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Last year, T-Mobile appeared to be destined to be merged into oblivion, much like Nextel and Cingular. Though the FCC nixed the deal with AT&T, T-Mobile actually appears to be doing better in the aftermath. The FCC approved a merger with MetroPCS last month and in the meantime, the magenta-hued carrier has announced a handful of changes that could make them competitive for all types of consumers — from teenagers to legal professionals.
Today, the company announced that the iPhone 5 will finally be an option. They also launched 4G LTE (high-speed data) in a number of major markets, which again, is playing catch-up to the other carriers. One would imagine that the merger with MetroPCS should help with a quick LTE rollout - the latter has already had their network in place for some time.
Those changes, along with a massive revamp of their calling plans, are exactly why consumers should give the slightly-behind carrier a second-look.
T-Mobile's Network Has a Unique Advantage
While T-Mobile is playing catch-up on 4G LTE, for the past couple of years, they have been building up another data connection called HSPA+ 42. The technical differences will bore you, but suffice it to say that HSPA+ is nearly as fast as LTE, is rolled-out across the carrier's 3G network, and 3G generally saps less battery than LTE.
If you are on, say Sprint, and your LTE signal fades (which will happen often until LTE is finally expanded nationwide), you are kicked to 3G, which is akin to going from broadband back to dial-up. If you are on T-Mobile and your LTE drops, you switch to HSPA+ 42, which means your download speeds will barely slow, if at all.
It's the Plan, Man
Carrier subsidies are the devil. Long-term contracts are devil's illegitimate offspring. As you are likely well-aware, in order to get that iPhone or fancy Android, you usually have to sign a two-year contract and pay a hundred bucks or so. With T-Mobile's new plan, there are no subsidies. This means you have two options: pay for the phone upfront, or, pay $100 down and $20 per month, according to Gizmodo.
Over two years, when combined with their new unlimited talk/text/cheap data plans, it won't save a ton (subsidy or installment, you're still paying monthly for the phone). However, there is no contract. If you want to walk away, pay for the balance on the phone, and sell it on eBay or craigslist. Your bill also gets cheaper once the phone is paid for.
Plus, their plans include hot-spotting, which shares your data connection with your laptop or tablet -- super handy for lawyers stuck in court.
Then Again, Coverage?
Of course, their LTE/HSPA+ advantage and cheaper contract-free plans mean little if the phone doesn't work. LTE has only launched in a handful of places, and even the HSPA+ network might not be great in your area. As with all carriers, check the coverage map before signing up.