Every time I see T-Mobile CEO John Legere wax poetic about changing the wireless industry from the inside out, I experience two very different emotions.
The first is pride. I came to T-Mobile after spending two years with Sprint, a carrier I hope to never have the displeasure of doing business with again. Details aside, I made the switch to T-Mobile because I grew tired of Sprint’s ridiculous overage charges. I also wanted to head to a carrier that not only offered smartphones, but smartphones that weren’t miles behind devices like the iPhone. It didn’t help that Sprint dragged its feet introducing Windows Phone, a platform I was very determined to switch to.
I don’t mind saying that switching to T-Mobile was one of the best decisions I ever made when related to technology. Early on, it was willing to take a chance on a young guy who had no established credit and grant him a two-year contract. Since it embarked on its Uncarrier initiatives, my pride in T-Mobile has become about more than just extending contracts to youthful new smartphone owners.
T-Mobile’s move to decouple wireless fees from the price of their devices is downright genius, and though I signed my contract two months shy of the change, I definitely look forward to taking advantage of it when I can. It followed that move up with cheap prepaid family plans that anyone who needs four smartphones would enjoy, and an upgrade program that lets users get the latest and greatest iPhones, Android devices and Windows Phones with astonishing frequency. More recently, the company eliminated service overages and granted users international texting and data.
I’m disappointed at T-Mobile because today, the company still seems to promote some of the strange and borderline ridiculous policies I hate about other carriers. The biggest one is device unlocking.
After spending six months with the HTC One and five months with the iPhone 5s, this February I decided it was time to move back to a Windows Phone. I’d already sold or given away two older Windows Phones, so in order to make the switch I’d have to purchase something new, something that couldn’t require a two-year service agreement. I looked at T-Mobile’s Equipment Installation Plans, but decided against them after realizing that the Lumia 925 I wanted was almost a year older and way too overpriced with an EIP, even if the company wasn’t going to charge me anything upfront.
Luckily for me, Newegg began offering an amazing deal on older Windows Phones. I moved quickly, scoring two Nokia Lumia 925 devices for just $229 before tax. I was ecstatic, the best Windows Phone on the best carrier, without having to sign a new two-year service agreement? I’d hit the jackpot. This being me, I also wanted a back up plan. I’d read about Sprint wanting to get their hands on T-Mobile and knew that if they did, I’d be bailing as soon as I could. Because of what I do, I come in contact with a lot of different smartphones. The iPhone 5s and HTC One I have aren’t a part of a two-year service agreement or T-Mobile’s equivalent. I paid for them and both the Lumia 925s in cash.
The second Lumia 925 was always for my dad, who’d joined Straight Talk a while back. The plan was to buy him the Lumia 925 from Newegg without a service contract and then get T-Mobile to unlock the device since there weren’t any contracts to worry about. This should be easy to do on any carrier, especially one who talks so much game about being different other carriers.
I was wrong. I spoke with three different T-Mobile support agents. The first completely ignored any of the details I provided in my first email and then promptly asked for another email with the exact same details. The second agent read the details I provided and asked me for my phone’s unique identification number. Great I thought, finally I’m seeing some progress. Unfortunately, progress was slim with him as well, he insisted that since I’d purchased the phone from Newegg it was their responsibility to unlock the device for me. I promptly asked to speak with someone a bit higher up so that I could explain my situation and he forwarded me to someone else who also said the same thing.
I can’t speak for other people, only my own experience. However, I feel totally comfortable in saying that T-Mobile is a long way away from truly removing all the painful barriers of other carriers. In this case, the company simply held the line, locking my father’s fully paid smartphone to their network and insisting that he couldn’t use it anywhere else. In an environment where T-Mobile is happy to beat other carriers over the head with talk about changing the game and starting online petitions to end overages on every carrier, this is ridiculous.
Part of me wouldn’t mind as much if the T-Mobile, and Legere weren’t out there waxing-poetic about the changes it’s introduced to the wireless industry. I’m not discounting what the company has done. It’s managed to trigger a pricing war that’s actually lowering the cost of wireless for millions of Americans. My problem is that wireless charges were only ever half of the reason users wound up hating carriers. The other half was having to buy a new $199.99 smartphone after switching networks, even if they had already paid for the phone in full.
T-Mobile is close to changing the way we think about wireless carriers, but let’s not pretend like they’re all the way there yet.