After using AT&T as my mobile carrier of choice for nearly a decade, I jumped to T-Mobile. It’s now been almost a year and while I’m not as enamored with T-Mobile when my family and I first switched, it’s still a good choice with new reason to make the move today. Hopefully, my experience will help others considering T-Mobile as their new carrier. We’ll look at 9 reasons that T-Mobile might offer a good option for those looking for a new carrier. Don’t expect a comprehensive feature-by-feature comparison of T-Mobile and AT&T. Instead, these 9 things drew me to ditch AT&T and their expensive service, terrible customer service and failure to keep up with the customer-centric options of T-Mobile.
Improved Coverage in Many Areas
The coverage maps of both AT&T and T-Mobile will convince many wireless customers to stick with AT&T. Until recently, T-Mobile coverage and data speeds in my area of the foothills of Western North Carolina sucked. However, T-Mobile recently upgraded their towers. T-Mobile might not offer good coverage in your area, so look at the T-Mobile coverage map closely before switching. Here’s what it looked like back in late 2015 when I first made the switch.
It’s slightly updated now. Comparing the old map above with the more current map (August 2016) and it doesn’t look that different. However, The white spots showing gaps in coverage seem slightly reduced. In other words, T-Mobile continues to get better at covering the US in LTE, especially where I live in Western North Carolina.
The main reason I started thinking about this jump to T-Mobile was a bunch of poor customer service experiences from AT&T during a single week.
When the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 came out I added it to my AT&T account using AT&T Next. That meant I still owed 23 months on the Next program. Next removes the 2-year contract replacing it with a 2-year payment program. You pay tax for the full price of the phone and then pay monthly payments. If you cancel early, you owe the rest of the payments on the last bill.
So what did AT&T do to push me to eat that cost? It started on the Apple iPhone 6s and 6s Plus launch day.
I reserved an iPhone 6s Plus at my local AT&T store and stood in line on Friday morning waiting for the store to clear their backlog of reservations.
When I finally got into the store and talked to a nice, helpful sales person, she told me that AT&T locked my account. It seems this happened because I recently connected my DirecTV and AT&T accounts to pay one monthly bill. AT&T bought DirecTV and offered $20 off per month for people who joined their two bills into one.
The problem was partly my fault. I owed some money on my AT&T account that I planned to pay the following Tuesday. I thought they locked my account because of this balance still due. Since AT&T was still linking my accounts, they wouldn’t show a balance due on their computer system. I couldn’t pay the bill in the store to remove the block. After almost an hour in line and 2 hours in the store dealing with AT&T reps, I left.
Over the weekend and during the next week, I called AT&T multiple times to fix the problem with my locked account. I also went into two local AT&T stores. No one could help me. What’s worse, when I called AT&T to learn how much the payoff fees would cost, the rep on the phone got rude and treated me poorly. The next time I called AT&T to settle my bill they left me on hold for an hour before I gave up trying to pay off my bill.
Contrast the above poor customer service to the incredibly helpful customer service representative in the Hickory, NC Valley Hills Mall T-Mobile store. Alex gave me his personal phone number, since switching 5 lines all with a balance due wasn’t going to be simple. My oldest son is in college and lives in another town. Alex sold me a phone for my son and helped me get his phone returned by mail so I wouldn’t need to come back to the store.
The local store sold out of the iPhone 6s Plus, so the store rep sold me an iPhone 6 Plus. He recommended calling the company to order online. This way I would get the phone faster even though he wouldn’t get the commission. I ordered the day I got the phones at the store and they told me it would come in 7-10 business days. Instead, it showed up on my doorstep 4 business days later.
Compare this horror story to T-Mobile customers service. For the most part it’s been good, but with one glaring problem that continues to dog me almost a year later.
At first, my local store didn’t have any of the new iPhone 6s Plus phones in stock so I signed up with the older iPhone 6 Plus and planned to contact T-Mobile’s phone customer service to order the 6s Plus using on my 3 Jumps per year that they offer. See more below on that.
