My Break-Up With T-Mobile: The Very Carrier Un-Carrier

When it first became clear to me that I was going to have to leave T-Mobile, I’d intended to write about my reluctance to leave. However, once I started the process of actually leaving T-Mobile, the narrative quickly shifted from a tone of reluctance to a tone of resentment. The “un-carrier” that I once ran to as the potential savior of the mobile industry fell to “just another carrier” leaving me with a major bad after-taste.

CEO John Legere took the mobile industry by storm announcing that T-Mobile would pay your early termination fee (ETF) to make the jump to the un-carrier. On the surface, what’s not to love? You jump to a new carrier. You’re supporting a CEO that’s rattling the cages of a manipulative mobile industry. You get a new phone. You get a cheaper plan. You get international texting and data. And, you get UNLIMITED data. It all sounds like the perfect match for someone that makes extensive use of their phone for work, friends and travel, right? Unfortunately, wrong.

If you can imagine going to an all-you-can-eat restaurant with really bad service, it quickly becomes “all that they’ll serve you before you grow impatient.” I unfortunately grew very impatient with T-Mobile. What good is unlimited data if you have no reception? How is a phone a mobile phone if you have to be near a city center to use it? These are questions you end up asking yourself as a T-Mobile customer.

T-Mobile might be a great carrier if you live in, and never leave the city, and don’t spend a lot of time indoors. But, otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time tapping into the “potential” of  T-Mobile.

I sometimes referred to T-Mobile as the AM radio of carriers. That’s because when you go under/in structures, you lose signal. I’m not a mobile expert, but I understand that it’s from a lack of A-block spectrum, which is held by the bigger carriers. Very frustrating–especially for someone that works indoors and spends lots of time in windowless meeting rooms. Add to that, that it seems that T-Mobile’s network is rather sparse outside of major cities. I live in the suburbs, not a great situation for someone that needs their phone.

So, suffice to say, I quickly learned that the “un-carrier” wasn’t for me. But, hey, I was with T-Mobile with no contracts, no problem, right? Wrong again. You see, the mobile industry found out that early termination fees were tough to enforce and were being overturned in a number of states.

The answer was to “finance the equipment” where you owe on a physical piece of inventory. Easy solution, embraced industry wide. The carriers all rolled the cost that you were paying for the “subsidized” phone out of the bill, lowered the price of monthly bills (slightly) and then charge you separately for the phone. So, now, you’re dedicating more of your monthly cost to your plan, and you’re paying retail for your phone. If you don’t want to pay full retail at once, conveniently, carriers will all finance your phone in a payment plan for the period quite similar to your previous two-year plans. But, once it’s done, you own the phone and are free to soar your mobile oats among the carriers, right? You’re catching on….Wrong.

You see, T-Mobile sells you a LOCKED phone in a tradition of old-time carriers. This means your phone is pre-programmed to only use T-Mobile frequencies. That’s a very, VERY carrier behavior for the UN-carrier.

You see, when I realized that T-Mobile was not for me, I went ahead and paid off my phone in good standing and was feeling bad about leaving a carrier that I thought could force the hands of the major carriers to change. But, unbeknownst to me, as referenced above, the phone is locked to T-Mobile. The un-carrier, that makes you ‘free to roam’ locks you down. But, hey, they’re the un-carrier, they should set you free, right? Nope.

You have to call, or online chat, a T-Mobile rep, explain why you need your phone unlocked. Once you’ve explained yourself, you can wait a window of 24 hours to 14 DAYS!! for them to acknowledge your request. For me, it took 72 hours. But, then the capper, they made me wait another 72 hours for them to process the request. Something that could’ve taken minutes, ends up taking nearly a week. A very, very carrier behavior. Very unfortunate–especially if you’re like me and you only find out that your phone is locked AFTER you cancel your T-Mobile account and port your number to a new carrier.

I was phoneless for six days because of a very carrier, administrative process by a company that claims to be very open and free. No way!

I wanted to love T-Mobile, I really did. And, I wanted to see them revolutionize the mobile industry. I wanted them to live up to their claims. But, unfortunately, they’re not their yet. They just don’t have the spectrum and towers to be a nationwide carrier. In fact, their international service is better than their domestic. Maybe one day they’ll be there, and maybe one day their service will catch up with the un-carrier identity. But, for now, they’re an all they can serve you until you grow impatient carrier in un-carrier disguises.