T-Mobile Report Card
Sometimes, it seems as if T-Mobile executives are spending every waking hour thinking up ways to get the upper hand on their fellow wireless carriers. However much time the company puts into attention- and customer-grabbing stunts, it certainly seems to be working — T-Mobile is our choice for top cellphone provider, largely on the strength of its overall value.
Verizon may have a better, more expansive network, and AT&T may have topped our customer-service rankings. But T-Mobile turned in a strong performance in both categories, then jumped ahead on the sheer volume of special perks that subscribers enjoy, from free music-streaming to appealing features for international travelers. T-Mobile’s competitively priced unlimited data plan also helped vault the carrier to the top of our list.
Carrier Performance (46/50 points)
In our tests of six cities, T-Mobile fared well, finishing only behind Verizon, with average speeds of 22.7 Mbps down and 13.2 Mbps up nationally. T-Mobile topped our tests in New York, Seattle and Houston and also had a strong showing in San Francisco. Note that our tests are conducted in cities, and that T-Mobile has traditionally performed better in cities than in less populated parts of the country.
T-Mobile can also point to OpenSignal's latest report, where the network testing firm says that the Uncarrier now has the fastest 4G LTE network in the U.S. A rival firm, RootMetrics, gives the edge to Verizon, but T-Mobile has angrily disputed those findings.
Plans (19/20 points)
If you hate sorting through different plan options, T-Mobile is the carrier for you. T-Mobile only offers unlimited data in its $70-a-month T-Mobile One plan. There is a catch: You have to watch data at 480p resolution, which T-Mobile argues is perfectly acceptable on a smartphone-sized screen. If you absolutely need to watch video at its highest quality, though, you can pay an extra $25 each month for T-Mobile One Plus, which places no limits on either streaming video or LTE hotspot data. (The regular T-Mobile One plan restricts hotspot data to 3G speeds.)
T-Mobile's unlimited offering is particularly appealing to families, thanks to the discounts T-Mobile makes as you add lines. A second line costs just $50, while you can add more lines after that for $20 each. That means a family of four would pay $160 a month for unlimited data. And T-Mobile frequently offers promotions, such as waving the cost of a fourth line, furthering lowering your monthly bill.
Another nice thing about T-Mobile: It doesn't charge access fees for each device. Both AT&T and Verizon add $20 per device to your monthly bill, which can add up for families. You won't find that extra charge with T-Mobile
T-Mobile's prepaid plans are less compelling when compared to discount carriers, as T-Mobile uses the same rates as its postpaid plans. Both AT&T and Sprint have lower prices on their prepaid plans, and discount carriers — including T-Mobile-owned MetroPCS — offer even lower prices, though with a performance tradeoff.
Customer Service Rating (13/15 points)
T-Mobile finished fourth among the major carriers in our customer support showdown, felled by a less-than-prominent link to its support site and an incorrect answer to one of our questions during a live-chat session.
Still, these are relatively minor quibbles: T-Mobile still provided solid customer service in our tests. During our undercover chats, the Uncarrier's customer-support agents were friendly, helpful and cheerful. We also appreciated T-Mobile's active and responsive social media presence for fielding support questions.
Phone Selection (8/10 points)
As with the other major carriers, T-Mobile offers an extensive selection of phones, bolstered by certified pre-owned models. But it didn't quite offer everything on our checklist. T-Mobile was missing LG Flex 2, Galaxy S6 Active, Moto E 2015 and Moto G, making it the only carrier to have fewer than 10 of the 12 phones on our list. T-Mobile does make it easy to bring your own device, though.
Special Features (5/5 points)
It shouldn't be surprising for a company that hangs much of its identity on being different from other carriers, but special offers and subscriber benefits are where T-Mobile really shines. The company offers a dizzying area of deals to attract new customers while keeping current subscribers smiling.
For customers still on the carrier's tiered data plans, T-Mobile's Data Stash program lets them roll over unused data every month for up to 12 months. T-Mobile also introduced programs that let you stream music and video without it counting against your monthly data cap — less relevant for new customers that sign on to the carrier's unlimited T-Mobile One plan. Unlimited data customers who want to occasionally watch high-resolution videos but don't want to sign up for the more expensive T-Mobile One Plus plan will be able to buy a $3 HD day pass that will let them bypass the 480p limit on streaming video for a limited time.
It is international travelers who have the biggest reason to embrace T-Mobile. The company has expanded coverage in Mexico and Canada to allow free calling to and from those countries; customers can also use 4G LTE data in Mexico and Canada. In addition, T-Mobile offers unlimited 2G data in more than 120 countries with all of its popular Simple Choice plans, and select phones support Wi-Fi calling. Wi-Fi calls from overseas back to the U.S. are also free, while cellular calls cost a palatable 20 cents per minute.
T-Mobile's Jump plan costs $10 per month and lets you trade-in your phone after paying for half its cost. A similar program, Jump On Demand, does away with that $10 fee, and lets people leasing their phones upgrade up to three times a year.
Since we published our carrier rankings, T-Mobile has introduced a weekly rewards program for its subscribers that gives away freebies like movie downloads, discounted ride on Lyft and free Frostys at Wendy's. We'll take the T-Mobile Tuesdays giveaways into account when we re-evaluate our rankings later this year.