Everybody loves a story about an underdog. There’s just something captivating about watching the Davids triumph over the Goliaths. While in this case, it’s a little early to declare any winners, it’s beginning to look like John Legere and Co. at T-Mobile might be the underdog the wireless industry has been waiting for. Why do we love underdogs? They’re not the obvious, expected victor in a battle. They’re scrappy and creative and as a result, they bring fresh thinking to something dated and old. They relate to the average, regular person — people like you and me. They push the envelope of what’s possible and as a result, set a new bar for what’s expected.
John Legere has only been at the helm of T-Mobile for 13 months and already, he’s made sweeping changes that have commanded the attention of behemoths Verizon and AT&T. Back in August, CNET called Legere the “most dangerous man in wireless,” and with good reason. As he’s rolled out his aggressive “UNcarrier” strategy, T-Mobile has single-handedly changed the way we think about wireless. The first phase of his plan simplified monthly service plans and eliminated handset subsidies and contracts. The second phase addressed a major frustration felt by all of us at some point: a complete restructuring of how and when you upgrade your phone. The third phase, announced yesterday at an event in New York, removes the costly fees charged to use your phone in more than 100 countries around the world. Let that sink in for a moment. Device purchasing, contracts, rate plans, upgrades, and international calling — is there anything left?
When T-Mobile launched JUMP! (its restructured upgrade plan allowing customers to upgrade as often as every six months) on July 10, it didn’t take the other guys long to follow suit. AT&T launched Next just six days later and Verizon launched Edge just two days after that. Sprint took a while longer, debuting its One Up program September 20. Each of these is a slightly different take on what T-Mobile has done, and none of them are as good. The results are already showing: in August, the company announced it had gained more than a million customers in the previous quarter, the largest growth in four years.
Back to my question from above — is there anything left? — there’s one final issue that has plagued T-Mobile for as long as I can remember: coverage. T-Mobile’s network is fast and reliable, but it doesn’t offer anything near the amount of coverage for people living outside major cities and off major highways that Verizon does, for example. It’s been that way since the days of Voicestream. However, that’s changing, as well.
Also revealed at yesterday’s event in New York was an update on their 4G LTE network expansion. They’d previously promised to deliver 4G LTE to 200 million Americans by the end of 2013. As of yesterday when they flipped the switch on a handful of new markets, they crossed that threshold (and then some) with two and a half months still left in the year. 233 metropolitan areas, including 91 of the top 100 markets by population, now enjoy T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network. Legere shared that third-party testing results indicate their network provides speeds faster than both Verizon and Sprint, putting T-Mobile right on the heels of AT&T.
There’s no question about it, T-Mobile has made major strides in leading the wireless industry from behind. After posting quarter after quarter of subscriber losses, these efforts are starting to pay off. Legere is more publicly vocal than any other tech CEO I can think of, taking to Twitter to taunt the bigger guys and keep those of us following the company on the edge of our seats. He interacts with his customers, replying to and retweeting them, and he seemingly tweets exactly what’s on his mind, likely keeping the PR department up at night. Here are a few samples from @johnlegere.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, reminder: On 10/9, I’ll be sharing news that will shake up the industry, again. #Uncarrier
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 8, 2013
The big takeaway from all of this: the underdog is fighting back and gaining ground. I can’t say it any better than Zach Epstein from BGR:
The true beauty of T-Mobile’s Uncarrier moves is that these initiatives are not careless lossmakers aimed desperately at stealing business from rival wireless carriers. These are bold, well-thought-out value added services that not only attack big consumer pain points, but also drive revenue growth.
Keep your eye on T-Mobile. If you’re considering switching from another carrier, the incentives just keep getting better and better. As they continue expanding their 4G LTE network, it goes without saying that more and more people are climbing aboard the T-Wagon. Will you be one of them?
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