T-Mobile’s PR office reached out to tell me about a new service for travelers. Beginning September 17 they will be offering all customers free text messaging on planes equipped with GoGo’s in-flight Internet service (U.S. flights only). You just need to access the GoGo hotspot and then click on the T-Mobile banner to get access. This takes advantage of a phone’s ability to make calls over WiFi, so you will need to have that function enabled.
At first glance this doesn’t seem that important. I’m not a fan of text messaging and until I upgraded to a new plan late last year, I had never subscribed to a text messaging plan. It was cheaper to pay 20 cents for each text sent or received …that’s how little I used it and not much has changed. I would rather type out five-paragraph emails. But some people really take to it.
What I think is cool is that it’s another step in the direction of positioning T-Mobile as the choice for frequent travelers. The Internet works wherever you go (more or less). I can buy a meal in cities I’ve never visited where people speak languages I’ve never heard. And yet when I get within five miles of the Canadian border I have to decide if I want to turn it off or double my monthly bill. It’s more backwards than cable television.
T-Mobile offers unlimited calls, texting, and data — in the U.S. as well as over 120 countries — on their Simple Choice plan (calls are 20 cents a minute internationally). Although they do place a limit on the network speed depending on the price of your plan, I find that I’m only on LTE half the time anyway. I like the idea of unlimited data at some speed better than a fixed amount of data at the highest possible speed. I also reviewed the international service earlier this year in Southeast Asia and found it to be reasonably good considering it is effectively free. Shortly after they announced unlimited free music streaming.
There’s a lot of “free” and “unlimited” being thrown about here, but not much downside in my admittedly limited experience. T-Mobile gets some complaints about spotty service in rural areas. In downtown Seattle it’s the fastest option I’ve tried, including Verizon and AT&T.
One thing that I really like is how they split the cost of the phone and the plan. Traditional mobile plans offer a big subsidy on the phone, which the carrier hopes to make up by overcharging for your service over the life of the contract. But the monthly service fee doesn’t necessarily go down when your contract is over. T-Mobile will offer you a phone with no money down and a zero percent loan to spread those payments over the next 24 months. There is no contract, but if you cancel your service you do have the pay the remainder immediately. And at the end of those 24 months, your phone is paid off and your bill goes down. It actually makes sense.
Like One Mile at a Time, I’m considering switching my service to T-Mobile when my contract with Verizon expires — though T-Mobile does have a program that pays your early termination fee if you choose to move sooner. I’m just lazy. 😉 But this announcement is another creative way to call out how T-Mobile differs from its competition. I may not be texting from 40,000 feet any time soon, but I have seen a lot of other features I’m interested in.