T-Mobile Continued Disruption of The Status Quo is Good For Everyone

In my day-to-day job, I look at disruptions in markets.  I have been in the unified communications business for 20 years and I am constantly on the look out for who is making waves in my industry both from my direct competitors and those that I like to call “edge of the empire”;  those on the fringe – the ones you don’t see coming out of left field until it is difficult to react to them. While some would look at endless research, spreadsheets and presentations as being boring, I love it.  It is a never ending challenge.

In the mobile carrier space, there once was a company that was out in left field.  T-Mobile had a marginal network, limited coverage and less-than-stellar customer service.  Other carriers didn’t take them too seriously.  Today however that has changed and the plans and actions of T-Mobile are causing disruptions for the other major carriers here in the United States.  They have taken the rule book and for the most part have tossed it aside, forcing their competitors to make changes that they may not otherwise would have made on their on initiative.

Ultimately, we as consumers, win.

Let me be clear that I am not writing this as a T-Mobile customer.  I’ve had a mobile account with AT&T in all of their various iterations since 1997. Yes, that’s a long time and in all of that time with the exception of my time living in Europe, I’ve never had another carrier (I even kept my AT&T account when I was there so I could easily get back going once I returned to the US). Rather, I’m writing this as someone who spends their career looking at disruptions and on that account, T-Mobile is inching closer to causing a tsunami.

Today’s announcements by T-Mobile were nothing short of stunning.  Users on their plans can stream video services (aptly named BingeOn) like Netflix, Hulu and HBO from their mobile devices, across the T-Mobile 4G networks, while not consuming any of their data plan quota.  They have already done this with music and now adding streaming video content makes them the premier carrier for those who want to get this content without having to worry about Wi-Fi.  If you read the small print on what T-Mobile has done today, you’ll see that the streaming service is usually going to be 480p although they say it will scale up in certain circumstances when network bandwidth is available. In this day of 4K video and phones with displays of 1080p, some will poo-poo 480p as being nothing more than a gimmick by the carrier. I disagree.

For the most part, on a mobile device, 480p will do the job. Even on a large screen device like a Nexus 6P, you can easily survive on 480p while you are on the go at an airport, train station or the like. In these situations we are looking for entertainment, not necessarily a vivid experience. Besides, if you really want that higher quality, get on Wi-Fi and make it happen.

Coupled with this announcement was the doubling of included data on T-Mobile plans.  Today they have 1GB, 3GB and 5GB plans. Starting November 15th, that will double to 2GB, 6GB and 10GB respectively.  They also announced a family plan where each member of the family gets 6GB of their own data (not shared) for $120 per month.

Undoubtedly these announcements are going to put pressure on their competitors. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have already reacted to other moves by T-Mobile in the past (shared data family plans, unlimited data plans, rollover data and minutes, etc) and I see no reason why any of the other US carriers will be immune to this change announced today. That, by definition, is disrupting a market by forcing changes across the board. Like them or not, that is exactly what T-Mobile is doing.

I for one am happy to see what T-Mobile is doing.  Competition is good and driving more services to the consumer is better. As an AT&T customer I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond and how that happens could well prove to be a deciding factor on who my next mobile carrier is here in the US.