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July 10, 2013 at 12:15 PM

T-Mobile announces upgrade scheme, $100 family plan and LTE rollout

T-Mobile US announced today that its 4G LTE service now reaches 116 metro areas, including Seattle.

The company also announced a new plan enabling customers to upgrade their phones twice a year. Called “JUMP,” the plan costs $10 per month, in addition to monthly service costs.

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“You can upgrade when you want, not when you’re told to,” Chief Executive John Legere said in a press event in New York, which began with one of his trademark, stand-up routines lambasting competitors.

After an initial six months in the program, customers can trade in their phones, though it’s not a giveaway. The balance owed on a customer’s current phone is cleared, and an installment-payment plan on the new device commences.

JUMP is a variation on T-Mobile’s device insurance program. If a phone is damaged or lost, JUMP customers pay a deductible, then can buy a new phone at the same price offered to new customers.

JUMP may get the most attention from gadget enthusiasts, but the company’s biggest revelation today may be a new “unlimited” family plan that dramatically undercuts the pricing of competing carriers.

Starting on Sunday, T-Mobile will offer a four-line family plan with unlimited talk, texting and Web access for $100 per month, with no annual contract or credit check required. Web access includes 500 megabytes per line per month at top speed, before speeds are throttled back.

By offering that price without a credit check, T-Mobile’s reaching out to customers with less than prime credit. They make up one of the fastest growing segments of the wireless business and a market that big carriers and smaller operators are chasing with creative new plans.

“I have markets in the Southeast like that where roughly a third of the customers don’t qualify, so this enabled us to essentially offer the family plan with no credit check,” said Gabriel Torres, the Atlanta-based general manager of T-Mobile’s Southeast region.

T-Mobile’s stock rose 33 cents or 1.37 percent today, closing at $24.42.

The Bellevue-based company had previously said it planned to have LTE service available to 100 million potential customers by mid-year.

Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said the company exceeded that goal and now reaches 157 million people and will reach 200 million later this year.

In the Seattle area, LTE coverage areas include a “large portion” of the area, the company said in a press statement. Those include Bellevue, Kent, Redmond, Sammamish, Issaquah, Snoqualmie, downtown Seattle, South Seattle and an area T-Mobile calls “UW/ Ballard.” Landmarks with T-Mobile LTE coverage include Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square, Bellevue Arts Museum, ShoWare Center, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Kent Memorial Park, Seattle Center, Pike Place Market, Seattle University, the Seattle stadiums and headquarters of Microsoft, REI and Starbucks.

Some customers may have noticed LTE service registering on their phones in recent months. The company has been rolling it out for the past six months or so but waited to announce the expansion until it had “a good, solid, dense coverage area to support the usage,” said Bentley Alexander, a Dallas-based vice president of network engineering.

Alexander said the LTE coverage is being provided in addition to the company’s 3G and 4G-HSPA+ service, which will continue.

Legere said the company’s “uncarrier” strategy is working and pulling customers from AT&T. Store traffic has doubled and credit applications from prime customers has tripled, he said.

“We’re changing this business. We are going to redefine a stupid, broken, arrogant industry,” Legere said at the press event, which was webcast by the company.

T-Mobile also announced that it will offer two new phones starting July 17 – Sony’s Android-based Xperia Z and Nokia’s Lumia 925, the first Windows-based LTE phone it will carry. T-Mobile will also begin selling the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 tablet.

Although the company began selling the iPhone in April, that hasn’t been the major driver of new business at T-Mobile, Legere said. Apple’s device accounted for 29 percent of T-Mobile’s sales in the last quarter and never reached 50 percent of its customer base, he said.

What customers really like is T-Mobile’s “no contract” approach, which offers month-to-month plans for those who bring their own devices to T-Mobile, he said.

Legere promised more aggressive moves will come this fall in the third phase of the company’s “uncarrier” strategy.

JUMP stands for “just upgrade my phone” but Legere has his own read on the acronym:

“I prefer, ‘John, upgrade my phone.’ ”

0 Comments | Topics: 4G LTE, AT&T, John Legere

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