october 7, 2013

When I got my first mobile phone a few decades ago, it was a Sony phone and it ran on the SprintPCS network (remember when Sprint had "PCS" in their name?). After I got extremely frustrated with SprintPCS sometime in 2003, I moved over to T-Mobile where I stayed happily until one day in 2007 when Apple released the iPhone exclusive to AT&T. The wife and I both got an iPhone and signed away two-years to AT&T.

The network wasn't that bad and we had unlimited data plans -- although that soon ended. But, still we stayed because the coverage was good, the price was decent (especially with the discount I get from work), and there were subsidies on phones in which we took advantage of.

What I found for myself though, was that recently I haven't been taking advantage of the subsidies, nor did I see myself doing so anytime soon. My current phone is a Nexus 4 and before that I used a Galaxy Nexus. Both purchased unlocked and at full-price from the Google Play store. I was going to be paying into a subsidy (by estimates about $20 per month) that I wasn't going to take advantage of. Sure, I did get phones early on that extended my contract -- one extension was for a Blackberry Bold 9000 and another for a Nexus S.

Almost six years since I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T, I sat waiting for my contract to end, and on September 25, 2013 that's just what happened. For the previous few weeks I had been testing, using a pre-paid SIM in my Galaxy Nexus, T-Mobile's coverage around the places where I am most -- home, work, my parents's place, the mall(s), various restaurants and shops. Things were mostly on par with AT&T and I was happy. There was one exception, and that was at work where T-Mobile coverage was lacking. I got OK coverage at my desk, but further into campus -- and the farther from the main road -- I would lose signal, especially in the URLs cafeteria. AT&T has great coverage on campus because they put up antennas on campus.

The day after my contract expired, I walked into a T-Mobile store and got myself a micro-SIM. I had them port my number from AT&T -- which also had the awesome result of canceling my AT&T line. Within two-hours of the port request, my number was fully activated on T-Mobile. Before then I had a temporary number, but everything worked just fine. I signed up for the $70 per month unlimited everything plan -- something that would costs an arm and a leg at AT&T.

My phone has gotten infinitely more useful with an unlimited plan. My commutes to and from work are more entertaining because now I can fully take advantage of Pandora being built into my car. I stream during my whole commute (music and comedy). I also use iheartradio, which is also built into my car's head unit.

I have the WIFI on the phone turned off because the mobile connection is much faster than my DSL connection. Also, the unlimited plan from T-Mobile includes 2.5GB of tethering, which might come in useful when the family travels. So far after 10 days, I have used 4.5GB of data without any worries. If I were on AT&T, I would have already been hit with $20 worth of overage charges.

The plans on T-Mobile are easy to understand. All have unlimited talk and text. The base $50 plan has 500MB of 4G/LTE connectivity that is throttled to 2G speeds until the end of the month after the first 500MB are used. The $60 plan brings the 4G/LTE connectivity up to 2.5GB before throttling and the $70 plan is unlimited 4G/LTE.

The T-Mobile Uncarrier program is really changing things up and I really like how they have gone completely against the grain of what normal wireless carriers do. There is no contract, so if T-Mobile really sucked, I could leave tomorrow and not worry about an early termination fee. Also, T-Mobile has split out the cost of the phone from the cost of the voice/text/data plan. So, if you bring your own phone, you're paying less than if you bought a phone and paid over time.

The only real concern that I have is with T-Mobile's coverage. T-Mobile is enhancing their existing network, but I am hoping that they will start building out their network. Here in San Jose, CA the coverage seems OK, but there are still some dead spots (some along 101 between 280 and 85) that need to be patched up. Also, looking at the drive from NorCal to SoCal, it looks like most of Interstate 5 is 2G/Edge coverage -- AT&T has 3G and 4G coverage throughout that drive. But, T-Mobile has always been like this, even when I was with them six years ago. If you're in a large city your coverage is great. Outside of that, it will be hit or miss.

I am glad to be out of AT&T and back with T-Mobile.

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