AT&T (NYSE: T) probably isn’t losing too much sleep over it, especially considering its plans for T-Mobile. But it’s still somewhat surprising that T-Mobile believes that over 1 million iPhones are running on its network despite the fact that they won’t even run at 3G speeds.
The nice big round number slipped out in a conversation between 9to5Mac.com and an unidentified T-Mobile representative, and while it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 200 million installed base of iOS devices that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) announced at WWDC earlier this month, it’s still worth noting. There are a few hurdles involved in getting an iPhone to work with T-Mobile, and a few drawbacks.
First of all, obtaining an unlocked iPhone hasn’t always been easy. Apple now sells unlocked iPhone 4s at unsubsidized prices, but that wasn’t always the case. And while the process of unlocking an iPhone and getting it to run on another network isn’t all that difficult, it’s more than most people would want to tackle. It became especially difficult after Apple switched to micro SIM cards for the iPhone 4, which meant owners who wanted to use regular-size SIM cards from T-Mobile had “taken the scissors” (as 9to5Mac.com’s source delightfully put it) in order to physically modify the card to fit in the iPhone 4.
But one of the main drawbacks from using an iPhone on T-Mobile’s network is that the 3G radio in the iPhone is incompatible with the 3G wireless towers that T-Mobile uses: they are built for different 3G frequencies. That means you can only run a T-Mobile-ized iPhone at EDGE speeds, which unless you’re nostalgic for 2006, isn’t much to get excited about.
Still, 1 million or so people decided that the call quality of T-Mobile’s network was superior to AT&T’s, or that the pricing was right, or that they just wanted to stick it to the Man in order to jump through those hoops. A successful purchase of T-Mobile by AT&T would, of course, allow T-Mobile customers access to the iPhone, but T-Mobile under AT&T almost certainly won’t be the same T-Mobile.
A T-Mobile representative confirmed 9to5Mac.’s report. The company has 33 million users, 9 million of which are using 3G or 4G smartphones, it said in releasing its last earnings report.