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iPhone will appear in T-Mobile stores — but it’s not for sale

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T-Mobile may not sell the iPhone(s aapl), but you would never know it given how much effort T-Mo is putting into promoting the device. Beginning on Wednesday the sans-iPhone operator will begin carrying the iPhone 4S in its stores — not to sell it, but to demo how the device works over its network.

And depending on location, those demo phones won’t be limited to 2G-only data speeds. In a blog post going up Monday morning, T-Mobile reveals it has activated its HSPA+ network in iPhone-friendly bands in parts of New York City, Seattle and Las Vegas. T-Mobile has even developed an iOS version of its Bobsled VoIP calling app to support the 1 million “unofficial” iPhone users it already has.

Essentially, T-Mobile is doing everything it can to welcome iPhone owners onto its network, especially now that AT&T(s t) has begun unlocking the devices once its customers fulfill their contracts.

Why the sudden push? T-Mobile is in the process of revamping its mobile data networks, which will allow it to launch LTE next year. But there’s a big a side benefit to the project: it is aligning its data networks with AT&T’s, meaning any device that works on Ma Bell’s networks will work on T-Mobile’s.

We talked to T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray and he confirmed that in areas where it’s turned up HSPA+ in the PCS band, there’s no longer any technological barrier preventing the iPhone from meeting its full potential on T-Mobile’s network (though some services won’t carry over such as visual voicemail). At GigaOM’s Mobilize conference on Sept. 20, Ray plans to share the details of T-Mobile’s network overhaul, but this week he gave us a bit of a preview.

T-Mobile has already shut off large portions of its 2G GSM networks in the 1900 MHz PCS band across 80 percent of its footprint, clearing those airwaves for HSPA+, Ray said. In many cases T-Mobile has enough free PCS spectrum to replicate its current dual-carrier HSPA+ configuration in its old 2G bands. That means if the new version of the iPhone supports dual-carrier (like the new iPad released this year), T-Mobile will be able to deliver theoretical maximum speeds of 42 Mbps to the device.

Ray said internal testing of the current iPhone 4S comparing performance on T-Mobile and AT&T’s networks shows that T-Mobile is achieving speeds 70 percent faster than its rival, even though the current iteration of the device doesn’t support dual-carrier. In addition to its network, Ray said, T-Mobile’s big lure will be its liberal data plans. Not only does it offer some of the biggest smartphone bang for your buck in its tiered plans, T-Mobile recently brought back an unlimited data option.

But all of this moot until T-Mo’s network upgrade is complete. LTE is scheduled to go online in the second half of 2013, but Ray said iPhone users won’t have to wait that long. Deploying LTE is the last step in its multi-part overhaul. “We’ll have a material footprint on HSPA+ at 1900 MHz by the end of the year,” Ray said.

Ray wouldn’t define “material,” but he said T-Mobile would begin making even more aggressive moves to lure unlocked iPhone customers during the holidays. Of course, at a certain point the question of locked or unlocked becomes moot.

As I’ve written many times before, when T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network at PCS gets big enough, Apple will start distributing its iconic device directly through the operator. Though Ray won’t comment on any possible negotiations with Apple, a deal between the two is certainly no stretch of the imagination. Despite its status as the No. 4 operator in the U.S., T-Mobile is still one of the world’s largest carriers. As soon as the last technical barrier disappears, Apple will welcome T-Mobile into the iPhone family with open arms.

12 Responses to “iPhone will appear in T-Mobile stores — but it’s not for sale”

  1. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for more than 4 years and now I have the iPhone 4S on their network. Today I noticed I was getting 3G signal on my phone and I was excited. Why you ask? Because before I got my phone I was debating whether or not I should switch to Sprint or AT&T but then I thought to myself, “why are you switching because of a phone?” I knew eventually T-Mobile would fully support the iPhone 4S regardless of what everyone was telling me. Being loyal is a good thing. Have a little faith and you’ll see. ;)

      • I’ve switched my iPhone 4 to T-Mobile in SF and been impressed with the networks’ responsiveness even at 2G speeds. I’ve seen 3G coverage in some neighborhoods; at one tower I clocked the speed at 3.5M down 1.5 up before throttling kicked in when I reached my prepaid plan’s cap, which is 1.5 and .5 more than I got with AT&T. I imagine it’s even faster on a 4S.

