T-Mobile readies shared data plans for business; no early termination fees

Reinvigorated after failure of AT&T merger plan, T-Mobile looks to lure business users with promotions, Apple iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Z10

T-Mobile USA plans to lure new business customers with shared data plans and no early termination fees, similar to some recent promotions the carrier announced for consumers.

The fourth-largest U.S. carrier plans to announce a number of business-specific offers in coming months, along with its release of smartphone models sought by corporate customers, such as the Apple iPhone 5 and upcoming BlackBerry Z10, said Frank Sickinger, senior vice president of business sales, in an interview with Computerworld.

With compelling business plans and promotions along with new CEO John Legere who Sickinger says is "in fighting shape ... we are ready to go head-to-head to give our customers an advantage and put our competition on the ropes."

Sickinger called T-Mobile the "un-carrier" for the various initiatives it has in store. He didn't say when the business-targeted promotions would begin.

Legere set the stage for T-Mobile's aggressive promotions plan in early January when he announced a $70 a month, no annual contract 4G data plan for consumers.

Sickinger said that if T-Mobile is not providing a heavy subsidy for the cost of smartphones for businesses, then "absolutely we will do business where we do not have any hooks in the contract -- that will differentiate us from the competition."

"If we have a business that says they have 5,000 tablets deployed and they are Wi-Fi-only and then wants them mobile broadband enabled, we want to give them MiFi units ... as a monthly service. These will be shared data plans, pooled data. We'll put a lot of emphasis around that over the next few weeks. We'll have unlimited voice and truly unlimited 4G data on consumer and in B2B too," Sickinger added.

Verizon Wireless on Jan. 24 launched two shared data plans for businesses, the first of its kind in the industry. At the time, analysts predicted that other carriers would follow suit.

Since its deal to merge with AT&T fell through late last year, T-Mobile has been infused with "new energy," Sickinger said. The carrier plans to launch LTE markets soon as well as LTE-ready phones like the iPhone 5 and BlackBerry Z10.

Business customers are asking for both, he said. T-Mobile already offers the Galaxy Note II on LTE. T-Mobile remains committed to offering many Android phones and is an Android leader.

BlackBerry has said the Z10 will be available on T-Mobile and the networks of other major U.S. carriers in mid-March.

"Z10 makes BlackBerry relevant with a much better Web experience and the Balance [dual personality] feature," Sickinger said."It's a new standard for them and people will use that. The feedback and response to the Z10 has been very positive."

Sickinger, appointed to his post in December, said that there are some 900 T-Mobile salespeople charged with attracting business customers. The specialized salesforce that will increase "by hundreds" in coming months.

A special multinational corporate sales group is in place and offers a popular Wi-Fi calling option for international travelers.

In Europe, Wi-Fi calls from Paris to London (and between other cities) are treated as local calls and there's a $50 a month unlimited data access plan in Europe, with the speed throttled at 130 Kbps, fast enough to download emails and do other work.

Sickinger conceded that gaps in T-Mobile's national network coverage made it hard for business travelers to connect without expensive roaming to other carriers in some areas outside of major cities.

"Not to say that our network's perfect, but it has improved so much in recent years," Sickinger said. "T-Mobile has a strong domestic footprint and strong roaming agreements and there's no charge for domestic roaming."

T-Mobile plans to spend $4 billion to upgrade 37,000 cell towers to HSPA+ and LTE in the next two years. LTE is expected to reach 200 million people by the end of 2013, he said.

"We're changing the game," Sickinger said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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