NEW YORK — Tonight T-Mobile took the wraps off the final stage of its “Uncarrier” strategy, its plan to shake up the wireless world. And there’s good news for anyone who does a lot of international traveling.
T-Mobile revealed that it will offer unlimited international mobile data and texting in 115 countries for subscribers of its Simple Choice plans starting on October 31. Voice calls in those countries will cost a flat-rate of 20 cents per minute.
“Americans take about 55 million international trips every year, this covers between 98 and 99 percent of where they go,” said T-Mobile chief executive John Legere in a press briefing. The revamped roaming plan will help to avoid the bill shock many travelers face when they return home, as typical cellular bills can range in the thousands of dollars if you don’t take data roaming precautions.
For subscribers who want to get in touch with family in other countries, T-Mobile will offer a new Stateside International Talk & Text feature for $10 a month, which features free texting and calling rates of no more than 20 cents per minute (it’ll be less for some countries). In 70 countries, calls to landlines will be free.
Legere noted that T-Mobile wasn’t making much money from roaming charges, so it’s not exactly giving up much. While T-Mobile wouldn’t specify just how fast the free international data speeds would be, it sounds like the equivalent of 2G. T-Mobile will also offer “Speed Boost” plans, starting at $15 for 100 MB of data a week, $25 for 200MB of data a week, and $50 for 500 MB of data a week. There won’t be any overage charges, and the faster speeds will vary by country (I’m guessing faster 3G speeds for now).
The new international roaming offerings will have a few limitations: Trips need to be shorter than six weeks, and every three months half of your data needs to used in the U.S. Naturally, T-Mobile wants to protect itself from being abused people who actually live in other countries.
The carrier also confirmed that it its LTE 4G network has achieved nationwide coverage, with more 202 million Americans currently covered. While there’s still work left to do, T-Mobile notes that it reached this milestone long before the end of the year, which was its original goal.
Last, but certainly not least, T-Mobile is selling all of its new innovations with the help of international superstar Shakira. The carrier kicked off tonight’s news with a concert featuring Shakira at New York City’s Bryant Park, and her international appeal will be a big help towards sparking interest for its international plans.
“We do enjoy doing something that solves a customer’s problem, but we enjoy it twice as much when it causes our competitors pain,” said Legere.
With its first Uncarrier announcement in March, T-Mobile unveiled its no-contract strategy, which featured simplified pricing and no penalty for leaving the carrier. T-Mobile also killed its reliance on the subsidized smartphone pricing trend, which made smartphones seem cheaper than they really were, and allowed carriers to lock customers into contracts. T-Mobile’s new plan: Just pay for the actual cost of the smartphone, first by a down payment, then with a monthly payment plan (or just pay it all off at once).
In July, the carrier unveiled the second prong of its Uncarrier strategy: A $10 early upgrade program called “Jump.” It allows you to replace your smartphone twice a year with a newer model. Even better, it also serves as an insurance plan (at only a few bucks more than typical carrier insurance offerings).
Notably, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint all reacted to T-Mobile’s Uncarrier announcements in several ways, with no-contract plans and early upgrade features of their own. Clearly, T-Mobile’s changes aren’t just good for attracting customers — they’re also helping to reshape wireless industry habits in the U.S.
“Since the launch of Uncarrier 1 [in March], we’ve added more phone customers than AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint combined,” Legere said. “This isn’t a fluke, people are really capturing this.”
Unafraid to rub salt in its competitors wounds, Legere pointed out that T-Mobile’s LTE network is faster than Sprints, and faster than AT&T’s in 10 out of 20 metro areas.
“I was this close to announcing we have the nation’s fastest LTE network,” he quipped. Instead, he hinted that T-Mobile will likely make that announcement soon as it upgrades the LTE infrastructure in some of its cities. Still, he notes that subscribers are currently seeing speeds between 6 megabits per second and 20 Mbps.
While most cellular subscribers probably won’t dump their carrier just for the promise of free international texting and data, Legere believes it’s yet another compelling aspect on top of all of T-Mobile’s other Uncarrier announcements. The company will also run a commercial campaign featuring two guys travelling across Europe with another carrier. T-Mobile will use the exorbitant costs those travelers rack up to show people just how ridiculous roaming charges can be.