        One thing to keep in mind about AT&T’s coverage vs. T-Mo’s: they deployed cellular on a lower-frequency band (850 MHz) that penetrates buildings better, even underground subway stations. But that’s assuming you get reliable service when you have signal! I didn’t.

        I’m frustrated that T-Mo imposes data limits on plans that include mobile hotspot. As I understand it, Sprint’s plan is unlimited on your phone and only limits the data used while tethered.

  2. Orcas Island TV

    I have a lot of faith that the feisty innovator that t-mobile and sprint are internally will start showing externally more and more.

    If t-mobile can harness the power of groups like WISPA to bring 100s of independents in smaller towns to bear on the problem, the word that t-moble is interested in America winning, not just making megabucks, will propel t-mobile to stardom here.

    perhaps eventually, they’ll join the ranks of Apple and Amazon, in their quest to do the right thing for their customers. In the carrier’s case: fight to bring the prices of LTE deployment hardward way down, and find innovative ways to build out their networks co-operatively.

    New thinking can make it happen.

  3. I really hope they extensively advertise this. Considering how little AT&T gives their customers, I would guess many people would go over to T at any network speeds. I told many iPhone users about how they can get cheap prepaid service for their phone on T, and even knowing they would be relegated to EDGE didn’t stop several from making the switch. One person I know is currently paying around $60 a month for 450 minutes, no texts, and 250?Mb of data. Over at T-Mobile prepaid, you can get unlimited everything for $50 a month – $10 cheaper! If they would advertise examples like that, they could make a fortune!!!!

  4. Let’s make sure folks are FULLY up to speed with what T-Mumble is trying to package as the bean in this game of three-bean shuffle… If you read their offers carefully, you’ll notice in the fine print that the ‘Value plan’ unlimited for folks that come in ready to swap their SIM cards and go merrily on their way, that transaction REQUIRES YOU TO AGREE TO A NEW TWO-YEAR CONTRACT COMMITMENT !!!!!!! And if you manage to dodge that hidden barrel of snakes, then the Pre-paid plan is MORE EXPENSIVE AND IS CAPPED !!!! NOTHING TO SEE HERE. it’s all a lie.

    • No.

      The Value Plans on an individual basis are the same rates for the same tiers as the prepaid plans. You also get the advantage of a data plan which is truly unlimited and doesn’t throttle you which isn’t possible on prepaid.

      You SAVE more money than prepaid by going with a Value Family Plan. Check out the rates for a family of five on value with unlimited talk, text, and web. Then divide by five for the amount of users on that plan. It’s unbeatable. The reason for the contract is that the monthly rate itself is subsidized instead of your equipment. Anyone who has completed 6th grade math will tell you it is cheaper to go that route instead of a more expensive plan and subsidized equipment. Also T-Mobile allows you to finance the full retail price of your phone completely interest free across 20 months if you want to.

      • That makes no sense: the monthly rate itself is SUBSIDIZED? it’s the same amount every month. how can it subsidize itself? That means 2gb of data costs more the first months than it costs the last month? Are you trying to say that they need you to stay 2 years or pay them 200 per line for just entering a line into a database with your account number? That’s absurd. Make it a year, or make it prorated, or something, but paying 200/line for BYOD seems ridiculous.

  5. I used T-Mobile’s prepaid HSPA+ network on a Galaxy Nexus and was getting 10+ Mbps around Atlanta reliably. I was impressed with the network. For some reason they didn’t offer an iPhone-friendly micro-sim for the prepaid service, I wonder if that has changed.

    • As indicated, they have not historically supported the 1900 MHz spectrum. Until such a time, it made no sense for them to carry those SIMs. The Galaxy Nexus supported the 1700 MHz spectrum that T-Mobile had its 3/4g service on.

    • t-mobile currently offers both standard size SIMs and micro SIMs. So you can already use t-mobile with iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4 and 4S. However your data speed is likely to be slow unless/until they refarm the spectrum in your area.

      They will also start offering the nano SIM required by the iPhone 5. Rumors claim this begins mid-October. But it’s unclear when you’ll get more than 2G data speeds. Again it depends upon when t-mobile upgrades their equipment in your location.