T-Mobile USA wants to be the outlier cellular operator -- the "uncarrier" -- that customers love. Though it is emphasizing consumer love, its strategy could benefit enterprises.
T-Mobile presented this new approach this week during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and CEO John Legere didn't pull any punches. During his presentation at the Venetian Hotel, Legere asked, "Anybody here from New York? Anybody here using AT&T? Anybody using it happy? Of course not, the network is crap!"
Legere is on a mission to prove that T-Mobile isn't like typical cellular operators. His company desperately needs a new strategy. It lost more than 1 million subscribers during the first three quarters of 2012. For Legere, who became CEO in September, it's a case of no more Mr. Nice Guy. (Ms. Nice Gal?)
T-Mobile is calling itself the uncarrier, and it is going after other cellular operators, particularly AT&T, which it considers the most vulnerable due to network capacity problems and data pricing. To compete against AT&T and others, T-Mobile needs lots of publicity. As Legere told the Seattle Times, "We're small, we need to get attention, we need to get the spotlight on us so that we can capture an undue amount of the attention of the industry so customers will choose us." That attention will revolve around new approaches.
One strategy, as I wrote on Tuesday, will be to eliminate cellular phone subsidies and charge the full retail price for prepaid and postpaid contracts. In exchange, users will get lower airtime rates. Another strategy will be offering truly unlimited plans for voice, SMS, and data without throttling (reducing the data rate after a certain number of gigabytes per month).
Both pricing options could be important for enterprises, which will need to compare them with their current corporate rates and perhaps use the new prices for leverage when negotiating contracts. Small businesses that don't receive especially favorable corporate rates might fare better with the flexibility of consumer rates.
Everyone -- consumers and businesses -- might benefit from another T-Mobile strategy: high-definition voice. I first wrote about this audio technology in April 2009. HD voice uses more bandwidth, but the audio quality is noticeably superior to standard cellular audio. With HD voice, conversations are much clearer (sometimes better than landline calls), and there's little or no background noise.
IT departments might be surprised by how much better HD voice is for distinguishing words. Think about the importance of clear conversations, especially for important business transactions involving numbers. Consider the value of clearer audio when speaking with overseas business associates, clients, and customers whose primary language isn't yours. HD voice also could be useful for picking up audio clues in conversational loudness and pitch.
I had hoped HD voice would become widespread in the United States beginning in 2010, especially after Google purchased the Internet audio and video platform provider Global IP Solutions. (See: GIPS Will Bolster Google Video, HD Voice Strategies.) But I was overly optimistic. Nevertheless, a handful of cellular operators, such as Orange, offer HD voice. (See: UK's Orange Launches HD Cellular Voice.) In 2011, Sprint announced HD voice with one handset, but it's available in only a single test market.
The technology requires that the cellular network be configured for HD voice and that all parties on the conversation use HD voice phones on the same network. T-Mobile will start with a few phones: the Samsung Galaxy S III, the HTC One S, and the Nokia Astound.
I hope that T-Mobile, unlike Sprint, helps jumpstart the market by advertising the advantages of HD voice. I also hope enterprises understand the value of HD voice and encourage handset vendors and cellular operators to offer it. PC Magazine says AT&T will offer HD voice this year. Verizon Wireless might offer it in 2014, according to CNET.
In addition to better pricing and HD voice, enterprises might appreciate T-Mobile's LTE launch. The first launch could be in Las Vegas in a few weeks, followed by coverage for 100 million people in the middle of the year and 200 million by year's end. T-Mobile is certainly late with LTE, but the company's uncarrier strategy with more customer-centric policies and new features could benefit all clients, not just consumers.