SAN FRANCISCO—T-Mobile today unveiled its latest strategy to shake up the wireless industry, this time with new initiatives that will give customers the ability to make mobile calls using WiFi networks almost anywhere around the world and to get free texting, messaging and voice mail services on domestic airline flights that are served by Gogo.
The new services, which are part of what T-Mobile calls its “Un-carrier 7.0” strategy and its “WiFi Unleashed” initiative, were announced here today by CEO and president John Legere (pictured) and several other company leaders in an almost 90-minute event that was Webcast live.
Calling the new offerings “next-generation WiFi calling,” Legere said his company wants to let customers extend their mobile range and call quality by letting them take advantage of WiFi hotspots and technologies that will drive mobile device use to new heights.
“We have to be ever more disruptive,” said Legere. “We have to do things that the other guys won’t do. Where we’re heading here is that we are going to allow you to seamlessly take a VOIP call and then hand that over to any WiFi network. Now our customers are not restrained to where our network is but to anywhere there is WiFi.”
To make that happen, T-Mobile will provide free routers made by ASUS to customers that will include the technology that will bring this service into homes, which will even help solve dead-spot cellular problems that many users experience, he said. The devices are called T-Mobile Personal CellSpot routers that plug in with only a power cord and an Ethernet cable.
“It’s so big that the Apple guys talked about it” at their announcement event Sept. 9 for new iPhones, iPads and the iWatch, said Legere. “It’s a new frontier. It’s a new area of growth.” Apple is presently working with T-Mobile to enable their devices, he said. “They’ve embraced this stuff, and we’re all moving forward together.”
The key benefit of the new service is that it will close the gap that many customers have with spotty cellular service in some areas where WiFi can fill in the holes, he said. “Believe me, there are many places that the wireless industry does not touch today, and many of them have WiFi.”
The new system essentially will turn every single WiFi connection into a T-Mobile cellular tower, including in the homes of customers, he said.
To make it all work, users will have to get new mobile devices that have the new capabilities built in, as well as the new routers that the company will provide for free. All of T-Mobile’s new devices will be enabled for this new service out-of-the-box, said Legere.
“Every single customer will have the ability to get these devices,” even if they are not enrolled in the company’s JUMP device-acquisition program, through special limited-time offers, he said. “We want every single customer to have one of these WiFi-enabled phones.”
All customers of T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plans will be eligible for the new initiatives.
The new in-flight WiFi capabilities for customers mean that users will get unlimited free texting, messaging and voice mail services on any domestic flight served by Gogo, said T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert. The services will be free for customers who have compatible devices. Presently, Gogo covers about 8,000 flights a day, or about 75 percent of domestic flights, he said.
Also new is that Simple Global users, who already have free data and texting to about120 countries and destinations since last October, will now be able to make free WiFi calls back to the United States when they are traveling, he said.
T-Mobile to Use WiFi to Supplement Its Cellular Network
The new service offerings will also dovetail with a new program T-Mobile announced earlier in September that promises to top competitor’s trade-in offers on used devices.
T-Mobile has been very busy in the last month working to attract new customers. In late August, T-Mobile announced that its customers will be able to get their hands on new smartphone models from HTC and Alcatel, such as the HTC One M8 for Windows and Alcatel OneTouch Fierce 2 and Evolve 2 models, due to go on sale in the coming weeks. T-Mobile now joins Verizon Wireless and AT&T in offering the phones to users, after those companies announced the upcoming model back on Aug. 20.
Also in late August, T-Mobile announced that customers of its existing $40 monthly Simple Starter cellular phone plans could quadruple the amount of data they can use—from 500MB up to 2GB—for an additional $5 per month. The new 2GB data offer is a limited-time promotion, and it followed another limited-time data promotion that was unveiled earlier in August, when T-Mobile offered free unlimited mobile data for one year to any Simple Choice customer who gets a friend or relative to move his or her service from Sprint, AT&T or Verizon Wireless.
There are no contracts for customers under the plans. T-Mobile unveiled the Simple Starter plan in April with the promise of no overage fees ever, according to an earlier eWEEK report. After 500MB, customers are pushed to a slower network.
The latest moves all follow a strategy the company has been taking since its long-rumored merger possibility was scuttled in early August. At the same time that the merger plans were dropped, competitor Sprint simultaneously replaced its CEO, Dan Hesse, with Marcelo Claure.
In the aftermath of the failed merger, T-Mobile has been going on the offensive for new customers, which it primarily hopes to poach from its biggest rivals: Sprint, AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Earlier this month, T-Mobile U.S. claimed rights to the top spot in the growing prepaid wireless marketplace in the United States.
T-Mobile U.S. said in an announcement that it now has 15.64 million prepaid wireless customers, compared with 15.19 million such customers for rival Sprint. AT&T has 11.34 million prepaid customers, while Verizon Wireless reports 6.04 million prepaid customers, according to T-Mobile.