Dear T-Mobile: I Want to Love You But I Can’t

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Dear T-Mobile,

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. It’s a highly-populated area, though just a few miles down the road it becomes a bit rural. A couple of years ago, I decided to switch to your network. I liked what you were doing to upgrade to HSPA+, and you had some very affordable plan choices. But my stint on your network didn’t last long: I quickly witnessed the downside to being on America’s smallest carrier. Coverage in and around town was poor. I would drop down to EDGE often, and whereas on AT&T I would normally have full bars, with you, that just wasn’t the case.

So, I switched back to AT&T, having to pay a bit more per monthly, but my coverage became much more reliable (except for in highly populated areas like Las Vegas and New York, or at sporting events and concerts; that’s another topic). I didn’t really care to look into Sprint or Verizon, because at the time, their 3G EVDO networks only provided 1-2mbps down, while AT&T’s HSDPA could clock in a solid 3-5mbps.

And being on AT&T has been good. Today, in my area, I get LTE most of the time with fantastic 15-35mbps speeds. And even when I don’t get LTE, I fall back to HSPA+ and get throughput that is plenty fast. And although Verizon has a bigger LTE network, I don’t like that when LTE isn’t available, the user is relegated to EVDO (with those paltry 1-2mbps speeds). That’s just not fast enough.

But you haven’t been standing still, T-Mobile. You’ve been adding towers. You’ve been upgrading your HSPA+ network to 42mbps in some markets in order to, in some cases, compete with LTE from the other three carriers. And I like your advertising! And your selection of devices is pretty great, too. I also still like how your rate plans are a bit more affordable than the other carriers, and how you still know the meaning of “unlimited data.”

So, recently I decided to give you another chance when I received a review unit for a T-Mobile smartphone. I turned on the phone in my office, and saw some magenta color. I was excited by the prospect of testing your improvements from the past couple of years. But then I ran into the first problem. In my office, which is on the top floor of an office building, I got EDGE data speeds with only two bars. I peered at the AT&T phone in my pocket, which was on LTE at the time, and I had full bars.

As soon as I left the office, I got a “4G” badge, indicating that I was on your HSPA+ network. I opened up SpeedTest.net and did a test. The app showed 2mbps. Curious about how much better than that this particular smartphone could do, I ran about a dozen tests in various places over the subsequent 24 hours. The results? In some spots I got 1mbps. In some spots, I got a pretty quick 10mbps. And in some spots, I got EDGE. And all the while my signal strength averaged one to two out of four bars, whereas on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, I get three to four bars most of the time. That’s disappointing. As mentioned, I live in a populated suburb of Philadelphia. I’m not out in the boonies.

Of course, it’s possible that you have yet to invest fully in my area, T-Mobile, explaining the sub-bar signal strength, the widely variable data speeds, and even the occasional jump to the dreaded EDGE. But I don’t think my experience is unique.

T-Mobile: I want to love you but I can’t.

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.