I’m a T-Mobile subscriber, a decision I made when moving to the U.S. a little over a couple of years ago. While choosing a mobile carrier generally involves cost, coverage, speed, and technology tradeoffs, one thing I liked about T-Mobile was their fundamental business model; even in 2011, they’d started to move away from the standard but consumer-unfriendly model of inflating monthly plans by about $20/month – to cover the cost of offering a “free” mid-range phone or $200 high-end phone when you sign a new 2-year contract. I don’t know why that’s taken root in North America as the de-facto model, but I suspect it’s the factors that cause North America to have the highest levels of credit card usage and debt. It was thus refreshing to see a carrier make the actual cost of the phone clear, and to offer pricing plans that don’t effectively penalize you for sticking with an older device.
When I traveled to Asia earlier in the year, I took a few notes on the relative difficulty / ease of getting local mobile coverage in the various places I traveled to. I mentioned that T-Mobile was pretty good about providing an unlock code that allowed us to use a local SIM; it was an easy interaction with their customer service department to get this done.
However, they stepped things up in an unbelievable way with a recent change to their Simple Choice plans – unlimited, worldwide data at no extra charge. Considering that Rogers was happy to charge upwards of $300 for data roaming in France for a week (on a Blackberry, where I was careful to use minimal E-mail only data, and where I couldn’t swap SIMs because doing so broke integration with corporate E-mail back then), this was a stunning and unexpected change. Even a $25/month cap on roaming data charges would have been a welcome surprise; making it free was pretty mind blowing.
I benefited greatly from this earlier this month, when I went back to Malaysia for my cousins wedding:
- I traveled via Vancouver, and before the plane even arrived at the gate, I already knew what gate to head to for my ongoing connection. If you’ve ever been on a flight that arrives late when you have a tight connection, you know it really matters that you can walk off the plane knowing exactly where to go, versus getting on Wi-Fi once you’re inside the terminal, or finding the nearest departure information screen. Plus if you’re just passing through a place, you’d never have arranged for a local SIM.
- I spent the bulk of my time in Malaysia, and while it was easy to get local service with Maxis (via their Hotlink products) previously, being able to communicate while still inside the baggage claim area definitely beats that. Sure, speeds aren’t the fastest, but frankly for most uses you don’t really need the speed; I couldn’t have watched video, and maps sometimes loaded a little slow, but E-mail, searching, and light browsing were all fine.
- On my return, due to a deviously hidden change in my flight schedule, I was stuck in Hong Kong for a day; fortunately Valerie noticed this in time for me to get a hotel, which sure beats spending more than a day in the airport. It was pretty empowering to be able to rely on connectivity while finding my way around on a largely unplanned stay where the short duration would have dissuaded me from finding local options.
I have no doubt that with the plans I’ve had in the past, the data I used on this one-week trip alone would have run me many thousands of dollars. So it’s quite the gift to get this for free.
I also have to say that the value of Google Now is massively multiplied by an always-on connection that works almost anywhere in the world. I find Google Now occasionally handy here at home, but having up-to-the minute gate assignments, currency tools, guides to the place I was going, a quick translator (Malay-only labels!), and other such things was significantly more useful in a less familiar area.