T-Mobile Offering Weeklong iPhone “Test Drive” to Lure Customers
Pulling a page from the car dealer’s manual, T-Mobile is offering would-be customers a free seven-day trial of its network using an iPhone 5s.
“You [can] have a seven-night stand,” CEO John Legere said in an interview just ahead of the company’s “Un-carrier 5.0″ event in Seattle. “You cheat on your carrier and it’s free.”
Legere said the goal is to help correct some misperceptions some customers still have about the quality of T-Mobile’s network. “Our network is really really different than the idea people have about it.”
People can sign up for the iPhone test drive starting June 23 and will get the iPhone 5s a few days later. They then have a week to use it and can drop it off when they are done at any T-Mobile store. (Apple itself used a test drive to get people to try out the Mac back in 1984.)
In a bold prediction, the company says it expects more than a million people to take it up on the Test Drive offer in the first year.
Apple is providing tens of thousands of devices for the Test Drive, T-Mobile executives said.
T-Mobile announced its plans before a raucous crowd at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, a venue packed with a vast number of T-Mobile employees and local customers. T-Mobile originally had its event slated for LA, but the company moved it to its hometown to be close to all the press in town for Amazon’s phone launch, which took place earlier in the day.
The carrier is hoping that customers appreciate a bunch of changes the company has made to its network since acquiring MetroPCS. The No. 4 carrier has launched high-speed LTE that, while not as widely deployed as AT&T or Verizon, can be faster in certain areas. And because it also has fewer customers, T-Mobile can also boast it has the most LTE capacity per customer.
“We believe we have built a very different network,” CTO Neville Ray said on Wednesday, one that is not constrained by capacity or spectrum.
For T-Mobile, it also highlights the reversal in fortune over the last couple years. It wasn’t that long ago that T-Mobile didn’t even have an LTE network, or even an iPhone to sell. At the same time, despite some market share gains, T-Mobile remains well behind AT&T and Verizon in customers.
The company expects to reach 250 million customers with its LTE network this year, with the remaining T-Mobile service areas to get LTE next year. In 16 markets, Ray said the company has what it calls “Wideband LTE” where it has at least 15MHz of spectrum devoted to LTE.
Verizon has created its own fancy name, “XLTE”, for areas in which it is using added spectrum for LTE.
The company is also expanding its test of voice-over-LTE service, that is treating calls as data and sending them over the LTE network. It had been testing the service in Seattle and is now expanding it to 15 markets, with three handsets including the Galaxy Note 3 supporting the service. Verizon has said voice-over-LTE is coming later this year.
“That just underlines the confidence we have in our network,” Ray said.
One of the tricky parts of voice-over-LTE is that the benefits are bigger to the carriers than for customers, though T-Mobile said it can offer faster call set-up and higher voice quality.
Ray also took some potshots at rivals, noting that Verizon only belatedly added additional spectrum.
“The Verizon guys are catching up with their AWS spectrum,” he said. “They took their eye off the ball and it hurt them. … In a lot of markets we are beating Verizon because of their incompetence.”
As for Sprint’s promised higher-speed Spark service, he said, “sooner or later the Sprint guys will figure it out” but added “the execution track record is pretty poor.”
Update: CEO John Legere was his usually fiery self as the company kicked off the event, taking a shot at rivals that don’t offer unlimited data plans.
Why not, Legere asked. “A: They can’t. B: They are greedy bastards or, my favorite. C: Both. It is pretty clear to me what is happening.”
He also took issue with the coverage maps, which offer only a sign of where there is coverage, not how good or strong that coverage is.
“Our data is concentrated where and when people use the network,” Legere said.
He bragged that T-Mobile customers use way more data than any of the other major customers, including 69 percent more data than Verizon: “61 percent more than everyone in the (Sprint) Framily” and 100 percent more data than the typical AT&T customer.
And, of course, he used plenty of swear words, saying that the industry is “raping” its customers. “The f-ers hate you.”
As for the test drive, Legere said customers need to see T-Mobile’s network for themselves.
Legere also said it goes both ways. “There may be some customers it’s not quite right for.”
In terms of the fine print, CMO Mike Sievert said T-Mobile takes a credit card number, but doesn’t charge the credit card and makes sure the shipping address matches the credit card. (Of course, if you don’t bring the phone back, they probably will charge your card.)
T-Mobile is also encouraging those doing a test drive to post their experiences on social media, much as they did with a past break-up letter promotion. This time, there are prizes, too, he said.
“It should be fun,” Sievert said.
And, with that, Legere noted that people always ask when the next un-carrier event is coming.
“Right now,” he said, ending the “Un-carrier 5.0 event” and launching a second “Un-carrier 6.0 event.” (Not sure that counts, BTW.)
In any case, the news here is that T-Mobile will no longer count music streamed from various music services toward people’s data limits. (More on that in this story.)
Legere noted that a lot of people expected someone in Seattle to announce a free streaming music service.
“They just picked the wrong location,” Legere said.
7:15 pm PT: There will also be a test drive program for businesses, but they can test drive up to three devices for two weeks and they will get their devices hand-delivered and picked up.