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T-Mobile Remains a Second Class Citizen in iPhone 5 Land



T-Mobile and Apple started selling the iPhone 5 yesterday, but the wireless carrier isn’t on level playing ground with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon. T-Mobile’s facing a number of disadvantages that could steer iPhone 5 shoppers to its competitors, or just cause big headaches. The biggest issue of these is that Apple isn’t even selling the widely advertised $99 T-Mobile iPhone 5 online or in its retail stores.

The only way to get the widely advertised $99 iPhone 5 deal is to buy directly from T-Mobile. Unfortunately, T-Mobile retail stores only sell the 16GB iPhone 5 at the moment. T-Mobile retail stores can special order iPhone 5s with more storage, but that takes up to two weeks. Customers may as well order them from themselves.

T-Mobile iPhone 5 in front of a San Francisco Apple Store

T-Mobile iPhone 5 in front of a San Francisco Apple Store

Of course shoppers might assume they can buy a T-Mobile iPhone 5 from Apple retail stores or, but they won’t find the $99 price point direct from Apple. Another problem is that Apple still isn’t directly selling an iPhone 5 model that’s fully compatible with all of T-Mobile’s wireless network (more on that later).

Apple prominently promotes the $199 starting price for the  AT&T, Sprint and Verizon models at the top of its iPhone 5 sales page. The $199 (16GB), $299 (32GB) and $399 (64GB) prices are only available with a two-year contract that includes a $450 subsidy.

READ: T-Mobile Monthly 4G Review: $30 per Month Bargain

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 12.01.47 PM

Notice something missing from the above pricing and carrier selection grid? That’s right, T-Mobile is nowhere to be found. Plopping the $99 T-Mobile compatible iPhone 5 into the mix would detract a bit from the competition. It’s important to note that the T-Mobile phone actually costs $579, but T-Mobile charges $99 down with $20 monthly payments until it’s paid off.

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 11.58.09 AM


Instead of offering the T-Mobile specific iPhone 5, Apple is offering the unlocked iPhone 5 with a T-Mobile SIM. The problem with ordering the unlocked iPhone 5 with a T-Mobile SIM is that it costs $649 rather than $579 online, and Apple doesn’t offer the $99 down deal on its website or in stores. Instead, those that can’t pay the $649 price tag up front can apply for a Barclay Card that offers no interest for six months on T-Mobile iPhone 5 purchases.

Though it’s not advertised on, according to some San Francisco Apple Store salespeople, there are special incentives for T-Mobile iPhone 5 buyers in stores. Those who finance the unlocked iPhone 5 with a T-Mobile SIM with a Barclay Card at an Apple store are eligible for a $70 rebate after six months and will receive interest-free financing for up to 24 months. Sound confusing? It is, especially when compared to the straight-forward process of buying an iPhone on any other carrier.

Slow 4G Lottery

iphone-5-t-mobile-speedAT&T, T-Mobile and unlocked iPhone 5 models sold on April 12 or later are supposed to be fully compatible with T-Mobile’s wireless signals, but some Apple stores are still selling models that won’t work with T-Mobile’s fast 4G network. Yes, they’ll work with T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, but that network only covers a handful of cities, such as San Jose. T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps HSPA+ network that runs on the 1700/2100 MHz bands is twice as fast as its 21 Mbps HSPA+ network that runs on the 1900 MHz band. When we went to two different Apple stores in San Francisco, none of the salespeople we talked to were aware of the issues and tried to sell us the old model, insisting it was completely compatible with T-Mobile’s networks. We had to show the Apple store employees this Apple support document that clearly states the limitations.

In other words, some T-Mobile customers will be in the slow lane because Apple is still selling old phones that weren’t designed to run on T-Mobile’s network. Depending on coverage, some customers will be unable to reliably stream video and it will take longer to download files on iPhones that don’t carry the 1700/2100 designation on the box. According to an Apple salesperson, retail stores sell iPhone 5s on a “first in, first out basis,” which means they can’t go dig through freshly delivered iPhones to find the fully compatible T-Mobile version.

As you can see in the app results to the right, T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps HSPA+ network is very fast. It can’t match 4G LTE top speeds, but it is plenty fast for streaming video and downloading content. In fact, it matches and sometimes bests AT&T and Verizon’s 4G LTE speeds in San Francisco.

T-Mobile is definitely shaking things up with its $99 iPhone 5 entry price, but it isn’t earning the same respect as Apple’s larger partners. And likely won’t unless it begins pricing the iPhone the same as the competition.



  1. Whatever

    04/13/2013 at 3:13 pm

    How is this rant even qualified as an article? Nothing presented will be a long term issue. Websites will be updated, employees will be informed of new products, and service issues will be resolved. No big deal. What do you expect for something only available for a whole 24 hours? I don’t hear the 350,000 people who bought an iPhone 5 yesterday at tmobile retail outlets complaining…

    • Rene Borroto

      04/14/2013 at 9:05 am

      You are right on the money. To paraphrase Louis C.K., “It’s amazing to me how some people expect perfection from something they just found out existed 10 seconds ago.” We live in a world of spoiled brats.

  2. Brianna Bermudez (@BermudezBria)

    04/13/2013 at 9:43 pm

    Whatever is right. This “article” is flimsy, flawed, with weak arguments – expecting way too much of T-Mobile literally over night. These are all temporary issues that will be resolved over time. It’s just the opening weekend if the iPhone’s arrival at T-Mobile. The thousands of customers that purchased the iPhone at tmobile (including myself) are ecstatic it’s finally here. I’m one of T-Mobile’s harshest critics but they did good. They didn’t become perfect over the weekend and to expect them to is ridiculous – they still have a long way to go but they’re getting there. Give them time.

