A journey through phones or how I fell in love with T-Mobile

Full disclosure: I’m a T-Mobile shareholder    . So here’s why:

My first phone was a little Nokia running on Cingular (now AT&T). I was a junior at college (let’s just say this was around 2002) studying telecommunications at Cal Poly Pomona, so it’s appropriate I learned more about the wireless industry’s early efforts at bringing consumer cellular phones to the masses through some actual hands-on experience.

There wasn’t much to this phone, Nokia 3390. I could play Snake, make calls, and text as long as I managed  to keep track of my usage.  Likewise, there wasn’t much I was looking for. Broadband was not an option for me when I came home on weekends to do homework. My dealings with high speed browsing was confined to my wired LAN connection at school.


In my mind, Nokias were king of the hill before smart phones became big.

As time went on, I came to expect internet connections wherever I went. I convinced my parents to get cable internet at home and there was no looking back since. Just like my desktop browsing speeds, Cingular (now AT&T) was offering customers a faster mobile experience. And just like the humble days of dial-up service, the wireless industry was tempting to earn more customers through all you can eat service.

Believe it or not, there WAS a time when dial-up services counted bytes too. Can you blame them? They were trying to maintain service levels and also grow. The same happened with the wireless industry except for slightly different reasons.

In the United States, there are 4 major competitors: Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. At some point they all realized they could move from unlimited service pricing into tiered pricing. Pay less for less or more for more. It felt like a horrible step back considering the wireless technology was only getting better. We were getting to a point where cellular speeds were getting faster than the slowest DSL packages available for homes and then this happened.

I was still on AT&T and luckily grandfathered into an unlimited 3G plan. I was a happy camper browsing Facebook and uploading mobile pictures from my phone at the time (some Nokia/Windows Mobile).

I didn’t get my first true smartphone experience until I got an HTC Magic. Luckily, I was evading AT&T’s more expensive unlimited plan by using an unlocked phone from Canada (Rogers). But this was not a sustainable option, especially if i wanted a phone with proper 3G bands that didn’t break the bank (I always calculated the cost of a new phone against the increased data plan premium). I loathed the thought of renewing a contract with AT&T due to all the negative experiences I had trying to finesse the lowest possible phone plan. I was in a family plan with 4 other family members and it was a relatively low cost per phone.


Nexus S (i9020A)

After countless minutes on the phone with AT&T trying to maintain a grandfathered plan, I gave up and went to the next best thing: a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that ran on AT&T’s network for a lower price. At this time I was really only interested in 3G speeds without the worry of hitting a data cap. I was wrong.

This is where the freedom of being off contract came to light. I wanted to stick with AT&T’s network but hated the price it came with. I decided to try T-Mobile’s prepaid plan. By this time I was using an iPhone 4s and ready to try T-Mobile even if it meant I was only able to get 3G service using refarmed PCS band (1900Mhz). They were also late to the LTE game but I had read they were going to roll out 4G service aggressively.

This was it. I learned to fall in love with my carrier again. After coming to terms with my love for iOS, I decided to go for a 5s. While the 5 eventually supported T-Mobile’s AWS LTE, I decide to the 5s would be worth the wait, especially since I would be paying for one at full retail cost (I hate financing).

Months later, I am SO happy with my service. I get great speeds, hotspot ability, wifi calling, international text/data, and HD Voice.


Samsung Blaze gave me first taste of really fast HSPA+

The ability to hotspot is a game changer. If you’ve ever been on a vacation, you know one of the worst realities is that not every hotels provides complimentary wifi service. Having hotspot ability included is fantastic because you’re never limited to enjoying fast internet on your phone. You can using your tablet and with decent LTE or HSPA+ service, you can even cast video on a Chromecast.

Last month, I used 13 GB of data. Most of this happened while on vacation in Texas for a week. You can’t even get service like this from AT&T/Verizon for 80 bucks a month.


I went back to an HTC because Samsung doesn’t like making metal phones

While Sprint (I also hold a few shares) is also another unlimited carrier, their CDMA phones are not as easy to travel around the world with. They’re also harder to resell after since most of the world doesn’t work with their handsets (in their defense, this is getting better although they still have a wacky policy towards true unlocking where phones are allowed on other domestic carriers). While the international data coverage by T-Mobile is pretty limited in speed (think EDGE), it’s great to be able to text folks back home. I eventually broke down and picked up an all you can eat data prepaid SIM from 3 while in England earlier this year. Of course T-Mobile unlocked my phone prior to the trip, making this a viable option.

But…. it’s not all sunshine and roses though. T-Mobile still has to work on their coverage. If you’re going to Big Bear or driving through any rural area, chances are you’re not getting great speeds or even coverage at all. Even inside buildings T-Mobile struggles to keep up with the big dogs at times. That one drawback SHOULD be getting better with the rollout of 700MHz A-block service. Think Verizon’s building penetration coverage since they also run on 700MHz.


Using an unlocked One X gave me my first taste of LTE on T-Mobile. It had to go due to various frustrations with the software.

If you still aren’t convinced you should follow John Legre. He’s crazy in a good way and I love that he runs T-Mobile.

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About Mark Azali

A simple search on google will help you understand what Mark Azali is all about. He loves talking with random people at conventions, Google Plus, and twitter. Besides entertainment, he has an unusual obsession with starchy foods. Follow him and discover just how crazy he is: @notjohnlee (Yes. That's a reference to The Replacement Killers)

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