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10/10/2011
09:19 AM
Chris Spera
Chris Spera
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iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger

I'm waiting for my iLove and know that the easiest, most affordable way for me to get it is for AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile to be approved.

The anticipation is over: We know what's coming in the iPhone 4S and iOS 5, and what isn't, at least for the next several months. One of the more noticeable things missing is support for the number four U.S. mobile carrier, T-Mobile. It's clear why even this World Phone (it supports GSM and CDMA) won't blush T-Mo Magenta: Apple didn't include support for the carrier's 1700 Mhz 3G/4G bands.

The good news is that Sprint customers will soon get some long-awaited iLove, but there are really only three realistic ways T-Mobile customers will get the iPhone.

1. Unlocked or Jailbroken Devices. T-Mobile customers have been able to use the iPhone on their network since its introduction in 2007. In fact, according to recent figures, 3% of all T-Mo customers do just that, but have needed to jailbreak the phone to do so. While a jailbreak for the iPhone 4S obviously doesn't exist yet, it's likely only a matter of time before a full OS and baseband jailbreak vulnerability is found, exploited, and released.

Recently, Apple introduced an unlocked iPhone 4 in the U.S. and around the world, letting customers use the phone on T-Mobile and other unsupported carriers without having to jailbreak the device. This release comes at an unsubsidized device cost of $679.99, and still without support for T-Mobile's 1700 Mhz, 3G/4G frequencies.

Bottom Line: You can get a jailbroken or unlocked iPhone to work on T-Mobile today; but it's expensive and only supports GSM EDGE 2.5G speeds. TUAW is reporting that Apple will also likely release an unlocked iPhone 4S. (Those that jailbreak their devices, while potentially saving money on the cost of the device, will need to make certain they are aware of the risks to jailbreaking before taking the plunge and possibly bricking their device.)

2. Wait for the iPhone 5. The next evolutionary step for the iPhone is support for LTE and/or WiMAX. Since the iPhone 4S doesn't support those technologies, that's going to require a newer communications chipset. If the iPhone is ever going to natively support T-Mobile's 1700 Mhz 3G/4G network, this is logically the time when that support will be built into the device.

The issue is nothing more than the frequency that T-Mo uses to support 3G/4G. No other carrier in the world uses the 1700 Mhz frequency band; and it is unknown if Apple will release a T-Mobile specific device that makes use of these frequencies, without also building in support for LTE and/or WiMAX at the same time. While Apple did release a Verizon specific iPhone 4, it was the carrier's size that made that a reality. Apple waited until the release of the iPhone 4S to enable support for Sprint, even though they use the same communication technology as Verizon.

Bottom Line: Waiting sucks. However, with a probable, internal spec bump as well as an updated communications chipset, the iPhone 5 may be T-Mobile's best chance to get native support for their 3G/4G network built into the world's most popular smartphone.

3. Wait for the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger to be Approved. There are still a number of hurdles to get over--the Department of Justice, the FTC, Sprint's objections, and other issues--but this is the fastest way for T-Mobile customers to get a fully functional, 3G/4G enabled iPhone now. AT&T wants T-Mo for its spectrum to help support its LTE rollout in the U.S. While this really begs the iPhone 5 and its logical LTE support, an approved merger will eliminate the need for baseband jailbreaking as well as instantly giving 3G/4G support to those one million T-Mobile customers currently using the iPhone at EDGE-only speeds today.

Bottom Line: Waiting still sucks. However, from an iPhone point of view, this is a best case scenario for T-Mobile customers, and will provide an instant service enhancement to more than 3% of their customer base.

As a T-Mobile customer living in Chicago, I have my own issues and worries about the merger, as AT&T's network here is horrible. Coverage is spotty; and there are marked and noted tower transfer trouble spots throughout the Loop and rest of the city. Chicago was one of AT&T's early 3G markets, and the network is currently showing its age.

However, many T-Mo customers want the iPhone and don't want to pay full price or take the risks of jailbreaking a newly acquired iPhone 4S. So, like so many others, I'm waiting for my iLove, knowing that the easiest, most affordable way for me to get it, is for AT&T's proposed merger with T-Mobile to be approved.