  3. frustrating

    04/14/2013 at 5:22 am

    There is nothing wrong with this article. Tmobilr and apple have been planning this for months. It’d not that hard to update Apples website. Aldo ymobile should be sell long all three GB models in the stores. Everyone does not want the 16gb model. Alsio You can’t even just buy the iPhone off tmobile. You have to get a new phone line. Its sad these billion dollar companies can’t get something so simple done right. You tink it probably cost less then a few thousand dollars for someone to update the websites and put up good information.

  4. cellguy239

    04/14/2013 at 6:03 am

    The basis of this article is false. While the phone does ship unlocked, once you put in the activate the sim card and do the carrier update to enable LTE, it indeed locks itself to t-mobile.

  5. Bob

    04/14/2013 at 7:17 am

    This article is definitely biased. In that same speed test (which I saw on youtube) at&t beat tmobile in the speed test, but tmobile beat verizon, even though the verizon phone was on LTE and the tmobile on wasn’t. This article makes it seem as if tmobile iphones are somehow inferior compared to the other carriors.

  6. crivd5

    04/14/2013 at 7:41 am

    I’m so very sorry,but the person that wrote this article is an absolute moron! !

  7. Riley

    04/14/2013 at 8:58 am

    I’m fine with getting the 16GB version of the iPhone 5 because there is always the option of unlimited data. I’ve had an iPhone before and loved the experience and I am looking forward to going back from my Galaxy SII. Watching my live and recorded shows on my current phone while I’m on my way to and from work at DISH is something I do often, since it takes some time to get there. I use the DISH Anywhere app to stream shows that I’ve missed, and I think it will be nice to stream as many of my shows as I want to the iPhone without worrying about overages.

  8. Tmo50

    04/14/2013 at 11:56 am

    What this article failed to mention is that Verizon and sprint both only carry 16gb iPhone as well. And 32 is online only

  9. m0nz

    04/14/2013 at 12:51 pm

    I was so unimpressed by this article that I scrolled down just to see if anyone else was even reading this….

    Apparently we don’t have anything better to do with our time.

    To the writer:
    Fix your facts, grammar, and presentation.

    Definitely will avoid gottabemobile when I see it in the search results.

  10. Zardoz

    04/14/2013 at 2:22 pm

    LOL – How much did AT&T pay you to write this crap?

  11. LOL

    04/14/2013 at 6:12 pm

    When AT&T first launched the iPhone their network was not up to par either. Give them time and they will get it right.

  12. William Fontanez

    04/14/2013 at 7:53 pm

  13. Roy

    04/14/2013 at 8:11 pm

    I thought this guy was a cell phone geek. He has no idea how pricing works with T-Mobile. I wonder if he use to work for TMobile and got fired and now is bitter. Someone mentioned in their comment that they just skipped to the end of the article to read the replies. I did the same because this article is so bias.

  14. Dick

    04/14/2013 at 9:18 pm

    Whoever wrote this article must have gotten fired by T-Mobile because it is biased and he doesn’t know his info. Likely was a poor performer. Lol. We bought five tmobile iPhones 99 down each and they are ridiculously faster than our Sprint iPhones. Tmobile we love you!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Henry Gonzalez

    04/26/2013 at 4:11 am

    Nothing wrong with this article.
    You guys don’t seem to get Xavier’s points here, one of them being:

    Apple stores are selling 2 different phones: One runs on the 1900 MHz and the other runs on the 1700/2100 MHz bands.

    “Apple stores are still selling models that won’t work with T-Mobile’s fast 4G network. Yes, they’ll work with T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, but that network only covers a handful of cities, such as San Jose. T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps HSPA+ network that runs on the 1700/2100 MHz bands is twice as fast as its 21 Mbps HSPA+ network that runs on the 1900 MHz band.”

    This has nothing to do with working for any of the aforementioned companies. Xavier is just clearly advising potential new buyers to be aware of these KEY differences between phones for the T-Mobile network that are purchased from Apple. Give the guy a chance, as he went out and did his research, while you guys are just quick to judge.

  16. Asteroid mercury

    05/02/2013 at 10:08 pm

    Wow someone despises t-Mobile and under the pretence of providing the consumer with (totally biased) information he is trying to stick it to T-Mobile. As soon as I started reading the article I was wondering who he worked for. Sprint? Verizon? I then scrolled down to read the replies and thankfully I noticed that pple can see right through this hokus pokus article. As for me? I left tmobile after 10 years of excellent customer service to go to Sprint to get an iPhone 5. What a horrible nightmare Sprint was! Calls drop, lousy customer service etc…..I ran back to my wonderful T-Mobile store and got the iphone5 over there. Now I am stuck with the broken contract bill from Sprint. Sigh……but it is worth it:)

  17. Skoorb

    05/17/2013 at 9:12 am

    Thanks Xavier, I don’t own the iPhone 5 yet – but I’m researching it to take to Germany.
    Your information is very helpful. I noticed what you were pointing out about the Apple web site as well. It’s a shame what Apple is doing – it makes the Capitalist American in me want to support T-mobile. I will definitely be looking for the 1700/2100 MHz bands.

  18. Chad

    05/25/2013 at 11:17 am

    Well I wouldn’t worry. AT&T is not selling the $99 Iphone 5 in its retail stores either. It’s a huge marketing scam all the way around. They want $249 for the 16 gig model and will give you junk credit for a trade in, which will come off this initial price. At least T-Mobile will start at $149 for the 16 gig model and still allow you to use a trade in rebate toward the monthly installments. Plus T-Mobile has unlimited data plans, the other 2 carriers mentioned here DO NOT. So tell me who wins?

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