To complete the upgrade I had to bring my old phone to my local store and turn it in after getting the new phone. They were supposed to take it off the account. They still haven’t done so. I keep having to call and get a credit for the monthly payment for this leased iPhone 6 Plus that I turned in last fall. That’s a pain, but so far they always issue a credit and promise to remove it. They never remove it, but still issue a credit. I’ve had to call a bunch of times now and need to call again.
They also failed to issue the full amount for the AT&T payoffs of my old equipment as promised. It took three attempts to get credits for the full amount.
My wife teaches school and my youngest son attends a local high school. None of the wireless carriers offer good enough coverage for either of them to get a signal. However, they can use Wi-Fi calling through T-Mobile.
Wi-Fi calling lets people make and receive calls and text messages using Wi-Fi. This helps people like my son and wife who can’t get a signal using cellular service in their school buildings.
Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi network must work really well to get a good signal while talking. I’ve had to turn off my phone’s Wi-Fi a few times while connected over Wi-Fi calling. It works well about 50-70% of the time.
AT&T just added Wi-Fi calling for the iPhone and iOS 9 only. That’s great for my iPhone wielding wife, but my Note 5 using son still couldn’t use the feature. They both can use it on T-Mobile.
Some phones come with Wi-Fi Calling turned off. For example, on iPhone under iOS 9 the user will need to open the Settings App and go to Phone. Then tap on Wi-Fi Calling and turn it on using the green slider switch at the top as seen in the screen shot. You might want to add an Emergency Address for those times when you may need to call 911.
On the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 this feature comes turned on by default, but you might need to select between three options. Open Settings and tap on More Connection Settings. Then tap on Wi-Fi Calling at the bottom of the screen.
The options include
- Wi-Fi Preferred – defaults to calling over Wi-Fi unless there is not a good enough Wi-Fi signal
- Cellular Network Preferred – prefers the cell network unless it gets too weak to make a call
- Never use Cellular Network – only make calls using Wi-Fi
The call quality using Wi-Fi calling sounds great!
Music Plus Video Streams without Using Up Data
T-Mobile includes something they call Music Freedom. Customers can stream unlimited music without it counting against their data allowance. That means users don’t need to download a ton of music to their phones. That’s great now that many Android phones don’t include flash card slots. It can also save users money. Now users might not need to buy the 64GB phone, saving them $100 in some cases.
This works with just about all the popular music streaming services including Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Google Play, Microsoft Groove, Amazon Music and Apple Music to name a few.
Late in 2015 the company also added video streaming as part of something they call Binge On. At first, the quality was pretty poor, but now it’s decent. You can stream HBO, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and more.
Please see more here: T-Mobile Binge On: Video Services, Details & More
3 Upgrades Per Year with Jump! On Demand
Smart phone aficionados will love the T-Mobile Jump! plan where they can turn in their old phone and get a brand new one up to three times a year.
For years, people picked a cell phone and, unless they returned it within the short 14-day buyer’s remorse period, they couldn’t switch phones for a couple years. Then wireless carriers began letting users upgrade after a year if they paid a monthly payment for the phone. That is how I bought the last few phones on AT&T using their “Next” plan. Now I can get one every few months if I’m willing to turn in the old phone, sometimes pay a new down payment, and pay a monthly lease payment.
With T-Mobile’s Jump! On Demand program subscribers pay a monthly payment for the phone and add a monthly payment for access to the Jump! On Demand service. With Jump, the user can upgrade their phone up to three times a year.
Our switch to T-Mobile happened during the release of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. I wanted the 6s Plus, but they didn’t have any in the store. I had to use one of my Jump upgrades. As I mentioned above, T-Mobile botched this upgrade and I’m still paying for the old iPhone 6 Plus and the new iPhone 6s Plus. They issue a credit every time I ask for it for the cost of the old phone’s lease payment, but I shouldn’t have to ask.
The program has some fine print.
- The program adds $10/month to your bill per phone on Jump in addition to the cost of the phone’s monthly payment and your call/text/data plan.
- The “no money down” only applies to the lowest cost phones in each category, like the 16GB iPhone 6s.
- If you cancel service you need to pay off the payments left.
In total our family upgraded 6 times in less than a year on five lines.
