It’s phone time here on the blog. T-Mobile has shifted their ad strategy lately, to… motorcycles. It all comes around, around here.
The T-Mobile brunette (now Carly Foulkes) started riding. First, a Kawasaki literbike in print campaigns, then a Ducati in TV spots, both redone with T-Mobile magenta. Fair enough.
Note, however, that the latest ad touts “35,000 towers.” Impressive, right? Not that much, actually. First, note that there’s a lawyers’ loophole- it’s unclear from the ads that those 35,000 are all 4G technology. Remember, there were “2.5G” and “3.5G” cellular protocols. (This is all aside from the United States being on TDMA/CDMA/whatever, instead of GSM like pretty much the rest of the planet.) T-Mobile had to drop earlier claims that they had “America’s Largest 4G Network.” They probably had the title legitimately, for a little while. But AT&T and especially Verizon continued their rollouts, and made a lie out of that tagline in due time- a real big lie. (More lawyer-ese: Carly Foulkes is actually Canadian. Technically, that’s still North America.)
Second, there are a lot of ways to make a network- which is the whole point of a network. So, how did T-Mobile make their network? If you want to maximize short-term profit, you would build the fewest towers in the biggest downtown business districts, and ring up the Don Drapers of the world. The losers (including Betty Draper) can then dial their rotary landlines for all you care. Notice that every carrier has a huge West Virginia hole in their coverage maps, along with entire swaths of the Rockies and Great Plains. Only after you hit the movers and shakers would you then expand. But then you’d expand along highways, where those same movers and shakers might drive home, or to some mover/shaker event.
And yet, T-Mobile is supposedly in the worst shape of the US carriers. Short-term profits are overrated in general, and especially when network effects are involved. We are not talking widgets here, we’re talking, period, and that requires an infrastructure buildout.
I’m a former T-Mobile customer, and I had signed up with the understanding that I’d lose coverage outside of metro areas. And inside of Sprint’s areas, let alone AT&T and Verizon’s. T-Mobile also had merely average handsets, though being GSM you might find something niche and exotic if you really tried. T-Mobile’s customer service was also weak. Of course, in a quasi-competitive market (four competitors if you’re lucky? Three good competitors? Ha.) everyone’s customer service is bad, in a race to the bottom. Customer service aside, I’m happy to be an ex-T-Mobile customer. No motorcycle yet will change that.