T-Mobile finally ready to take on rivals with data access plan

T-Mobile USA is finally ready to play with the big operators and reap the benefits of selling data access plans. The operator launched its first 3G USB modem, a Huawei-manufactured device that has up to 8 GB of installable memory and supports, not only HSDPA, but also WiFi and EDGE/GPRS where 3G is not available.

It needs to offer that capability since its 3G coverage isn't as good as competitors AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless. Will customers bite? EDGE/GPRS data speeds put the company at a significant disadvantage compared with its rivals, but it also allows customers to tap into WiFi. A company spokeswoman said Unlimited HotSpot access is included as a part of the plan and does not count against the customers' monthly data usage. The plan then may very well offer a good trade off for poorer coverage.

T-Mobile couldn't afford to wait to build out its coverage. It needs to take advantage of the substantial growth operators are seeing in mobile broadband access plans. Compared with its competitors, T-Mobile's data growth is miniscule. the operator's fourth-quarter 2008 data service revenues were $905 million and were mostly driven by messaging. AT&T Mobility's fourth-quarter data revenue was $3.1 billion.

So it only makes sense that T-Mobile is working to rapidly expand its 3G network to cover 200 million pops by the end of the year, adding an additional 100 cities to its coverage. Until then, T-Mobile is wise to leverage its vast deployments of WiFi and bundle them into data access packages.--Lynnette

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