We were all set to close out the lights on PhoneNews.com to celebrate Christmas, but we got one piece of information that we had to push out to readers.
Many in the mobile media had been covering that T-Mobile customers had suddenly noticed UMTS/HSPA receptivity on the unlocked iPhone models. This appears to be coming from the 1900 MHz signal, indicating that T-Mobile has begun, in the wake of the failed merger with AT&T, to begin rolling out 3G coverage for AT&T-banded devices.
Unfortunately, T-Mobile formally declined to comment to PhoneNews.com after we asked what the official status of this situation is. The carrier’s media relations team was unaware of the situation until we brought it to their attention, indicating that this offering was not intentional on T-Mobile’s part.
In fact, this may have been little more than a pilot program, we have only confirmed signal receptivity in one single market (Northern CA and Reno, NV, which is a single market by T-Mobile territories).
By using 1900 MHz for UMTS/HSPA, the carrier is using bandwidth that previously had to remain open for GSM/EDGE network traffic. Much as AT&T and Verizon had to move customers off older network standards, T-Mobile may see fit to begin pushing customers away from GSM, and toward a UMTS-only network.
As part of T-Mobile’s termination agreement with AT&T regarding their merger, the two agreed to a network-wide UMTS roaming agreement. These kinds of agreements were long sought after by consumer groups, and smaller carriers alike, noting that the carriers could not find any reasons in principle to not have such pacts.
Armed with a UMTS roaming agreement with AT&T, T-Mobile simply does not need to continue operating a GSM network. While millions of customers still have GSM devices, the per-device cost for a basic UMTS feature phone is low enough now that a trade-off would be to T-Mobile’s advantage; start welcoming iPhone customers immediately by reducing GSM spectrum immediately.
T-Mobile is now offering unlimited plans at the $50/month price-point, including data. At those rates, T-Mobile could argue that customers purchasing an unlocked iPhone would save money over AT&T, even factoring in the nearly $400 device subsidy that AT&T pays for each iPhone customer.
After all, there’s nothing stopping T-Mobile from offering bill credits and subsidies on service in lieu of a contract phone purchase…