage map is showing “Very Strong” 4G coverage near my house, T-Mobile does need to rectify this issue. Their executive engineering team personally contacted me and told me they’ll be modernizing the tower next year, so I’m still going to ride it out with them in hopes it gets resolved soon. I do have full confidence in T-Mobile to get it resolved. Granted, the situation isn’t much better with the other carriers near my house. Even Verizon has a 3G tower down the road from my house that conflicts with their 4G LTE tower, so even if I were on Verizon, my signal would fluctuate as well between 3G and 4G. I don’t see Verizon fixing their tower as quickly as T-Mobile will as well. They tend to blame it on anything but a tower issue. Since my call quality is still way better than AT&T and Verizon, and since I’m not seeing random data outages like I did with AT&T, and since my bill is way cheaper, I’ve decided to live with the issue and hang tight while they resolve it. At home, now that I have a reliable ISP, I can connect my iPhone to my new 801.11ac Airport Extreme router and enjoy somewhat faster speeds while they resolve the issue.


The other issue I’m seeing around town is my signal drops in the middle of historic downtown Hot Springs. Since I never took my Verizon or AT&T phones down there, I can’t remember if my phones worked there or not. Historic downtown is in a very low area surrounded by a couple of tall mountains. Unless carriers install a micro tower or booster down there, no one’s getting a signal. If T-Mobile will do this, I believe coverage would be OK.


The other question people are asking me about switching to T-Mobile is what happens when I travel around the state or country. Am I worried about major coverage gaps not being on a large network like Verizon or AT&T? Not really. For starters, 99% of the time, I’m right here in Hot Springs, around town. So provided that T-Mobile gives me solid coverage around town, I’m pretty satisfied. If I’m going to travel out of town, it’d usually be a place like Little Rock 50 miles away, and they even have LTE there. I do occasionally travel to a couple of state parks in the mountains with either 2G/EDGE or weak coverage. However, when I’m vacationing up there, I’m there to get away, tag along my DSLR camera, and enjoy the scenery. The last thing I should worry about is checking my messages or worrying about work. I should take a break and enjoy the scenery. Plus, the lodges usually have Wi-Fi, so I could always hop on for a moment and quickly check my messages if someone needed to critically reach me. I’d rather have unlimited data around town and International data roaming than worry about the few times I travel out of town. Granted, if T-Mobile strengthens their network in more places I travel around the state and country, great! I’ll enjoy the extra coverage.


T-Mobile is working to build out their 4G LTE network, and as they do, it’s generally faster than AT&T’s and Verizon’s. Their networks also generally have less congestion on them than the big guys, which is also a nice plus.


A few additional perks I’ve enjoyed about T-Mobile. First of all, when ordering over the phone or online, they offer a 20 day return policy. The extra days are more generous than the 14 day policies they offer in the store or that the other carriers offer. I wish they’d extend it to their stores, as well as bring a T-Mobile Store to Hot Springs. Their phone sales and support have been great though. Second of all, My T-Mobile, the online account management site, is a breath of fresh air to use over My AT&T or My Verizon. Their web interfaces are very complicated, cluttered, and difficult to navigate through. T-Mobile has really simplified their account management website, and like everything else, made it s breeze to check usage or change plan options. Lastly, T-Mobile uses the GSM standard for phones, so not only are the global and 3G/4G simultaneous voice/data perks included, people can bring their unlocked GSM phones (aka AT&T) to T-Mobile and activate them on no contract, simple, unlimited plans. All one needs is a SIM kit. While one does need to watch out to ensure if they’re activating a 3G/4G smartphone if it’s compatible with the AWS bands to take advantage of the faster speeds, it’s still a great option for those with existing GSM phones wishing to save money.


All in all, I’m happy to be a member of the T-Mobile family. I feel treated as a valued customer, I love all the perks I’m getting, as well as I love the monthly savings I’m experiencing on my bill. I’m done being a slave to the larger guys like AT&T and Verizon. I’ve joined the T-Mobile “un-carrier” revolution, and I’d recommend them to anyone.


Well this wraps up my series on transitioning back to the iPhone! Thanks for reading and for accompanying me on my journey, and I look forward to blogging more coming up! Coming up I plan to discuss the iPad Air and possibly the Apple TV!

Series Navigation<< Back to the iPhone (Part 3): iOS 7

About Nathan Parker

M Div Graduate, IT Consultant for Earth Networks, contributor at WeatherTogether and Focusing on the Mark Ministries, as well as anything else the Lord has in store for me! "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him" -Charles Stanley