T-Mobile CEO confirms the iPhone and the death of phone subsidies

T-Mobile US CEO John Legere

T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere confirmed that the iPhone will be among the Apple products that T-Mobile sells next year, but he said that T-Mo will sell it in a far different way than other carriers. T-Mobile is eliminating all device subsidies in 2013, requiring new customers to pay full price for their phones up front, buy it on installment or bring their own unlocked devices, Legere said speaking at corporate parent Deutsche Telekom’s Capital Markets Day in Bonn.

T-Mobile will shift entirely to its unsubsidized Value Plans, which offer customers far cheaper rates for voice and particular data. Traditionally carriers factor subsidies into their normal contracts rates – basically you’re paying a mortgage on your phone. With the Value program, T-Mobile is keeping the contract, but passing what it saves on subsidies back to consumer.

According to T-Mobile, 80 percent of its activations in the last quarter were for value plans, which leads it to believe there’s a huge demand for this kind of a model. The question is whether the iPhone breaks the model. The unlocked, unsubsidized price of the iPhone 5 is steep, between $650 to $850 depending on the model. One of the reasons the iPhone is so popular is because the operators offer big subsidies for the devices, driving the out-of-pocket costs to as low as $200.

t-mobile-iphone

T-Mobile will have to explain to customers that they will actually save money over the length of a two-year contract by paying a lower value plan rate. And while there would be truth in T-Mo’s claims, it’s still a hard sell to many consumers, especially with the iPhone’s huge price tag dangling in front of them.

But T-Mobile has something up its sleeve. Legere said that T-Mobile would offer the iPhone in a unique way. He implied that T-Mobile could heavily finance the device, selling it for $99 and then charging $15 to $20 a month in payments over 20 months. That kind of financing plan, however, would look very much like subsidized contract plan to the customer.

“When this device rolls out I can only tell you it will be a dramatically different experience, and I can only tell you that of all the reports that have been written about what’s going to happen when it comes out, they’re all wrong,” Legere said.

So we know T-Mobile is getting the iPhone, and we know it won’t be subsidized. The only remaining question is when. In the next six months T-Mobile will likely complete the reconfiguration of HSPA+ on the 1900 MHz PCS band, which will make its 3G network iPhone compatible nationwide (today only its 2G service works on the iPhone). Or Apple may want to wait for T-Mobile’s LTE network, which the carrier plans to launch in the latter half of 2013. If Apple does wait for LTE, that almost certainly means T-Mobile will have to wait for the next generation of iPhone, whatever it happens to be called.

Here’s the video of Legere’s talk along with a presentation by CTO Neville Ray. In it they reveal a bunch of interesting details about becoming America’s “Un-carrier”:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JXl3caOHMs]

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