What is an ‘Uncarrier’? We ask T-Mobile’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Sievert

t mobiles hopes to be a disrupter in the carrier space mobile interview flT-Mobile spent the better part of the last decade as an also-ran. Slinking in the shadows of AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, the smallest of the “big four” American carriers was never quite able to muster the muscle of its competitors. Its inability to carry Apple’s iPhone never helped matters, and after AT&T failed to buy it up last year, the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary seemed more cast out and dejected than ever.

But an infusion of fresh executive blood – and the new ideas that go with that – could turn T-Mobile around. Freshly installed CEO John Legere and Chief Marketing office Mike Sievert plan to reimagine T-Mobile as the “Uncarrier;” the rebel little guy who defies the rules written by his entrenched, bureaucracy-locked competitors. We spoke with Sievert, the man responsible for curating T-Mobile’s new image, to find out how it intends to live up to its ambitious new self-coined title.

The problem with carriers

As a veteran of Microsoft and Qualcomm, Sievert might seem like the last person to approach the industry from a new perspective, but he was quick to criticize the status quo.

t mobile disruptive mike sievert mikesievert 6

“We don’t think the consumer is best served by a mentality of an industry that has, for a long time, been dominated by utility companies that have utility company thinking,” Sievert says. Think contracts. Rigid rules. Thick layers of bureaucracy. But where there are problems, there are opportunities. Sievert believes T-Mobile has “a real opportunity to be disrupters.”

“We call it the Uncarrier strategy,” Sievert told us, as he explained T-Mobile’s new initiative to win back customers by rewriting the rules of the wireless carrier game. Smartphone subsidies will disappear, along with the contracts that went with them. So will hard data caps, and the expensive overages that kicked in when you accidentally rolled over them. The message: Pick any phone you want, use it as much as you want, quit whenever you want.

An Uncarrier way of thinking

This ideology might cut into the lucrative data plans that have kept competitors flush with cash, but Sievert believes that liberating consumers will also endear them to the network that has struggled to rise above fourth place. T-Mobile, he says, wants to “focus on what consumers want: a low, fair, simple price you really do understand; great access to the most amazing devices on the market; the ability to trade up and be treated fairly when its time to upgrade; and the ability to enjoy the services we sell, like an unlimited network offering that doesn’t require a contract.” This was not your average elevator pitch.

Like CEO John Legere, Sievert isn’t afraid to knock around competitors in effort to illustrate how T-Mobile will set itself apart. AT&T and Verizon’s shared data plans with hard caps are a particularly pointed topic. “Both of these big competitors of ours have fantastic margins. Man they are making money hand over fist, and these shared data plans are contributing to that.”

According to Legere, the strategy of pooling data helps carriers minimize bandwidth and maximize revenue, but works poorly for customers. “People don’t want to feel like they are on the clock,” Sievert said. “Data is everything.” Data plans, he claims, will be a game changer for T-Mobile; customers want unmetered data. “We believe the vast majority of consumers want unmetered and unlimited voice and text, and you will see us moving toward that.”

T-Mobile’s data plans will only differ in the amount of high-speed data customers receive. Less-expensive plans will put the brakes on a customer’s speeds after they use a certain amount of data, while premium plans will offer truly unlimited high-speed data for those who are prepared to pay for it. Users who go over their high-speed limit will be able to add on more data for the same rate without an overage fee. T-Mobile’s future plans will be centered on these data plans, and they won’t necessarily come with two-year contracts.

“Contracts should be something consumers sign when they get a benefit, not when they’re forced to,” Sievert says. “It’s just a philosophy of ours.” While he wouldn’t hint at anything specific, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of offer or promotion tied in for those willing to make one or two-year agreements.

What’s in store for the future

Beyond its current plans, Sievert was optimistic that finally landing the iPhone this year will be a boon for the carrier that “arguably has one hand tied behind its back” without it. “We’re very excited to be partnered [with Apple] and to be launching products with them in 2013,” Sievert said. That’s the best evidence we have so far of T-Mobile’s intention to carry the iPhone 5, or perhaps iPhone 5S. It’s going to happen, and maybe soon.

VoLTE is also in the works, a technology that offers better audio and battery life for smartphones. MetroPCS had been busy testing up until it was bought by T-Mobile. “We don’t have any announcements to make, but I will say it’s exciting technology … it’s turning out to be a nice consumer experience, and has some great network utilization benefits,” Sievert says. It certainly seems T-Mobile is planning to move forward with VoLTE sooner, rather than later.