Based in Chicago, IL, Chris Spera is managing editor of reviews at BYTE. You can follow him on Twitter at @chrisspera or email him with ideas and review suggestions at chris@BYTE.com.

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Chris Spera
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Chris Spera,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2011 | 3:03:48 PM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
I agree.

I think there are a LOT of T-Mo customers who want the iPhone, not just the 3% who are content to surf and push/pull content via EDGE.

In Chicago, AT&T coverage is horrible. Simply horrible. You never have to worry about saying goodbye here, as the call you're on is likely gonna drop any second now... Their prices are horrible and over inflated and their customer service needs a lot of work. I agree with your assessment. AT&T has a long way to go in order to make their service customer friendly.

The problem with this World phone is the T-Mo 3G/4G band of 1700 mHz. No one else is using that band, and as such, I am not certain what is going to happen. However, I do NOT see Apple releasing a T-Mo compatible iPhone before iPhone 5, if at all. I think the merger is going to have to go through, or T-Mo may just be without any iLove at all.
gusto11071
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gusto11071,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2011 | 2:01:45 PM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
Well, one thing for sure that the reason why a lot of people leave AT&T is because of their
1. Price, 2. Coverage, 3. Crappy Customer Service . I left them after 10 years of hell, to where I got to the point and said, Enough is Enough! I really hope we get the iPhone , but at what cost? We are the only other GSM company besides Simple Mobile who use T-Mobile towers anyway. I would say more than 3% of T-Mobile customers do want the iPhone, but I think it's more like 20% Do I think the merger is going to happen? My answer is, it's inevitably, we have something a really big company wants, and they usually, get what they want. To answer the question about time? I think it's sooner than we think. A world phone is not really a world phone unless it's unlocked for any carrier.
Chris Spera
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Chris Spera,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2011 | 2:31:32 AM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
You also make a good point about cost; and a good point about a "captive audience" in newly converted T-Mo to AT&T customers. My bet is AT&T likely would raise their rates.

However, I did NOT make the assumption that every T-Mo customer wants an iPhone. I know many that do, however, and my point was that the easiest way to a "native" working iPhone, with 3G/4G support PRIOR to the iPhone 5, would be an approved merger. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear enough.
Chris Spera
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Chris Spera,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/11/2011 | 2:25:59 AM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
You make a good point. I left AT&T for T-Mobile largely because of the costs. For $100 LESS, I currently have unlimited everything-everything on three lines. However, I, and many others, have no native iPhone.

I have no idea what will happen with the merger; but you're likely right about the costs...for T-Mobile customers, while this may be the only real path to a native 3G/4G working iPhone, it may be very expensive. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the Verizon iPhone... its just as expensive.
ACHOVANEC000
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ACHOVANEC000,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2011 | 9:13:39 PM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
Thanks very much but I am quite happy with my current T-Mobile/Android setup. I don't know why you would assume that every T-Mobile user wants an iPhone. I certainly don't.

I have seen AT&T's data rates and ridiculous add-on fees for tethering, and quite frankly I agree with ajones320. To maintain the current service I get with T-Mobile for $60/month, I would have to pay upwards of $85/month with AT&T's current plans--and that's assuming they don't exploit the opportunity afforded them by the loss of a low cost competitor to jack up their rates even more.
ajones320
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ajones320,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2011 | 7:34:22 PM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
I rather eat an iPhone than embrace the T-Mobile destruction by AT&T. For consumers this merger is the worst thing that can happen. Sure, maybe then access to the iPhone is there, but the prices will be so ridiculously high that nobody can afford it.
ANON1243862667508
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ANON1243862667508,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2011 | 5:38:42 PM
re: iPhone Envy: T-Mobile Customers Might Want AT&T Merger
T-Mobile customers only need to wait a short while to have the best of both worlds. Sprint has just announced (WSJ) last week that it has contracted with Apple to get the iPhone. T-Mobile customers should be a ble to get the iPhone with unlimited data soon!
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