T-Mobile USA, despite being the only national wireless carrier without the iPhone, has found a way to get on Apple's smash-hit smartphone.
T-Mobile is attempting to branch out of its core wireless service and dip its toes into adjacent growth areas such as Web-based phone and messaging services. The mobile app represents an expansion of its Bobsled initiative, which allows users to log in with their Facebook credentials and make phone calls, leave voicemails, and send messages for free.
For T-Mobile, Bobsled gives them a reach beyond its own customer base. The carrier also plans to eventually run advertisement to generate revenue, although it is more concerned with adoption at this point. Down the line, the company plans to charge for connecting certain calls. The announcement comes as the CTIA Enterprise & Application conference starts today in San Diego.
"We can engage with customers from other carriers," said Brad Duea, vice president of value-added services at T-Mobile. "We don't have a legacy fixed-line business, so it's actually a good opportunity for us."
The rollout of Bobsled's mobile app comes as the carrier continues to wrestle with the loss of its most valuable contract customers. It also faces the potential takeover by AT&T, although the Department of Justice has sued to block the deal.
T-Mobile's Bobsled app works on the iPhone or iPad just like any other calling app. Duea said that rather than create a new community or list of users, T-Mobile opted to turn a person's Facebook contacts into their phonebook. Users have to download the application to make phone calls, but people receiving calls on their computer or phone can take the call without any special programs.
Users with an account can make a free phone call to anyone in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico--even if they're actually making a call from outside of those regions. Because they are Internet-protocol based, the calls would use up data and not voice minutes.
It isn't a true landline replacement, however, since it can't make 911 calls.
Bobsled got off to a. It , but it had to be taken down because Facebook complained the service was too closely associated with the social network itself.
It was a bit of a confusing move too, with a wireless carrier pushing a program that didn't necessarily fit with its own core business.
Duea wouldn't say how many people have used Bobsled, only saying that the traction was "excellent." He believes the expanded distribution through the iPhone and Android devices should help drive adoption.
T-Mobile also plans a marketing campaign for Bobsled as well.
The service could prove to be disruptive to the traditional carriers, which still depend on traditional landline voice revenue. So it's unclear whether Bobsled would survive if AT&T were to complete its acquisition of T-Mobile.
Duea declined to comment about the merger but said the service would be worth a look for anyone.
"If you look at the growth in the [IP sector], it's one you need to pay attention to," Duea said.