Making good

Of course, contract-free plans, subsidy-free phones, unlimited data, and a huge LTE roll-out all sound great, but how does T-Mobile plan to actually deliver? “We’re now in the process of going to do the doing,” said Sievert.

It has its work cut out for it. T-Mobile’s 4G rollout calls for reaching 100 million people by mid-2013, and “probably 200 million” by the end of the year. While that might sound ambitious, much of T-Mobile’s backhaul – the hard connections between cell towers – has already been upgraded, thanks to an initiative it started all the way back in 2007. That means while towers need new equipment, the laborious process of replacing hard lines between them has already been completed.

Even with the promise of T-Mobile’s new Uncarrier philosophy, the carrier has a lot to prove before it truly delivers what it claims. While Mr. Sievert emphasized the idea of T-Mobile “putting the customer first,” it faces innumerable challenges before it comes even close to fruition. What matters at this point is T-Mobile’s ability to stick to its word, accomplish its LTE expansion, and start selling the iPhone. We like what T-Mobile says it can be, but it’s going to take a lot before it can prove itself worthy.

Mobile

It’s about time! A USB-C magnetic charger for the Apple Watch has finally arrived

While most of the buzz surrounding Apple has been about the iPhone XR, the company also introduced a new Apple Watch accessory. Starting October 24, a USB-C magnetic charger will be available for purchase.
Home Theater

The seven best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2018.
Mobile

Number not recognized? Here's why you're receiving calls from 'Scam Likely'

While it may seem like a bold marketing move to tag your calls "Scam Likely," these alerts are actually your carrier's way of helping you identify scams. Here, we'll walk you through what exactly these markers mean and how you can turn them…
Mobile

LG V40 ThinQ vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Can the V40 unseat the king?

The LG V40 ThinQ is packing a massive display and an incredible five lenses, making it a unique offering in the market. But is it better than the Galaxy Note 9, another phone with a huge display and great cameras?
Mobile

Which Verizon plan is best for you? We check out family, individual, and prepaid

Verizon offers lots of plans for individuals, your family, and folks who want prepaid service. Here is everything you need to know about Verizon's plans, from data packages and smartphones to Big Red's prepaid plans.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.
Product Review

Amazon’s child-friendly tablet is the complete package

Kids are tough on electronics and it’s difficult to police screen time and manage what they’re doing. The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition could be the affordable answer to your prayers, with a rugged case and worry-free warranty.
Mobile

Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs. P20 Pro: Which 2018 Huawei flagship is best for you?

If you're tempted by Huawei's latest flagship, the Mate 20 Pro, but you're uncertain how it differs from the P20 Pro which Huawei released earlier this year, then we have you covered. Find out exactly what sets these two phones apart.
Product Review

Simple, smart, and affordable, Google’s USB-C earbuds are a must-buy

Google’s follow-up to its wireless Pixel Buds are the wired Google Pixel USB-C earbuds. It’s the simpler route, but the earbuds are still smart, deliver good sound, and -- best of all -- they’re affordable.
Mobile

Strapped after your latest smartphone purchase? Check out our favorite MVNOs

Looking to switch from a major carrier to something a little more affordable? Luckily, there are a ton of great MVNO options to choose from. Check out our guide to the best MVNOs, from Boost Mobile to Google Project Fi.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the iPhone XS, Apple’s finest camera phone yet

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max feature the best cameras yet seen on an Apple smartphone, ready for you to get out and take great photos. Here's our guide to help ensure each shot you take is a winner.
Mobile

If you're light on memory, these are the best lite apps for Android and iOS

Looking to save data, storage, and reduce performance issues? Lite apps and Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are the best options. Here's our roundup of lite apps and PWAs for all the most popular apps on the market.
Mobile

Master your new LG phone with these V40 ThinQ tips and tricks

With five cameras and awesome specs, the LG V40 ThinQ is one of the most innovative phones of 2018. While the V40 can get a great shot in any scenario, it's capable of so much more. Here are a few of our favorite tips and tricks.
Gaming

The Xbox app lets you access your console while away from home. Here's how

Microsoft's Xbox app can't do it all, but it does allow you to access your profile information and launch media content directly from your mobile device. Check out our quick guide on how to connect your smartphone to an Xbox One.