T-Mobile, Layer3, and the uncarriering of TV

Last week, T-Mobile announced it will acquire Layer3. In his usual John Legere manner, T-Mobile CEO John Legere promised to end the “complete bullshit” of traditional TV by ushering in the uncarriering of TV. But Layer3 is a cable TV provider, except over the Internet. It’s not entirely clear how T-Mobile plans to improve things.

Unlike services like Sling, which offer smaller packages, Layer3’s offering is sized like traditional cable bundles. Reporting from Ars Technica suggests the pricing is sized like traditional cable bundles, too. Layer3 does not have an app, which means customers have to use individual channels’ apps to watch when on the go.

The Layer3 website is a little short on information, so it’s hard to tell what the value proposition is. It could be that it’s cheaper for large bundles or that it has a broader offering. It seems to be a good fit for T-Mobile in this sense: it’s geographically limited and possibly cheaper. And I say this as a T-Mobile customer (and minor shareholder). What could T-Mobile do to improve it?

My idea for the uncarriering of TV

This is hardly a novel concept, but I’d like to see a true à la carte offering. Let me choose the exact channels I want to subscribe to and pay whatever that amounts to. I have Sling TV now, and it mostly gives me all of the channels I want, but it still includes some I don’t. I would have to get the most expensive option in order to get all the channels. At that point, I’d do just as well getting TV from my fiber provider. I have no problem paying for the content I want, I just want to be able to get it from a single source.

What will probably happen

A more likely outcome is that T-Mobile fixes the price. Instead of the “introductory offer” dance that TV providers often do, they say “this is the price.” It almost certainly would be zero-rated for T-Mobile customers. Watch as much TV as you want on your T-Mobile phone, it won’t count.

I would be surprised to see unbundling of channels into an à la carte offering. With its “ONE” plan, T-Mobile has shown a clear preference for simple billing. Even if customers might prefer more flexibility, a simple plan with few options is easier to manage for both customer and provider. I don’t think John Legere particularly wants to get into the TV business, so there’s little benefit to T-Mobile for going the more complicated route.​

We’ll have to see what happens when the new service rolls out.

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