On Call: What we'd really lose in an AT&T-T-Mobile merger
Though critics charge that a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile will lead to higher prices and reduce customer choice, there are bigger, and less tangible, issues at stake.
On Call runs every two weeks, alternating between answering reader questions and discussing hot topics in the cell phone world.
By now I'm sure that you're familiar with the arguments against the proposed. As critics see it, the deal will put too much power in the hands of one carrier (and one GSM carrier, at that), it will reduce customer choice and innovation, and it will lead to higher prices and poorer customer service.
Those all are valid points, but I'm more worried about something that hasn't received a lot of attention. If this merger goes through, I fear that T-Mobile's gutsy approach to expanding its smartphone lineup will be killed by AT&T's stodgier culture. Indeed, over the last year, T-Mobile has greatly outshone its potential partner in both the range and quality of such handsets. AT&T produced slightly more smartphones during that period (21 versus 19), but T-Mobile has taken more risks and its lineup has earned a higher average score from CNET editors (7.7 versus 7.2). I don't really know where the carrier gets its aggressive spirit, but customers will lose if it disappears.
Just consider that in the four months since the merger , T-Mobile has continued to pump out one worthy smartphone after another. Not only did we see two CNET Editors' Choice winners with the
Yet, if we go back further to last August, we find even more examples. There were the
What's more, most of these T-Mobile phones had a unique element, even if it was small. One brought stock Android, one offered quality Dell hardware to a major carrier (I don't count AT&T's awful
Not always the case
It's interesting, though, that T-Mobile hasn't always taken such risks. Quite the contrary, actually. For much of the carrier's early life, its device lineup was decidedly unimpressive and it took a long time to deploy 3G. Sure, it had its unique Sidekick series and a fair selection of BlackBerry and Windows Mobile smartphones, but most of its handsets were functional and relatively unremarkable. But then, as the
T-Mobile also had a leading role in making HTC a handset player in the United States. Its earliest HTC handsets like the
Keep it coming
I'm not saying AT&T has a poor smartphone lineup. In fact, the carrier offers a lot to like. But when compared with T-Mobile, its lineup over the last year is less innovative, offers less choice, and is, frankly, much safer. Yes, it has the iPhone, but Apple's device is just one handset in a crowded field. It doesn't automatically trump every other smartphone on the market and there are many people who won't even consider it. For those people and everyone else, T-Mobile is doing a better job. I don't know where T-Mobile gets its focus, but it's made the carrier a smartphone leader. And if the merger goes through, I'm concerned we'll see its position disappear.