Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bullet Point Analysis: T-Mobile's Un-carrier 3.0 - The International Card


T-Mobile announced its Un-carrier 3.0 initiative. The 3.0 portion follows the Un-carrier strategy that the company unveiled in March 2013 to address "customers' pain points" and ultimately set the company on track to retain and grow marketshare.

As a recap, this slide from the 2013 Q2 earnings release summarizes the company's Un-carrier moves thus far.

Un-carrier 3.0 in a nutshell:

  • Strategic Promise, Disruption and Differentiation: T-Mobile is delivering on a strategy that addresses customers' pain points. Previous iterations were doing away with contracts, early handset upgrades and lower service pricing by decoupling the overt handset subsidy. From a marketing viewpoint, this provides more advertising fodder to drive customer acquisition attack ads.
  • Growing the Business Subscriber Base: Let's face it, T-Mobile has always been a consumer centric brand. Prior to its network buildout thrust, its network could not compete against larger competitors AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, who had the business sector sewn up, especially globe trotting enterprises. In the 2Q 2013 earnings call, CEO John Legere subtlely telegraphed B2B as an area of 'coming attractions.'  Legere even admitted that the "percentage of gross additions were too small to get concerned with..." With this as a backdrop, the international roaming angle of Un-carrier 3.0 is a boon to target globe trotting business customers to grow its B2B business.
  • Driving International Calling: While stateside international calling can be costly for T-Mobile, one should be reminded that its prepaid brand, MetroPCS announced unlimited stateside "international" calling for $5 back in 2009. So a cost-effective (some believe VoIP-based) infrastructure is already in place.
  • Impacting Profitability?: One would think before any of these moves gets off the ground, there are business cases supporting the effort. While unlimited data roaming may sound like a money loser, it's all relative for several reasons. First, the roaming impact may be thought as the cost to acquire a coveted business subscriber base that is less price sensitive than the consumer segment. The business base and the additional lines (and the overall customer spend) may offset the cost of data roaming.  Second, there are parallels to the introduction of unlimited calling where a steady state and predictable monthly consumption develops. It's unlikely to think business travelers are constantly streaming video abroad - more consumer behavior. For consumers, a slower abroad data experience may provide frustration and curtail that behavior. Finally, the $10/month stateside international calling tacks helps offset some of the overall costs. Besides, as the slide above states, T-Mobile is targeting to have the lowest cost structure in the industry.


  • Clearly T-Mobile is going after its bigger competition, AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint to grab business switchers.  This segment tend to have higher ARPU/ARPA than consumers. The proposition is formidable as anyone who has traveled and paid for roaming can attest. Magnify this to multinational enterprises in which roaming is a substantial expense and expense managers will quickly look at T-Mobile's Uncarrier 3.0 option.  T-Mobile business sales teams now have this and a growing domestic LTE national network to provide credibility in sales calls.  
  • It's likely that competitors will see some business subscriber leakage with a compelling offer as unlimited international data and text roaming.  Competitors are already playing up slower roaming data experiences but unless they can prove that a T-Mobile roaming customer receives a slower experience than their own roaming partners, they're in the same boat (held hostage as the destination's partner network). Yet the percentage of global travel will determine an organization's business case for switching. Further, it will depend on the generation of handset for higher speed support abroad.  LTE roaming is almost non-existent so the default will be HSPA+ (in some countries dual carrier HSPA+ is possible) or EDGE roaming.
  • A possible scenario may be that T-Mobile 'lines' will be purchased for international business. This approach will provide a known US number for easy contact rather than to purchase an in-country SIM card. So the customer may have both a domestic and international phone/line.  Either way, T-Mobile stands to gain subscriber lines and if they can prove domestic network parity in the long term, total switching will become a viable scenario.
  • On the stateside international calling front, VoIP providers such as Skype may feel some impact as the simple ability to direct dial can trump launch an OTT app on a computer or handset.    


It remains to be seen if competitors will match T-Mobile's unlimited data and text roaming offer. To some extent, they are handcuffed as their enterprise bases are large and international roaming revenue, decently profitable. Loyalty and network breadth (domestic and international) will be a piece of the counter argument. However, Un-carrier 3.0 is a formidable challenge that will need to be addressed. Key indicators will be customer inquiry for a competitive response, roaming revenue declines and customer voluntary churn.  What form it will take and how quickly a solution rolls out depends on customer defection.  Regardless, product planners will be in meetings to figure out their company's response alternatives.