My Reaction To AT&T's Plans To Acquire T-Mobile

On Sunday Deutsche Telekom decided to give up on it’s effort to break into the U.S. wireless market by agreeing to sell T-Mobile USA to AT&T. If the deal, which AT&T says it expects to complete in a year, is approved by U.S. and European regulators, it would create the largest mobile operator in the United States. As a long time T-Mobile customer I am saddened by the news.

My path to becoming a T-Mobile customer began in 1998 when I decided to leave AirTouch, which would eventually become part of Verizon Wireless, and switch to OmniPoint. OmniPoint was one of the first wireless providers in the U.S. that used GSM, which had become the wireless standard in most places outside the U.S. At the time I considered it important to sign up with a company that used GSM because the earliest smartphones all ran on that network technology.

Only one year after I signed up with OmniPoint it was acquired by a new wireless company called Voicestream Wireless, which lasted for two years as a company until it was acquired by Deutsche Telekom, along with Powertel, to form T-Mobile USA. In short, I have been a T-Mobile customer from it’s very beginning, to what now appears to be its end.

Over the years OmniPoint/Voicestream/T-Mobile has not been the best provider in terms of network coverage, but I stuck with them for more than a decade for several reasons. First, throughout the time they have been the lowest cost provider. Second, they always had great customer service, and I have always felt them to be much more customer friendly than their competitors. For example, they would provide unlock codes to enable phones you bought from them to work on other networks without any hassles or cost.

Perhaps the main reason why I stuck with T-Mobile is that in my opinion they have been a technology leader. T-Mobile was the first to implement WiFi hotspots in significant quantity throughout the United States. T-Mobile has always had a committment to WiFi, and sold phones that used Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) that could seamlessly transfer calls between cellular and WiFi networks. Today they are the only operator to provide software on their phones that support WiFi calling.

T-Mobile was one of the first providers to sell the Microsoft Pocket PC Phone Editions and Smartphones, and I believe they might have been the first company to sell HTC phones, branded as T-Mobile phones, in the U.S. The T-Mobile Sidekick, which is a brand that T-Mobile still owns, was the first smartphone that used cloud services and software created by a company called Danger, who’s founder would later go on to start a company called Android Inc. that would be acquired by Google.

From a technology perspective, one could make the argument that T-Mobile has been the most innovative wireless provider in the United States. While AT&T will likely make statements to the effect that they intend to retain these unique aspects of T-Mobile, what is more likely the case is that T-Mobile employees will be assimilated into the company in such a way that what was T-Mobile will no longer be recognizable.

As a customer I expect my prices to go up because of this acquisition, and I expect the quality of service I get from my mobile provider to go down. I expect to see a lower selection of phones, I’ll no longer have the ability to tether my mobile phones with other devices without paying extra fees, and I might as well forget ever getting unlock codes for the phones that I buy. The only thing that will keep me running away from AT&T as fast as I can is the reality that there is really no better company to go to, and that in itself is a really sad statement.