T-Mobile USA says it will launch a new unlimited data plan next month, a move aimed to stem a tide of fleeing customers and to distinguish itself further from larger competitors that have begun capping data use.
Combined with unlimited voice calling and text messages, T-Mobile's new plan will cost $69.99 to $89.99 per month, depending on whether you choose a subsidized smartphone. The new plan will be sold starting Sept. 5.
The Bellevue, Wash.-based carrier says it will continue to sell its other data plans - including the option of choosing among 2 gigabytes (GB), 5 GB or 10 GB of data per month. Unlike Verizon Wireless or AT&T, T-Mobile doesn't charge overage fees for customers who go over those limits, but their speeds are slowed to the point that browsing videos or transmitting large files becomes difficult.
"We want to double-down on worry-free (marketing)," says Harry Thomas, T-Mobile's director of marketing. "We want to eliminate the situation of 'Do I want to stream Netflix for kids or worry about data overage?' "
With the latest package, T-Mobile joins Sprint as the only large national carriers to offer unlimited data plans. But like Sprint, T-Mobile says it retains the right to slow transmission speeds for very heavy data users.
But that's "very rare," Thomas says.
Deepa Karthikeyan, a mobile analyst at research firm Current Analysis, says the timing of T-Mobile's announcement underscores the company's desire to retain customers who still seek affordable unlimited data plans at a time when competitors are moving away from them.
AT&T, which has eliminated unlimited plans, is expected to launch later this week "data share" plans that will make customers buy a bucket of data allotment that can be shared among several devices.
Verizon Wireless also stopped selling unlimited data plans and is offering similar data share plans.
"It's a counterattack," Karthikeyan says. "It's good for T-Mobile because they have to differentiate themselves. And they're losing so many customers."
In the second quarter, T-Mobile, which doesn't sell iPhones, lost 205,000 subscribers, many of them drawn to other carriers' lineup of smartphones and expansion of faster data networks.
"(T-Mobile) doesn't have an impressive lineup of phones. (This) will help them gain attention," Karthikeyan says.
Unlike T-Mobile's other data plans, however, the new option doesn't allow "tethering," or connecting the phone to other devices to share data.