The T-Mobile/Sprint merger might be beneficial

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his support of a proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. It’s not often that Chairman Pai and I agree on anything, so I feel I should point out when it happens. T-Mobile and Sprint are the third and distant fourth place players in the U.S. cellular market. Combined they’d be second behind Verizon.

Normally, fewer players in a market means less competition. I think this may be the rare case where fewer players makes for more competition. Right now, T-Mobile competes on price, customer service (T-Mobile Tuesdays, anyone?), and speed (where you get coverage). Speaking from my experience as a T-Mobile customer, the service is top-notch, where it exists. And that’s where a merger might help. By combining resources, the larger T-Mobile can improve geographic coverage and perhaps give Verizon a run for the money when spectrum goes up for auction.

For all of T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s bravado, T-Mobile is basically yapping at the heels of Verizon and AT&T. Sprint, meanwhile, is destined to die at some point. Allowing it to merge with T-Mobile means that Verizon and AT&T don’t get to gobble up the carcass in bankruptcy auction. The Department of Justice disagrees, so it remains to be seen if the merger can complete. But I think it would give us three big players, instead of two big players and two smaller players. That sounds more competitive to me.

Full disclosure: I am a T-Mobile customer and shareholder.

Cell phone plans are changing

If you’re a cell phone plan geek (and certainly someone out there is, right?), last week was pretty interesting for you. First AT&T announced they’d be eliminating one plan and halving the data limit on a more expensive plan. Then T-Mobile followed up with their announcement of going to a single post-paid offering. This unlimited plan has some limits, which the EFF is looking into for a possible net neutrality complaint.

Moore’s law is an observation of the count of transistors on an integrated circuit over time, but it has been more broadly generalized to apply to many aspects of technology. Of particular note is the general trend of a technology to become significantly cheaper over time. This does not seem to be the case in the world of mobile phone service, which should be an immediate red flag for anti-consumer behavior.

I compared my current T-Mobile bill to my hypothetical bill under the new “T-Mobile One.” We pay $50/month for the unlimited talk/text plan, plus $20/month for my line (which includes unlimited data) and $15/month for my wife’s line (6 GB of data per month). The total bill before taxes and fees comes to $85/month. With T-Mobile One, we’d pay $120/month ($130 if we don’t autopay). This $35/month increase adds service that I’d pay just $5 more to get and also takes away the ability to use my phone as a WiFi hotspot (without being throttled to 2G speeds or paying an additional $3/GB).

I’ll admit that I don’t use my phone as a hotspot, in part because the coverage is questionable (or non-existent) in a lot of places that I might want to use it. But I’m already overpaying for data: my wife uses a few hundred megabytes a month and I average around 1 gigabyte or so. Only in July of this year when I was out of town for three of four weeks did I use more than 6 GB, and even then it was only 8 GB.

Perhaps if T-Mobile were going to put that extra money into expanding coverage, I’d be more inclined to go along with their plan. Instead, if I were to switch I’d get the same level of technology for a higher price. That’s not how this is supposed to work. It’s not clear at this point if existing customers will be able to keep their current plan. I assume in the short term that will be the case. If I’m forced to change at some point, I’ll have to go with a different carrier. If I’m going to get raked over the coals on price, I might as well get coverage.

The first few weeks with the N900, part 2

This is part 2 of my review of the N900.  Part 1 includes “Unboxing”, “The screen”, “Connectivity”, “Web browsing”, and “The camera and other multimedia goodness.”  Part 2 includes “E-mail, calendar, contacts, and instant messaging”, “Other applications”, and “The phone.” Continue reading

The first few weeks with the N900, part 1

Three months to the day after I first wrote about the N900, Nokia’s newest smartphone ended up on my desk.  Since I’ve talked so much about it on Twitter (and since I had to lobby my wife aggressively to let me buy it), I think I owe the world my review.  I get the feeling that this review will end up focusing on a lot of the negatives, but don’t misunderstand me: I really like this phone.  The N900 is great phone with a lot of potential, but it is currently an early-adopter’s phone.  I’m generally not one to play the early adopter game, but this time around I couldn’t help myself. Continue reading

I may have found my next phone

I fully expect to be in the smartphone market in the not-so-distant future.  My BlackBerry 8700c has served most admirably these past few years, including untold drops onto various surfaces and a 9-hour nap in a snow bank.  Despite it’s faithfulness, it is not the phone it once was.  Aside from some cosmetic problems, it has a tendency to freeze up every so often, which requires me to remove the battery to shut it off.  Not to mention the lack of 3G capability.  That really hurts.

I’ve been eyeing the iPhone since it first came out, and the more I learned about the phone itself, the more I like it (especially the 3G S).  Unfortunately, the more I learn about the way Apple and AT&T rule the network, the more repulsed I am.  That, among other considerations, is a big reason why I still have yet to let the BlackBerry go.  Still, when I look at the features that I want out of a smartphone, the iPhone fares the best.  Until now.

There has been quite the buzz (or at least mild hum) on the Internets since did a preview of the Nokia N900.  Holy crap, this looks like my kind of phone.  From a hardware standpoint, it seems more like the G1, which is a solid-feeling phone.  What really sets it apart is the software side.  The phone runs Maemo, a Debian-derived Linux distro designed for mobiles and tablets.  My knowledge of Maemo is still pretty sketchy, but from the Slashdot discussion I’ve gathered that it is a full-featured Linux distro, capable of running just about anything you want.   Has freedom finally come to the cell phone market?

At the moment, it appears that most of the discussion on the Internet begins with the Mobile-review article, any other details are hard to find.  One site did suggest that it might be available in the US in September, and since Nokia World is scheduled for Sept 2-3, that’s not unreasonable.  The list price is supposed to be $780 (which compares well to the iPhone 3G S list price) and I expect the carrier (likely T-Mobile) will offer some nice subsidizing.

So for now I will wait and see what develops.  It looks like a great phone, the real deciding factors for me will be the release date, the price and the carrier.  For all the bad things that I’ve noted about AT&T, they’ve been my wireless carrier since back in the Cingular days and I’ve never had any problems.  Plus, they offer a discount because of my employer, which is always a nice incentive.  Will I end up switching carriers so that I can get the N900?  Will the price be such that I can just buy it and bring it onto my existing AT&T account?  Will I chicken out and just try to do everything on my Samsung Sync?  I guess we’ll find out soon.