T-Mobile Raises the Bar by Lowering Data Plan Price to Zero

With the launch of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) new iPad Air this week, T-Mobile (NYSE: TMUS  )  put out an announcement of its own -- tablet owners will now have 200 MB of free data per month for life
 


T-Mobile website. Source: T-Mobile.

A very un-carrier move
T-Mobile's new free tablet data plan is available to customers who have a Mobile Internet account, so that leaves out its prepaid customers. But the plan is good for new tablets purchased through T-Mobile, as well as customers who have their own 3G and 4G LTE tablets that work on T-Mobile's network. The company said on its website that "[m]ost popular tablets that are compatible with T-Mobile's network are eligible."

Just like with its smartphone plans, T-Mobile has free tablet financing plans for two years, and doesn't require a two-year service contract.

T-Mobile's angle is the hope that 200 MB won't be enough for tablet users, and they'll eventually upgrade to a paid plan. But for some users, the free data may be enough. An estimated 80% of tablet usage happens at home, where people connect to their own Wi-Fi. And T-Mobile isn't even charging for accidental overages on the 200 MB: once a user hits the 200 MB limit, the data just stops.

The company's free data plan undercuts rival AT&T, which has the second-lowest priced tablet data at $15 per month for 250 MB. Sprint and Verizon both start their data plans at 1 GB, and AT&T has said it won't match T-Mobile's free plan.

While other tablets are included in T-Mobile's free data plan, the company is making a big push with the iPad Air. That's not surprising considering the success T-Mobile has had with Apple's devices. iPhones made up 17.1% of the carriers' sales in the quarter ending in August, making it the top-selling smartphone for T-Mobile during that time.

Apple has packed 14 LTE bands into the iPad Air and new iPad Mini, allowing both devices to work across all major carriers. This is a huge benefit to T-Mobile, considering it's the first time the iPad has been sold with the carrier's LTE band. In the past, T-Mobile iPad users had to rely on the Advanced Wireless Service band for connectivity.

Compared to the other major network in the U.S., T-Mobile's LTE network is small. But the company is in the process of converting its 1900 MHz 2G spectrum to 4G HSPA+ and working on its LTE 1700 and 2100 MHz AWS spectrum. T-Mobile just met its goal of reaching 200 million people on its LTE network, and should hit about 205 million people by the end of the year.

With T-Mobile's LTE rollout and the free 200 MB data plan, the company is an a great position to woo tablet users to its service. But the company is still the underdog in the U.S. carrier space, and it comes up short in customer service satisfaction among all the carriers. T-Mobile is hoping a little free data will go a long way in boosting that ranking, and eventually lead to more paying customers.

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