Blog Post

T-Mobile will be iPhone ready this year (and not just for AT&T’s cast-offs)

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

T-Mobile made an interesting statement today in response to AT&T’s recent concession to begin unlocking out-of-contract iPhones (s aapl). It invited AT&T(s t) customers to take their old iPhones to its network where they can feast upon its ultra-cheap voice and data plans.

Of course, if those customers want anything beyond slowpoke EDGE speeds they need to wait for T-Mobile to start its ambitious network overhaul, which will align its HSPA+ networks with the iPhone’s 3G frequency bands. But according to T-Mobile, that might happen sooner than you think. Here’s an excerpt from the statement, which was first reported by 9to5Mac:

… we will continue to deliver more value to customers as we expand and modernize our 4G network. Beginning this year, we will introduce HSPA+ service in our 1900 MHz PCS spectrum. When we do, our 4G network will be compatible with a broader range of devices, including the iPhone.

That’s good news for iPhone owners looking for a new network, but the news gets even better. What T-Mobile didn’t say in its statement is that once its network retooling is complete it won’t just be activating AT&T’s old iPhone cast offs, it will be selling brand spanking new iPhones.

Why T-Mo is important to Apple

As we’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, T-Mobile’s lack of iPhone love from Apple isn’t a deliberate snub. Rather, the issues are incompatible technologies and cold hard economics. Apple will give the iPhone to any carrier with a compatible network willing to pony up the dough. Tim Cook isn’t stupid. T-Mobile has more than 33 million customers. For Apple to not want to do business with T-Mobile would be like saying it doesn’t want to sell iPhones to Canadians. Once the network frequency barrier is removed, Apple will jump at the chance to get the iconic device in T-Mobile’s hands.

By the time T-Mobile completes its network overhaul in 2013, its networks won’t just be in perfect harmony with current iPhone. It will be able to handle any new version as well, including the new LTE iPhone expected to emerge this fall. It’s just a question of timing. To build LTE, T-Mo needs to first shut down a good deal of its GSM network at PCS, filling in the holes with new HSPA+ networks. That first step is what T-Mobile is getting at when it says its network will be iPhone compatible this year. The big question is whether its whole footprint will get converted this year or only segments of it.

The next step is shutting down portions of its HSPA+ network in the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) , or 1700/2100 MHz, band and then building LTE in its place. Once that final step is complete, T-Mobile’s network will look just like AT&T’s to any Apple gadget.

T-Mobile will probably miss out on the biggest benefits of the coming 4G iPhone launch as its LTE network won’t be ready. But if it has enough of its HSPA+ network built out at PCS at the time, it could easily sell the 4G smartphone as an HSPA+ device. There’s plenty of precedent: Apple is selling the new 4G iPad internationally even though it doesn’t support a single LTE network outside of the U.S. or Canada. At the very least, Apple would make the iPhone 4 and 4S available to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile makes bank either way

T-Mobile can’t really lose once its new networks come online. Even without 3G support, T-Mobile admits to hosting more than 1 million unlocked iPhones on its network (though I suspect most of them are hacked, not officially unlocked).

Once HSPA+ is available, plenty more AT&T customers may be lured over to T-Mo by its cheaper data plans, and those that aren’t tempted could sell their newly unlocked iPhones to customers that are. T-Mobile is the only major operator that offers lower monthly rates to customers who bring their own devices rather than opt for subsidized phones. And those savings are considerable: $10 for 2 GB compared to $20 for just 300 MB from AT&T.

And when T-Mobile does become an official iPhone seller it can compound its gains. It would subsidize new iPhones and charge premium “classic” rates for voice and data, but those rates still undercut those of the two big operators. Sprint’s unlimited plans would be its major competition. Basically T-Mobile has the opportunity here to become not only the fourth nationwide purveyor of Apple smartphones, but also the destination carrier for iPhones on their second life.

Tower Image courtesy of Flickr user Nikhil VermaCash Image courtesy of Flickr user 401K.

55 Responses to “T-Mobile will be iPhone ready this year (and not just for AT&T’s cast-offs)”

  1. Jordan

    I work at tmobile and we have people ask all the time ( so when will you guys be getting iPhones) and my reply is soon. I think that it will boost our business significantly

  2. GMarie

    I have been with tmobile for 15 years. They have been excellent to me and always took care of any problems that would arise. Their customer service people are very nice and do not make you cry like AT&T has done to my daughter many times. My full upgrade isn’t till August and I will hold out for that brand new iPhone waiting for me. Can’t wait.

  3. someoneyouknow

    when will the tmobile be ready to run an iphone on a 4G network. I heard that by december people could use the iPhone 3Gs but I want to use an iPhone 4S!

  4. Brian Barasch

    All I can say is… if it’s money in the bank, what’s taking T-Mo so long to upgrade the network? We’re ready to buy!

