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January 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

CES 2014: T-Mobile says it’s fastest, paying off fees for switchers, merger possible

LAS VEGAS — A year after making a huge first impression at the Consumer Electronics Show, T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere is back to announce the Bellevue company’s latest move to lure customers from larger carriers.

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Legere has since shaken up the industry and invigorated the company with his “Uncarrier” moves toward contract-free, unlimited wireless plans.

In the fourth installment of the strategy, Legere announced that it now has the fastest 4G LTE network, based on data gathered by Speedtest.net.

“We finally agree with AT&T on something — faster is better,” he said.

Legere said the data — drawn from the Ookla speed check app — is a better measure than the Root Metrics data that A&T uses to tout its network as being fastest.

During December, average download speeds captured by the tests were 17.8 megabits per second, compared with 14.7 Mbps on AT&T and 14.3 on Verizon Wireless, according to Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s chief technology officer.

The company also has started rolling out its faster Wideband LTE service to double its speeds. It’s starting in AT&T’s home market,  Dallas.

The company also announced that it will pay the early termination fees for AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers wanting to switch to T-Mobile, an offer it calls the “Get Out of Jail Free Card.” The offer will pay up to $350 per line of early termination fees and provide phone trade-in credits of up to $300.

Customers who switch can use a cheeky website that drafts a snarky “breakup letter.”

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Legere said a recent survey found that 78 percent of customers would switch if they didn’t have to pay termination fees.

Customers win going both directions, Legere said, because the big carriers will probably offer incentives to return, if they don’t like T-Mobile.

“These pricks will pay you to come back if it doesn’t work,” he said.

I asked Legere about growing speculation that T-Mobile will be acquired, perhaps by Sprint. Legere didn’t confirm any particular deal but acknowledged that is a possibility. But he said the brand and organization — and T-Mobile’s role as a maverick — will continue through consolidation because the business is more than just spectrum to be acquired by a larger player.

“What I can tell you is that T-Mobile’s Uncarrier business — the people, the brand, the attitude — is here to stay,” he said.

Legere said the company’s recent spectrum purchases show the company can continue as an independent player. “We not only have an engine, we’ve got legs,” he said.

But on the other hand “there are opportunities for consolidation” in the industry “that would provide significant scale and capabilities,” he said.

“I think what we’re doing, in any scenario, will prevail,” he said.

As a warm-up act, Legere crashed a Macklemore concert AT&T was hosting at CES on Monday night.

Legere opened his press conference today by recounting the incident, saying that he was given tickets by Macklemore’s manager. He noted that the top two stories from the event so far were director Michael Bay fumbling a Samsung speech and his AT&T incident.

On stage with a can of Red Bull in hand, Legere delivered snarky critiques of his competitors:

Verizon: “I want to give them huge credit for standing up and saying our network is bloated and our speeds are too slow and we’re going to do something about it.” But people should be able to leave the network. “They lost sight of their customers because of their success and they took customers for granted.”

Family plans: “A family plan is nothing more than a contract on super-steroids with staggered dates, a complete life sentence.” Data caps have forced people in the family to think each other is the problem.

Sprint: “Sprint is a pile of spectrum waiting to be turned into a capability. Right now their network is completely horrible … They keep talking about pardon our dust while we redecorate.”

AT&T: “They take my [B.S.]… These are fat cats that can’t move. Why don’t they have the balls to answer the question” when asked about T-Mobile taking its customers.

Then Legere talked about how well T-Mobile has done in the fourth-quarter.

In the fourth quarter of 2012, T-Mobile lost 515,000 post-paid customers, he said. For the year we lost 2.1 million customers — “big hole, right?”

During this past fourth quarter, the company had 1.6 million net customer additions, up 60 percent, he said.

“Q4 was a complete knockout,” he said.

Through 2013, the company had 4.4 million new customers, making it the fastest-growing wireless company, he said.

Legere said other carriers will go crazy as T-Mobile continues growing.

“I’m going to love watching the peckers scream and cry and do everything they’re going to do because we’re going to win,” he said.

Talking about lower costs for customers on its network, Legere said that if every customer on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T shifted to T-Mobile “the savings would be $20 billion.”

Now Legere is talking up the underlying network as well as plans to access it.

“All the disruption in the world doesn’t mean [expletive] without a network to back it up,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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