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T-Mobile is giving away unlimited 5G data to all customers

April 7, 2021, 3:15 PM UTC

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T-Mobile has surged ahead of rivals Verizon and AT&T in deploying a fast 5G wireless network. On Wednesday, the carrier sought to press its advantage, saying it would allow unlimited downloading on its 5G network for customers on any plan for the rest of the year, even its $15 per month, entry-level plan.

T-Mobile also offered a free 5G-compatible phone from Samsung to any current or switching customer with any traded-in phone or a free or discounted iPhone 12 for a traded-in iPhone. And T-Mobile said it was kicking off a $60 per month wireless home Internet service over 5G in areas covering about 30 million people, including about one-third who live in rural areas.

“We’re quite literally the only company that can kick-start this new era of connectivity, that has the network to upgrade America’s phones, homes, and small towns to 5G,” CEO Mike Sievert crowed in a statement.

The moves come as T-Mobile has quickly repurposed the airwaves it acquired in its $26.5 billion merger with Sprint, completed a year ago, for fast 5G service. All three carriers have deployed a slow version of 5G, hardly faster than 4G, nationwide. But Verizon and AT&T don’t have enough free airwaves for faster 5G, which balances broad coverage with speedy download capacity, like the former Sprint spectrum used by T-Mobile.

Still, analysts say T-Mobile’s head start won’t last forever. Verizon spent more than $45 billion and AT&T spent $23 billion at a recent government auction of airwave licenses similarly well suited for 5G, though the spectrum won’t be available for about a year or more. Also, Dish Network is spending $10 billion to build its own 5G network from scratch, which could leapfrog the network capabilities of T-Mobile and its rivals.

It’s unclear how much consumers care about 5G just yet. Although T-Mobile’s 5G network allows downloads at speeds of up to one gigabit per second, fast enough to download an entire movie file in under a minute, most consumers stream their music and video on phones, which doesn’t benefit much from such high speeds. And while the wireless industry has touted the potential for 5G to enhance multiplayer gaming, allow for mobile virtual reality, and open up other sci-fi–like possibilities, no new apps have emerged to take advantage of 5G speeds so far.

T-Mobile’s new unlimited 5G data offer for the rest of 2021 comes as the carrier already provides the cheapest access to fast 5G speeds. AT&T and Verizon limit access to their fastest 5G networks to those customers on more expensive unlimited data plans, while T-Mobile allows any customer with a compatible phone to access its fastest 5G.

The Samsung phone trade-in offer will give customers a Samsung A32, which usually costs around $300 and runs Google’s Android software, in return for whatever phone they have now. The phone will be free, but T-Mobile requires that the customer sign up for a 24-month payment plan. The carrier then issues a credit for each payment. If customers depart T-Mobile before the plan is finished, they would owe any outstanding payments.

The iPhone 12 trade in would be on similar terms, with a 24-month payment plan and T-Mobile issuing billing credits. Customers who trade in an iPhone 11 get the iPhone 12 for free or half off if they trade in most older iPhone models in working condition.

The new 5G home Internet service will offer speeds averaging 100 megabits per second, fast enough to download a movie in about 10 minutes, but not as fast as the best wired cable Internet offerings that reach speeds of one gigabit or more. T-Mobile won’t provide its own cable TV package with the service, instead offering customers a discount on Google’s YouTube TV plan.

Analysts are skeptical that T-Mobile will reach its goal of signing up 7 million to 8 million home Internet customers by 2025. “We are not sure what the demand will be for the product,” New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote on Wednesday in a note released before T-Mobile’s latest announcement. “It will be slower and less reliable than cable…They will have to lower the price to engage any demand at all.”

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