T-Mobile resurrects test drive, encourages consumers to ‘cheat’ on their carriers

People who sign up for T-Mobile Test Drive will get a Coolpad Surf Device hotspot to try for free. (T-Mobile)

It’s not the first time T-Mobile has offered a “test drive” program for people to try its network before buying, but T-Mobile CEO John Legere says it now has a new and improved program for consumers to see how great the T-Mobile network has become.

Back in 2014, T-Mobile launched an “un-carrier” move that let customers use the iPhone 5 for free for a week and then return it or sign up for T-Mobile service. At the time, Legere said the goal was to raise awareness that T-Mobile offered the iPhone. But, today he admitted that was a “clunky” move to make people carry two phones around, and they’ve come up with a better idea.

“We learned from that, and we’ve made test drive even better,” he said in a video blog. “Today, I’m here to amp that uncarrier move. I’m launching a new and improved test drive and giving everyone a chance to try our bigger, better network absolutely free. No obligations, no deposits, no hassles.”

This time, consumers can use their existing phone and phone number to try the T-Mobile network by using a hotspot to connect a phone from any carrier—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and the Comcast and Charter phones that use Verizon’s network—and hook up to T-Mobile’s network for data coverage. People can try it for 30 days or up to 30 gigabytes, whichever comes first, and then return the hotspot or give it to someone else.

“We think everyone really should play the field and because we want you to see how awesome our network has become because we have been hard at work building a network that is second to none,” Legere said.

He ticked off a few numbers to illustrate that point: In the past three years, the company added 25,000 new towers and cell sites and 1 million more miles of LTE coverage. It invested nearly $30 billion in the network and new spectrum. Data traffic has more than tripled in the last three years, and LTE download speeds have gotten 60% faster. It also added more than 3,000 full-time engineers to its team, and that’s all before it “supercharges” everything with Sprint if the merger is approved.

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As usual, Legere took the opportunity to goad the other carriers. “It’s time for the wireless industry to get out of the dark ages and stop forcing customers to buy blind,” he said. “It’s time to end this broken, arrogant practice. So, I’m calling on the carriers to copy us, again. Don’t worry. As usual, we’ll go first and show you how it’s done.”

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T-Mobile’s new drive test program launch comes as Wireless Estimator reported that contractors started getting calls from T-Mobile’s market managers informing them that most purchase orders they had for new builds and 5G upgrades were going to be put on hold until 2020 unless materials for the project were sitting in a warehouse. The publication said the news came as a shock to many wireless contracting companies that had been counting on fourth-quarter builds to maintain their increased staffing required for T-Mobile’s ambitious buildout.

In a statement provided to Fierce Wireless, a T-Mobile spokesperson implied the move wasn’t related to recent delays in its merger proceedings. “We are managing capital expenditures as we do every year, and we continue to invest billions to build out our network aggressively, expanding LTE coverage and performance while simultaneously laying the foundation for broad, nationwide 5G in 2020. That hasn’t and won’t change,” the spokesperson said.

New ad campaign

T-Mobile is also launching a new ad campaign to get out the word about its network.

Powered by its 600 MHz spectrum, the operator is emphasizing that its signals now go twice as far from the tower and work “four times better in buildings than mid-band signals.”

That means, according to T-Mobile, that it can provide better coverage in rural areas, hard-to-reach places and deep inside buildings.

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T-Mobile executives made no secret of the fact they wanted to narrow the LTE coverage gap with Verizon, and today T-Mobile noted that it now covers 326 million people with LTE, or 99% of Americans. At the beginning of last year, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray declared the LTE coverage gap was a “thing of history” and any small difference remaining would soon be covered with its 600 MHz spectrum.