  5. Marlon

    so basicly it will run on atts 3g/4g and lte frequncies and they will drop 2g. Looks prettty good to me. they will become more universal

  6. MailSprint

    I had a recent support issue with my T-Mobile VoIP lines, with Tier III support, and they told me that their upgrades would be ready for the launch of the 5. I am a long term out-of-plan customer. Support is great, (compared with what I hear about with ‘V’ and ‘A’), and anxious to make the upgrade if it doesn’t raise my rates or require long term bondage!

  7. kiomarie montes

    I will like to know if tmobile are gonna get any iPhones and if yes then when???????? Tmobile always seems to be the last carrier to come out with the new phones.

  8. Tanya Tucker

    OMG! I’m so excited!!! Been with T-Mobile for a very very long time (it was Suncom that was bought out by tmobile) anyway – I have the ipod touch and ipad 2 and have sooooo been wanting the iphone. I currently use the samsung galaxy phone which is an android. It’s ok but slow sometimes. only get 3g at my house but in town goes to 4g.

  9. Lol this is ridiculous I had tmobile for over 7 years and it used to be a good cheap carrier now they are the worse carrier out there now talking about phones I try all of them from a a simple regular cellphone to their top of the line smart phones like the galaxy and not even one had good signal, now I call customer service and find out that their awesome and reliable 3G antenna was 2 blocks away from my house and my phone was always on edge lol that’s why I dropp their contract now I have the iPhone different carrier I’m not here to advertise no companies so im not going to say my carrier but yes it’s not T-mobile, and I have no problem and I get 3G all over so find a good company for your selfs at the end of the day We are the customers not them….

  10. damian hewitt

    im so happy to hear that t mobile is finnaly coming with an i phone the sooner the better im starting to get bored with my htc phone so i wanna be out with the old in with the new i phone yea baby bring it on hurry hurry hurry …

  11. Albellana

    They are not now compatible. When operating an iPhone on a WiFi, the software connects to the cell tower to retain backup capability if the WiFi drops, so the customer is charged brutally by T-Mobile even if the customer has near-full-time WiFi and doesn’t want to pay T-Mobile for internet access.

  12. T-mumble may finally figure out the you can buy everything you need for an LTE network at Target, but the management and personnel at t-mumble do not have the skills to do anything with it.. Even the small, private regional carriers have the puzzle solved… But, not the chumps in Washington State…

  13. Derek Kerton


    T-Mobile all but revealed this entire iPhone plan in their Feb 23 earnings call. But they didn’t make it obvious, you had to read between the lines of what was said.

    It’s good news for T-Mo, for sure. And as I wrote in that Broadband Reports commentary (above link), it is completely as a result of the penalties AT&T had to pay for the break-up of the merger.

    Deutsche can now use the new spectrum and money to cultivate a field for iPhone, and an patch of LTE too. They’d better get out their plough, though, cuz there’s gonna be a heap o’ re-farming.

    (And, to your point, I have two kids on used iPhone 3Gs – cost less than a new iPod touch! On AT&T fam plan, each kid monthly is $12 sans data plan. They use my VZW Mifi and wifi for data.)


  14. ME and ME

    i have been waiting for this forever. i can’t wait to ditch verizon’s high prices for iphone service… and thank god i ditched att long ago.

  15. never knows best

    this is a good article, the dude who wrote it knows his shit, i even like the picture of the antenna, in the end the Hertz your phone uses determines everything! yet, no body talks about it, opting to use marketing tools like 3g or 4g instead.

  16. Michael W. Perry

    I’m looking forward to this move. I’m already delighted with my jail-broke iPhone 3G on T-Mobile. Soon, I’ll be able to legitimately unlock my 3GS and use it instead. All that’s needed for utter perfection is for T-Mobile to add per-megabyte data billing to their prepay plans rather than a fixed monthly charge. I don’t need data that much, but it’d be nice to have it available when I do.

  17. So my HTC Sensation 4G that gets excellent connectivity as long as the 4G icon is visible on my phone doesn’t really get 4G service?

    This old earth would be better off if the carriers would combine efforts and share the cell towers.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Actually at this point most of them do share cell towers since most of them don’t own their own structures anymore. Rooftops at this point is another story… Or do you mean infrastructure sharing like they do up North and in Europe?

  18. Billy Jacob Kandah

    Absolutely excellent plan on T-Mobile’s part, and I don’t mean just for the iPhone. This will be an advantage to many other phones since not only HSPA+ will be compatible, but also LTE with 2 other USA carriers. Very good news and very exciting.

    • Brian

      LTE DOESNT MATTER. Why is everyone so hung up on LTE. It also supports AWS or HSPA+, so who cares, the phone will run on T-Mobiles 4G network. Dang people, know the capabilities, people see LTE and they think its the end all

      • theNewDanger

        HSPA+ has a lower ceiling than LTE. In three years, HSPA+ will reflect the same reputation that CDMA is now showing, which is it is less important with LTE and VoLTE on the horizon.