T-Mobile: good ideas, bad experience

When T-Mobile entered the wireless scene as the “Uncarrier” I was impressed. Their greatest contribution to the carrier ecosystem is consistently adding features, forcing other carriers to keep up. Instead of rationed text and voice, we’re in a world where data is king.

However, if you are considering T-Mobile service, I suggest reconsidering. The plans and features look appetizing, but their execution leaves a lot to be desired. I would not count on their unique features; just the now-basics with worse coverage.

I wrote off my initial experiences as anecdotal, but it became cumulatively enough for me to leave their service.

Free data for life on tablets

My first experience with the new T-Mobile was their offer of free monthly 200mb of data. It’s a compelling reason to go with them.

After a month of lifetime free data, it ended and I got “could not connect to data service” errors. The first rep I spoke with ran me through the usual steps culminating in toggling something on his side and waiting 48 hours to see if it worked.

The next rep a couple days later insisted I had to reformat without restoring a backup. This was a huge pain, and unsurprisingly didn’t fix anything. He filed a report with “the engineers.”

A few more days later, service started working again, and later the rep called to make sure. The follow-up made me happy, despite the length of time from start to finish.

Update 2014-12-29: After moving my cell phone from T-Mobile to AT&T, I started receiving a bill for $10/mo for my “free data for life” device. I called and received a credit the first time, but dug into it more the second time.

Their retention department informed me that the “free data for life” offer requires having another device with T-Mobile service. According to their press release (backup) no such qualifier existed when I signed up, and according to their second press release (backup) “there is no $10.00 per month fee for the 200MB of free data.”

I see no qualifiers on their support page so I can only assume their screw-the-customer attitude is behind-the-scenes policy.

Refer-a-friend bonus

There’s no zealot like a convert, and I convinced a few friends to switch their service over. When T-Mobile announced a new referral system, wherein both sides get unlimited data for a year, my latest referral and I signed up.

I received only a $25 in-store gift card, and waited a few weeks to call the refer-a-friend support to figure out why. I was immediately told it was a mistake, and the rep said he would add unlimited data to my plan.

I asked for clarification on the change, and he confirmed it was “free for 12 months,” and suggested my friend call, too. Another rep added unlimited data to my friend’s account.


My bill went up by $50, or $20 more than just adding unlimited data would cost. My friend’s bill went up, too.

When I called support, the first rep clarified that my referral would only give me a $10 discount on unlimited service. After expressing confusion, she placed me on hold to ask refer-a-friend support.

The phone rang, and I was greeted with, “T-Mobile refer-a-friend support, how can I help you?” I was blindly transferred, and had to explain everything for the second time.

This rep said a few things, and I got the impression he believed I added unlimited data myself:

  1. I had 2 referrals, one processed (the gift card) and one pending (a few days old).
  2. Referral #1 was activated a few days before the data offer started, and didn’t qualify.
  3. Referral #2 would give me a $10 discount on my existing unlimited data.
  4. If I ended my existing unlimited data, referral #2 would be nullified.
  5. No refer-a-friend rep would have added unlimited data to my account.

The net result is I would have to pay $20 extra monthly to get unlimited data, which should have been free twice over. I asked him to take off the unlimited data charge, and he placed me on hold.

And then I heard, “all of our representatives are busy, please hold,” and got to explain everything again to a third rep I was blindly transferred to. This final rep was nice enough to credit the plan and remove unlimited data from my account, at least, even though she accidentally hung up on me towards the end.

I complained about this on Twitter and although their Twitter presence contacted me, they never responded days after asking for my phone number.1

Free texting in the air

I had the opportunity to give another new benefit a try: on Gogo in-flight internet, devices already set up for WiFi calling can connect to the network for SMS service. This did not work.

When it came time to “get started” on the T-Mobile side of things, I received errors repeatedly and I gave up. Gogo support was nice enough to credit a free hour of internet for my troubles, which is a fine example of what I’m really looking for: solutions.


T-Mobile is a noble experiment executed with good intentions but badly in need of restructuring. Every time I try a perk, it backfires, and I don’t care to spend hours fighting.

I am switching to AT&T to pay the same amount. If there’s one good thing T-Mobile is doing, it’s pushing the other carriers to offer competitive plans. However, issues with implementation make their poor coverage feel even worse. Hopefully this changes in the years to come.

  1. I dislike that Twitter direct messages require following the sender. I gave up after a few days because I was tired of seeing their tweets, so perhaps they tried to respond some time later. I doubt it. ↩︎