Its recent bid to acquire MetroPCS may make T-Mobile more competitive, but it still doesn’t offer Apple’s iPhones. Don’t let that stop you, T-Mobile says: If you have an iPhone of your own, you’re welcome to bring it along.
With other wireless companies offering similar bring-your-own-device (BYOD) incentives, you now have options as long as you’re satisfied with your existing phone and aren't under contract with a wireless provider. You could save on your monthly plan cost, especially if you burn through a lot of minutes and data each month.
T-Mobile is promoting an option to use your existing, unlocked GSM mobile device on its network. That offer applies to AT&T iPhones and iPads, along with Androids and other devices. In return, the company offers a $70 per month unlimited voice, data and text plan, which it says will save you up to $50 a month over competitors. (T-Mobile has toned down its message a bit, however, no longer featuring an image in which an iPhone forms the bottom portion of an open padlock, with the words "Unlimited & Unlocked.")
Straight Talk, a service through TracPhone Wireless, offers a similar deal, but with no contract and bigger savings: $45 a month for unlimited talk, data and text. Wireless company Ting — which piggybacks on Sprint’s network — also plans to let people bring their own devices, as long as the phone or tablet works on the Sprint network.
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By comparison, AT&T offers an unlimited talk, unlimited text and 3 GB data plan for $120. Sprint’s unlimited voice, text and data plan runs $110.
In a conversation last week around the T-Mobile-MetroPCS announcement, Eddie Hold, a vice president at research group NPD, told TechNewsDaily that BYOD has garnered little demand so far, but that may change.
William Stofega, program director at research company IDC, said that these types of options bring more competition to the wireless market, which is good for consumers. Bring-your-own-device plans could be especially useful for parents handing down used iPhones or Android devices to their children. They could see big savings on the monthly charges.
Even if you don’t yet own your phone, these plans could offer savings over the long term. You can purchase used iPhones from sites such as GameStop, eBay or Cowboom.com. GameStop offers a refurbished iPhone 4 for $270. If you signed on with T-Mobile on an unlimited plan for two years, you’d still save more than $900 compared with a two-year unlimited contract with AT&T.
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Stofega says the biggest challenge will be educating people about how to unlock their phones — and make sure they are out-of-contract before they attempt the switch.
To work on a different network, the wireless carrier needs to send you a new SIM card. Most offer these for free. You also must get the phone unlocked; you can now use an online form to request that AT&T unlock an iPhone that is no longer under contract.
Not all mobile devices will work in these situations. T-Mobile offers a page on its site in which you can enter the phone’s manufacturer and get a list of eligible models. For example, on T-Mobile you can bring AT&T models of the iPhone 4S, 4, 3GS, 3G, or the original iPhone, as well as AT&T iPad 2 and latest iPad.
If you make the switch, you may have to accept some compromises. For example, T-Mobile can’t offer Apple’s visual voicemail, though the company is rumored to be working on an visual voicemail app of its own.