I wrote T-Mobile off a long time ago. In my mind, it was a last-place carrier going nowhere fast. Last night, I changed my mind. I hobbled to T-Mobile’s CES press conference with a groan and a grumble, but I left with a smile and sense of loyalty. In less than an hour, T-Mobile’s new CEO John Legere made me laugh repeatedly, stunned me with his honesty, and convinced me that T-Mobile might just have what it takes to become the kind of wireless carrier we need in the United States … really badly.
Last night, Legere trashed AT&T’s network repeatedly, said Sprint botched its LTE rollout, blatantly admitted that Verizon’s network is amazing, and said that shared data plans won’t work because porn takes too much data to stream. He was so blunt and so honest that he completely took the crowd of 70 or so journalists by surprise. And his jokes had the crowd of mobile nerds (and me) laughing so much a stand up comic would get jealous. Several times, he even repeated how little he cared about us. Baseball legend Joe Torre, who was in attendance, was the real reason he was there.
“I just wanted to meet Joe Torre. I could give a damn about all of you, but they said I had to say something if I wanted to come up,” he said to a laugh as his Q&A session began, informing the crowd that he would be around about two hours to take questions because, well … there’s free alcohol.
“Anybody want to taunt me into saying something inappropriate so you can put it in the media tomorrow?” he challenged with a smile.
And that’s all it took. What followed was something I haven’t seen anywhere else at CES. A real person answering real questions, unafraid of anything or anyone. Legere told us exactly where T-Mobile is and where he wants to see it go in detail, all while prodding his competitors with jokes and jabs - especially AT&T.
“We didn’t even get started on our network, and right now, proven, our network is faster than AT&T and Verizon in New York City,” said Legere. “Anybody here from New York? Any of you use AT&T? Any of you who use them, are you happy? Of course not. Their network’s crap. We’re faster than they are in Chicago, and Minneapolis. We’re faster than them in, you know, I could go down seven or eight cities.”
The jokes didn’t stop as Legere described a bunch of ads he wished T-Mobile would run.
"This is not an ad .... but [imagine a] picture of a 7-year-old boy holding a little toy and he’s pouting and the caption says ‘Do AT&T executives make their children wait two years to open their presents?’ So, you know this is not where we’re headed, but we’re going to go into, well … how about ‘If there’s that many strings attached, how can it be called wireless?’"
In between the zingers, he also laid out an amazing vision for T-Mobile. Admitting that his carrier lost its mojo since its failed merger with AT&T, he explained what he meant by T-Mobile’s new branding as an “uncarrier.”
“It’s going to be about solving customers’ pain points. Customers who can’t stand opaque billing, lack of transparency, surprises, being locked in, lack of flexibility, lack of ability to control their own destiny, and being treated like second-class citizens because of the length of their terms of service.”
To do that, T-Mobile is turning its back on a number of the money-grubbing practices that have, sadly, become standard in the wireless industry. They will no longer require two-year contracts, people can bring devices from any carrier, and he’s going to end hidden charges. Instead of secretly building the cost of phones into a two-year contract, T-Mobile will sell phones for their full (expensive) prices. He unveiled a $70-a-month unlimited talk, text, and data plan with no throttling - a price and option we haven’t seen for years – promised the iPhone, and said that this is just the beginning. You know what? I believe him.
U.S. carriers like Verizon and AT&T are ripping us off and finally someone has smartened up to the business opportunity. By becoming everything that Verizon and AT&T aren’t (honest), but matching their network speeds and reliability with a rapid LTE rollout in 2013, T-Mobile could become the carrier I’ve dreamed of.
I’m a Verizon user. I have been for two years. Before that, I had AT&T. But after attending T-Mobile’s press conference last night, I may soon take my number purple. Last night, John Legere joked that T-Mobile improved how the public perceived its network quality by 10 percent “because we ran 25,000 ads saying that our network was really great.” He might be full of crap, but after an hour of listening to the new CEO, I can’t talk enough about T-Mobile.