T-Mobile unveiled the 4th element to its UnCarrier strategy today at a press conference at CES in Las Vegas. During the press conference, there was a bit of a gray area when T-Mobile explained that customers would need to trade in the devices from their former carrier when signing up for T-Mobile. At first, it didn’t seem that trading in devices was a requirement and that users would just opt-out of the extra $300 credit they’d be eligible to receive from such a trade-in. Turns out, that’s not the case. In a written statement from T-Mobile, I was told:
In order to qualify for this ETF offer, you must be switching from a postpaid plan with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon and port your current numbers to T-Mobile. You would need to trade-in a mobile phone or tablet and purchase a new device with T-Mobile on a qualifying postpaid Simple Choice plan (you would not be able to sign up for a T-Mobile prepaid or Simple Choice Family Plan with no credit).
A device trade-in provides consumers some initial credit to help with new device purchase or startup costs like down payment, devices taxes, or accessories.
For most people, this won’t be a huge deal, but for a big portion of the people who are actively trying to get away from carriers like AT&T and rely on using unlocked devices that they buy from third party manufacturers, it’s a problem. T-Mobile only sells a certain number of devices in its stores. And an even smaller amount of that number are phones that are also sold in AT&T stores. If a customer resorts to buying his or her phone directly from the manufacturer or say, for instance, Google’s Google Play Store, there’s no other place for them to buy those devices. We’ll use the Google Play Edition HTC One, as an example.
If I were to sell the device that I bought when I signed my AT&T contract, and use the money earned to purchase a Google Play Edition HTC One, the One would be my only device. Under T-Mobile’s requirements, I would have to give them my Google Play HTC One when signing up for their ETF reimbursement, leaving me with no phone once again. I could use the money they gave me to buy another HTC One from their store, but it wouldn’t be the unlocked Google Play variant, and some people like those things.
Granted, this is a very small portion of the people looking to hop to T-Mobile as their service provider, but they’re still being alienated and T-Mobile doesn’t seem to have a plan to get those people to their network. Sure, they could pay their own ETFs themselves if they’re under contract, but that seems to go against T-Mobile’s entire UnCarrier mentality. Understandably, T-Mobile needs to recuperate some of the cost they’re losing when they pay off your termination fees, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a better suggestion. To me, it seems that T-Mobile’s promotion of carrier freedom is biting them here. They’re doing a great thing by paying off termination fees, and that’ll help a LOT of people. I may even move to the carrier myself. I just hope they open up the lane for people who are under contract but don’t want to part with their device they wouldn’t be able to find at T-Mobile.