User Review: T-Mobile

Background

I am an only child, I am also a Student studying Computer Science. Thus, I am my family's tech guy. In 1999 my Dad got his first cellphone for work on Bellsouth. Throughout the years we have stuck with Bellsouth, Cingular, and finally AT&T. For more than half of my life we have been paying one company a large chuck of money each month for cell service. As I got older and became more techy I inevitably because the grand influencer to my Mom when it comes to our cell phone service. I always made sure we had the cheapest, most suitable plan for our family. As of two months ago we were all on a 700 Minute, Unlimited Text/Calls to Mobile family plan. I had unlimited data and both of my parents had 2GB. All together, after a 15% student discount and taxes, the bill was $197 a month.

In March, T-Mobile announced their Simple Choice plans and a whole new model for post-paid wireless in the United States. T-Mobile decoupled the cost of a phone from the cost of service and is creating a competitive market in phone pricing that hasn't really existed large-scale in the US before. While the idea is compelling to me, saving money is more so. My current phone is a Nexus 4 and my contract on AT&T has been up since last August; I was pretty annoyed about paying just as much without getting a subsidized phone realized that the new T-Mobile plans could save us a lot of money. However, my parents contracts don't end until December and its too expensive to have two different cell plans for one family.

This summer I spent two months in Ghana. I realized that this was the perfect time for me to cancel my line with AT&T. I have an unlocked phone so no way in hell was I going to pay AT&T's international roaming fees, and the 2 months savings from not having service would make up the difference of having my own line on T-Mobile until December. I decided I would switch to T-Mobile and test drive the network; If all went well my parents would join me on T-Mobile in December, if not I would go back to their plan on AT&T.

The Switch

Switching was actually incredibly easy. About 10 days before I was leaving Ghana to return home I went to T-Mobile's website, opened an account (post-paid so I had to do a credit check), and chose a SIM card to be shipped to my house. When I arrived home, I popped out the MTN SIM card I was using in Ghana (by the way, if you ever travel to Africa and need a solid mobile data connection, MTN is the way to go) and slipped in my T-Mobile SIM card. The problem was that I couldn't get it to work. I checked the instructions to see how to activate my new SIM and didn't find anything, Google didn't even help. The I realized I was an idiot and I forgot to restart my phone (you must do this when you swap SIMs in Android). I restarted, the phone connected to T-Mobile's network and I was off!

First Impressions

With my new T-Mobile service I could make phone calls and use data. Really, that's what it did. I mean for the most part very little had changed. The first few days I ran a whole bunch of speed tests, in South Florida I got great results on HSPA+, in more remote locations I got results similar to AT&T. One thing that impressed my was coverage in my house. Depending where I was in my house I got anywhere from 4 to 2 bars and phone calls sounded fantastic. Before, with AT&T I got anywhere from 3 bars to No Service, in fact it was so bad we ended up getting a discounted Microcell from AT&T.

4G LTE

As I mentioned before, I have a Nexus 4. This phone doesn't have supported LTE but it can be enabled with some pretty minor hacks now-a-days. After about 3 days of good service on HSPA+ I decided to see what kind of LTE service I could receive on my Nexus 4. The answer, good - not, great. Driving around South Florida I get an LTE signal just about everywhere - I can't think of a place I don't. However, most of the time I get like 2-3 bars of LTE. In urban areas - Downtown Miami / Miami Beach - I got 4-5 bars, but many places I got 1. The real problem is when I walked inside of a building. Commonly I would get 1 bar or revert to HSPA+. T-Mobile's LTE offering is definitely present, definitely useful, but definitely not as ubiquitous as AT&T or Verizon's. I study at Florida State University and I can say my experience with LTE in Tallahassee is very similar to South Florida. On the upside, T-Mobile's LTE is plenty fast, usually faster than AT&T or Verizon and anywhere T-Mobile has LTE, they are going to have a very fast HSPA+ network to fall back on.

Bringing an AT&T Phone

Here is where it gets more complicated. Both of my parents have iPhone 4Ses that they are happy with and they don't feel they need to upgrade yet. The problem is, they are AT&T models and only compatible with T-Mobile's HSPA+ network where it has been switched to 1900MHz. T-Mobile says this switch has taken place in its largest markets. Part of my family switching on T-Mobile depends if their phones will work well on the network or if they will need to buy new ones. So, I had AT&T unlock my Dad's iPhone and I switched phones with him for a day; Now, I had an iPhone 4S on T-Mobile and was seeing how well it worked. The answer is pretty much what T-Mobile said, it worked well in large markets and not-so-much everywhere else. Around South Florida the phone got HSPA+ everyhwere, it didn't fall back to EDGE once. However, I took a road trip up to Tampa and between South Florida and Tampa, the phone spent most of the time on EDGE. Phone calls continued to work great, but data was noticeably slower. Data worked okay for searching google and looking up directions but streaming music and browsing heavy websites were a no-go. For my parents, T-Mobile's 1900MHz network is enough, because it will cover them all around South Florida, but it will be a disappointment when going on road trips. However, since they can always make and receive calls I think they will be keeping their iPhone 4Ses for a while.

Billing and Customer Service

When my first bill arrived, I wasn't shocked. Nothing was out of the ordinary however, they charged me for a few extra days, from when my SIM card arrived at my house, not when I got back from Ghana and actually started using the service. I called customer service and explained why I believed T-Mobile charged me extra and the representative immediately looked at my usage, saw that I didn't use the SIM until a few days (4 to be exact) after it arrived and offered me a full week's worth of credit to my account. I have never had such service with AT&T. Usually with AT&T I am on hold for 15 minutes, the representative says they can't help me, I get placed on hold for 20 minutes in order to speak to the manager and after an argument the manager might offer assistance. With T-Mobile I was on hold for less than a minute and the representative understood my needs and addressed them immediately. In fact, after a week of using T-Mobile, a customer service agent called me and asked how I was liking T-Mobile, if I had any problems or questions, and explained how much my monthly bill would be including taxes and government fees. I feel that the revamped T-Mobile understands that they need good customer service in order to pull off their whole vision.

Conclusion

After over a month of trying T-Mobile with their new Simple Choice plans, I am very pleased. I think T-Mobile offers great service to people living in urban and suburban areas for a very fair price. If you live out in the middle of nowhere, T-Mobile isn't for you; If you don't, why would you pay extra for a network you aren't utilizing? I am not going to say everyone should switch. What I can say, is that for my family, T-Mobile seems like the obvious choice. All-in-all our monthly bill will be $100 a month for three lines after taxes compared to $197 now. If both of my parents get new iPhones our bill will still only be $142 a month. T-Mobile offers great service in our area and we can save $97 a month by switching. If T-Mobile can work for you needs and save you money, try it out, if not, then stay with your carrier now. I have already switched and it was a very easy process and honestly, I sometimes just forget I'm not on AT&T. At the end of the day my phone makes calls and data works just like it should, my new carrier is basically transparent to my phone. I wrote this review because I know T-Mobile has piqued a lot of interest in the tech world and I wanted to share my experience with others who are thinking about switching.

TL;DR I have been testing T-Mobile and it has been a great experience. My family is going to switch in December when their contract ends and we will save $97 a month in the process. If T-Mobile offers what you need for less money, you should give them a try.