Dear T-Mobile CEO John Légere: End the Data Guessing Stupidity


There is no question that little T-Mobile and its profanity-prone CEO John Légere has brought radical change to the way we buy cellular phones and service. Each of T-Mobile's seven Un-carrier announcements, most of which I have attended and covered, has pushed its larger competitors to comically contort themselves to compete.

For instance, in April 2013, Verizon, followed two months later by AT&T, announced they were eliminating any possibility for you to upgrade to a new phone until your entire two-year contract was up.

A month after AT&T's new extended two-year upgrade announcement, at its Un-carrier 2.0 event on July 10, 2013, T-Mobile announced its JUMP! upgrade-whenever-you-want program.

Six days later -- SIX DAYS -- AT&T executed an adroit one-eighty and announced its Next upgrade-in-a-year program. And an astounding two days later, Verizon performed its own pretzel pirouette by announcing its Verizon Edge early upgrade plan.

Verizon's and AT&T's whiplash-inducing upgrade eligibility reversals made me laugh out loud.

Légere's passion pushed me to switch from AT&T to T-Mobile. While I have found T-Mobile's LTE coverage a bit lacking in comparison with AT&T's (ironically, a lot of T-Mobile's rural LTE blank spots are actually filled by AT&T), and I found it's "We'll Pay Your ETF" claim misleading at a minimum, I am saving a little money in my monthly payments and a ton in overseas data roaming, which costs NOTHING from T-Mobile. And now with its international Wi-Fi Calling, I can even avoid the bargain 20 cents/minute T-Mobile charges for calls from outside the U.S. That's about $600-$1,000 I'm saving every year, along with no longer worrying about data roaming when I'm roaming the old world.

And my thanks to Joel Rushing and Rachel Cooper in T-Mobile's PR department for helping me get my iPhone 6 Plus on Day One so I could review it for Techlicious.

The data usage guessing game

But with all of T-Mobile's Un-carrier carryings-on, Légere has ignored the biggest and most blindly accepted cellular business-as-usual practice: making consumers guess how much data they'll use each month and making them pay in advance - actually overpay, since no one uses all the data they paid for - for this unguessable uneducated guess.

As onerous as cable TV companies are, they don't make you estimate how many hours of TV you'll watch each month and then make you pay for those hours whether you've watched them all or not (and I hope I'm not giving them any ideas). Rental car companies don't make you guess how many miles you're going to drive and make you pay ahead of time for the miles you don't end up driving. Your local power monopoly doesn't make you guess how much gas or electricity you're going to use and make you pay for the heating, cooling and cooking you don't do.

No, normal businesses charge you for what you actual use. Not that anyone has ever accused the major cell carriers of being normal businesses.

But even if making us guess our usage in advance makes any kind of sense (and it doesn't), no normal person has any idea of how even to calculate that number. Oh, sure, the carriers provide "data calculators." Thanks, but these calculators are only necessary because of this ridiculous and unnecessary and greedy data guessing game business model.

T-Mobile unnecessarily multiplies the complexity of this data guessing game. Its three competitors all offer family plans that let you pay one monthly fee for a single bucket of shared minutes, so you only have to make one data guess for the whole family.

But T-Mobile's not-so Simple Choice family plans make you pick a bucket of data for each individual family member in the plan, expanding the idiocy of this data usage guessing game.

My suggestion for Un-carrier 8.0

Maddeningly, T-Mobile already employs the solution to this data guessing game problem - it's called Pay As You Go and it's how the company operates what it claims to be the country's largest pre-paid business.

So switching the business model for its post-paid customers wouldn't be reinventing the wheel. T-Mobile would simply be mounting its existing pre-paid wheels on its post-paid model.

To make sure we don't go too hog wild, let us set a cap on our own usage. But considering that T-Mobile doesn't charge its customers for data-sucking music streaming, it's doubtful using too much data would be a problem we'd have to worry about.

But just as a fail-safe, each time we get near a specified gigabyte usage level, you send us a text message detailing the data we've used and how much in charges we've piled up. Perhaps you can create a data-tracking widget for Android and iOS 8 to let us track our data usage and spending.

T-Mobile, you know how to do pay-as-you-go. All you have to do is let us post-paid customers get the same savings your pre-paid subscribers get. And you know it's the right thing to do.

So, Mr. Légere, for Un-carrier 8.0, announce you're extending pay-as-you-go to all your customers so we pay just for the data we use. And then sit back and watch the other carriers comically contort themselves to follow suit.