Lower Cost for Family Plans
My family is not typical. Our total bill costs more than most car payments because we have 5 smart phone lines plus a tablet. The total price for our AT&T bill compared to T-Mobile dropped by $70/month thanks to the lower price of T-Mobile’s plan for 5 lines.
Our monthly T-Mobile plan comes with 5GB of data per line. We also get unlimited calling and SMS, which most carriers now offer. The base fee for this costs $210/month. Add to that the cost for the phone, which amounts to $20/month for the iPhone 6s. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 costs $29/month. We got two. The LG G4 we added costs $20/month. Add the iPhone 6 for my wife at $22/month and that adds up to around $120/month plus the $210. That sounds high, but it’s still better than what we paid AT&T. Add in other fees like the Jump cost and taxes and we’re still paying less. We’ve upgraded the iPhone 6 to a 6s. Both of the Note 5s got upgraded to Samsung Galaxy S7, one regular and one Edge. The G4 jumped to a G5 and then to an S7.
Unlimited Data Still an Option
There’s a big difference between 5GB/month and unlimited data each month. However, adding an unlimited plan costs only $10 more than T-Mobile’s 5GB plan. The monthly costs are as follows for unlimited data…
- $80 for the 1st line up from $70
- $60 for the 2nd line up from $50
- $40 for the 3rd, 4th or 5th lines up from $30
On T-Mobile we can roll the unused data over to the next month and not lose it. AT&T only lets users use their unused data during the very next month. It’s called Data Stash on T-Mobile and customers keep that data for a year. It comes with a bunch of restrictions, so look carefully at the details on the T-Mobile plans site.
Free Calls to Canada and Mexico & Free Data While There
Customers with family or friends in Mexico or Canada will love that T-Mobile treats calls and texts to those North American countries as domestic. If a customer travels to Mexico or Canada, they can also get LTE included in their service, plus they get calling and texting while in those countries.
Most of us hear horror stories from international travelers hammered by surprise international roaming rates after leaving the US. They don’t understand that their carrier doesn’t include service in those countries as part of their US calling, texting or data plan. When these people get home, they get their carrier bill and it’s hundreds or even thousands of dollars over their normal monthly fee. Often carriers will forgive some of this debt, if the person asks, but they don’t have to and may not.
The above problem still holds true with T-Mobile for those outside North America, but people who travel in North America don’t need to worry about this any more. I don’t often travel outside the US, but it’s nice to know I can without paying extra.
T-Mobile Paid Off AT&T Next Fees or Gives Phone Credit or Both
T-Mobile forces users to trade in their old phone and gives the person switching credit on their phone bill. It is lower than the person could get if they sold the phone themselves. However, in addition to the bill credit, they promised to pay up to $650 for fees the old carrier charges for cancelling.
I was later told that the sales rep might have promised both credits erroneously. I had to fight with T-Mobile to get both the credit for the phones and the credit for the Next fees. They came through in the end giving me bill credit for the same amount of the Next fees, but only after a painful process of repeated requests and a helpful local store manager.
The page on the T-Mobile website does promise to pay off the ETFs or Next fees and to pay a trade-in credit. It says you give them a copy of your bill from your old carrier, which I did, and they will pay the fees. They only paid part of those fees at first. Then I got some credit on my bill for more of the fees to end the Next contracts, but I had to pay my AT&T bill off myself. I had to ask three times after the first credit was issue before I finally got satisfaction.
I’m moderately satisfied with T-Mobile, but not as excited as I was when I first reported on the switch last year. The coverage and speed of data in my area is good and I like the data-free music and video streaming. Recently, T-Mobile added something they call T-Mobile Tuesday, where they give gifts like movie rentals, free Wendy’s Frostees and more. It comes through an app and we’ve take advantage of some of these freebies for T-Mobile customers. However, the pain of getting the credit promised for the fees it cost me to switch away from AT&T and the frustration of having to ask them to take off a lease payment for an iPhone I traded in last fall gets annoying. Everyone so often I think I might try Sprint, but then I look at their terrible coverage map and choose to stay with T-Mobile for now.