T-Mobile's uncarrier strategy is paying dividends in the form of positive critical reactions and happy customer feedback. The plan structure is straightforward, and T-Mobile loads things up with more perks than other carriers. Customer service earns compliments. However, coverage remains a weakness, with large gaps in service outside of major population centers and away from major highways. On the plus side, where service can be found, signals are usually robust and speeds are fast.
No contracts, lots of perks. T-Mobile's no-contract Simple Choice plan set the model that most other carriers are now copying. It's one of the few carriers to offer an unlimited plan, though data hogs should be aware that excessive use (over 21 GB in a billing period) can result in slower service during times of peak demand. Other plans cap LTE data to 1 GB, 3 GB or 5 GB at a lower price, but slow service (to 2G speeds) rather than hit you with overage charges if you exceed those limits. There are no shared data plans, but each additional line on your account is discounted -- $20 for the second line and $40 each for all lines after that. For lines with capped LTE data, Music Freedom streaming lets you listen to a variety of music services, such as Pandora, without that counting against your limit. For the 3 GB and 5 GB plans, any unused data at the end of the billing period is rolled over for use in future months (up to a year). Canada and Mexico are treated the same as usage in the U.S.; calls and texts are unlimited, and your LTE data can be used. You also get free 2G roaming in over 120 countries. Phones can be purchased outright or financed, and compatible GSM phones from other carriers or retailers are welcome. The Jump! early upgrade program lets you trade in your financed phone after it's 50 percent paid off: it costs an additional $10 per month, but includes handset insurance and a security software subscription that would run $12 per month if purchased separately. The new leasing program, called Jump! on Demand allows up to three smartphone exchanges per year.
Terrific performance -- at least where coverage is available. When it comes to data speeds, T-Mobile's service is typically fast in most areas that it covers, but that's the rub. Testing by RootMetrics, PCMag.com and others reveals that while service is available in many large and small cities, and along major highways, if you move off into the deep suburbs or into rural areas, coverage is often minimal to non-existent. The bottom line, all say, is that if you use your phone primarily in urban or near suburban areas, odds are you'll be satisfied, if not thrilled. But elsewhere T-Mobile has some catching up to do to match the coverage offered by Verizon and AT&T.
Getting better all the time. In previous editions of this report, we noted that T-Mobile struggled in keeping its customers satisfied. That's no longer the case. It earns the highest score in the latest J.D. Power and Associates survey that measured how satisfied users were with the customer service of their carriers. Ditto at PCMag.com, where the carrier's standing is bolstered by how happy subscribers are with T-Mobile's fees and support.
1. J.D. Power & Associates
T-Mobile doesn't do particularly well in this J.D. Power and Associates survey that queries users on the overall quality of their cellular network. It finishes in third (behind Verizon and AT&T) in most regions, with a particularly poor showing in the North Central region, where it also finishes behind Sprint.
Review: Wireless Network Problem Incidence Increases as Texting and Web Use Grows , Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, March 5, 2015
2. J.D. Power & Associates
While network performance has a ways to go according to the J.D. Power and Associates survey above, this survey by the same organization, this time looking at satisfaction with customer care, paints a very different picture. T-Mobile finishes first, just edging out AT&T.
Review: Overall Satisfaction with Wireless Customer Care Service Is Lower among Customers with Device Payment Plans, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, July 30, 2015
3. J.D. Power & Associates
When it comes to the buying experience, T-Mobile also does better than average according to this J.D. Power and Associates report. It does trail AT&T, but does notably better than other major national carriers.
Review: Wireless Carrier Sales Reps Play Key Role Delivering a Satisfying Purchase Experience to Tablet and Smartphone Shoppers, Editors of J.D. Power and Associates, Feb. 19, 2015
Subscribers report on their satisfaction with their cell phone carrier in this ConsumerReports.org survey. Data is presented nationally and based on feedback in 26 major cities. T-Mobile is among the carriers listed.
Review: U.S. Cell Phone Service Ratings, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, September 2014
T-Mobile is the highest rated of the four major carriers in this PCMag.com survey, with a score that's right at the average of all postpaid and prepaid carriers included. Some issues with service are offset by its satisfaction scores. "The company had the highest rating among the big four carriers for overall satisfaction (8.0) and likelihood to recommend (8.1)," Ben Gottesman notes.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2015: Smartphones and Mobile Carriers, Ben Gottesman, March 19, 2015
Here, PCMag.com reports on network performance. Testing is done in 30 cities and over "thousands of miles of driving." T-Mobile has built on its performance from last year, as Sascha Segan notes "T-Mobile emerged as a force to be reckoned with." For this year, he adds, "T-Mobile's improvements were especially dramatic; the carrier used to only have LTE in little 30-mile bubbles around cities, but now it stretches far down the interstates."
Review: Fastest Mobile Networks 2015, Sascha Segan, June 22, 2015
In RootMetric's assessment, T-Mobile lacks the coverage to compete with other carriers on a nationwide basis, but that doesn't mean that it's not a solid choice in large parts of the country, especially in urban areas. "T-Mobile's performance within metro areas was strong in multiple test categories, with improved data reliability and fast speeds," Dave Andersen says.
Review: First Half 2015 Mobile Network Performance in the US, Dave Andersen, Aug. 18, 2015