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T-Mobile - Should Businesses Give the "Un-Carrier" Another Look?

Hey Blue. Hey Red. Turn around. There is a magenta train on the move.

Ok, so it is still pretty far back down the tracks, but it is gaining on you fast.

There has been so little to get excited about in the mobile industry. 4G has been nice, but many of the so-called improvements tend to do little more than make our bills go up. The carrier marketing has all centered on the new shared plans, where voice and text become unlimited and data can be shared among the whole family.

A family of 6 with 15 devices can save money. I get that. But my family bill keeps going up. Maybe I need more kids.

And how does all of this help business users?

I, like many, had written T-Mobile off as a serious option for business use. Sure it was fine for consumer use, but it was not a viable business play. I know that is a gross overgeneralization, and while many businesses have had great experiences, my clients had all passed. Most of the time the decision came down to coverage, as many of my clients operate in rural areas and need the best coverage they can get.

But following the blocked merger attempt with AT&T, T-Mobile pivoted and decided to strike out in a new, bold direction.

We have all heard of T-Mobile's "un-carrier" message by now. The 4th iteration, launched in January, has been a huge success. In the 1st quarter of this year, T-Mobile added more customers than AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint combined.

Key features of "Un-carrier 4.0" that have contributed to this success include:

• No overage for voice, data, or text
• No contracts
• No money down for premium devices
• Buyout of existing contracts with other carriers

Of course the fine print negates the positives in most of these points. The lack of a contract is replaced by the commitment to finance a device at full cost over 2 years. You can leave whenever you want, but you have to pay for the balance on the device.

No money down on a device is replaced by monthly payments. And while many will complain about financing the device over 2 years, we have been doing that since the very beginning with device subsidies.

The contract buyout is probably a significant reason why T-Mobile experienced such a significant bump in market share. And, not surprisingly, also why profits fell. But it shows that millions of customers were willing to jump ship given the opportunity. In the business world, with proper negotiations, this is less of an issue, as carrier changes are often accompanied by credits designed to lessen the blow of leaving a carrier. But in the consumer world, this was a pretty bold move.

But there are 2 other "un-carrier" moves that I think are much more significant and the primary reason T-Mobile is worth serious consideration today.

1) International Roaming – For international travelers, it is worth switching to T-Mobile just for the international roaming benefits. All Simple Choice plan users get the following at no extra charge in 120+ countries:

• Free international 2G data
• Free international texting
• Voice calls at 20 cents per minute

International travelers can actually use their devices when roaming now, without fear of 4- and 5-figure bills. No more SIM cards, bad Skype experiences, or missed messages.

This is innovation. This is stepping out of the safety of the pack, where exorbitant roaming charges rule the day. Competition is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

2) Wi-Fi Calling – I have never understood why this has not been a bigger deal. My Samsung Galaxy Note 3 can be programmed to take voice calls over any Wi-Fi connection. Of course the experience is only as good as the Internet connection, but this is a huge benefit. There are many use cases where this could be a huge benefit to businesses, from in-building coverage issues to containing roaming expenses even further.

As T-Mobile has worked to stand out in the business world, they have not only added some exciting features, they have partially negated their biggest problem. These 2 features move them from having one of the smaller networks in the US (as compared to AT&T and Verizon) to having the largest. If your phone will work anywhere you have a hotspot, and your contract allows you to actually use that phone when you are traveling internationally, I would say it is hard to argue their network isn't big enough compared to the other guys.

More "Un-carrier" announcements are promised in 2014. And while rural coverage is still a deal breaker for many users, we can all benefit from the disruption T-Mobile is causing in the marketplace.

Regardless of your feeling on federal intervention in business, I think the blocking of the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile was a huge win for consumers. The competitive pressures brought by companies like T-Mobile are essential to progress, in terms of pricing, features, and service.

Imagine a world without magenta, where everything is blue or red. Not very pretty, if you ask me.

(Then imagine a world without DIRECTV, where the entire home entertainment world is owned by COMWARNER, AT&T, and VERIZON. If you think net neutrality isn't a big deal, just wait a year or two. But that's a post for another day.)