Will T-Mobile get the iPhone 5?

T-Mobile offers great value on its service, but customers are frustrated by the lack of handset choices, especially those lusting to buy an iPhone.

T-Mobile USA customers often feel like they are caught between a rock and a hard place.

They love T-Mobile's affordable pricing plans on its service that beats the competition, but the carrier lacks some of the most popular devices, like the Apple iPhone. And this leaves some T-Mobile customers torn between a desire for hot new devices, like the iPhone, and the prospect of spending more each month on service.

So what's a T-Mobile customer to do? In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help two different T-Mobile customers sort through their options.

T-Mobile customers cope with iPhone envy

Dear Maggie,
I really enjoy your column and appreciate all the sage wisdom that you share with us. Currently, I have the old Samsung Vibrant. But I'm jealous of what other phones offer, like 4G speeds, an OS beyond Froyo, and all the other tech advances.

My dilemma is that in July my most recent contract expires with T-Mobile. I am very excited about the idea of getting a new phone. But I am getting such a good deal with T-Mobile I don't feel like I can abandon my plan. I have been a customer of T-Mobile for almost a decade. I priced out other carrier plans and I'd be paying at least $20 to $30 a month more to switch providers.

But I feel like I am a little trapped on T-Mobile. I've been burned by not getting all the latest OS updates for my Android device. And I feel like I'm missing out on the 4G speeds offered by Verizon and now AT&T. And I am fed up with the general lack of devices. I really want an iPhone 5 when it comes out later this year, especially if it comes with a larger screen and 64GB of storage.

Plus, I've also had bad customer experiences with T-Mobile over the past year, which has left me more open to moving to another provider. But as I noted before, the deal I have with T-Mobile is almost too good to give up. And the extra I'd spend on another carrier really adds up over time.

Would you recommend that I hold out until later this year to see what happens with T-Mobile and Apple? Like I said, I really want the iPhone 5. And I'm annoyed that T-Mobile still doesn't have it, while every other carrier does. If T-Mobile doesn't get the new iPhone, should I bite the bullet on the plan price and just switch carriers? Or should I stick with T-Mobile and get a new Android smartphone?

Thanks for your help,
Michael

Dear Michael,
Thanks so much for your kind words. I am glad you find the advice helpful.

You are not the only T-Mobile USA customer who has been frustrated by the fact that your carrier is now the only major U.S. operator without the iPhone. In fact, T-Mobile executives admitted that people are leaving its network in droves because it doesn't have the iPhone and its major competitors -- AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint -- do.

In the fourth quarter, T-Mobile lost 526,000 customers, which is a contrast to the third quarter, when it added 126,000 net customers.

I don't know why T-Mobile has still not been able to get the iPhone. For more than a year, T-Mobile execs have said the company would love to have the iPhone. But execs say the decision is Apple's. And unfortunately, Apple hasn't been interested in offering it there. Apple has kept mum on its reasons for keeping the phone off T-Mobile.

I used to think Apple was holding out because T-Mobile was just too small of a player. For the iPhone to work on T-Mobile's 3G HSPA and HSPA+ network, Apple would have to make a few tweaks to the phone. And since T-Mobile is small relative to AT&T and Verizon, I assumed it just didn't matter much to Apple. But that theory has been blown out of the water by the fact that Apple is now making the iPhone available to at least three tiny regional wireless operators in the U.S.

NTelos Wireless, which offers service to 400,000 customers in parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and a few other states, announced earlier this month that it will start offering the iPhone 4S on April 20. And it will also be offering the iPhone for $50 less than any other carrier offering the iPhone. In October, C Spire -- formally known as Cellular South -- announced that it would start selling the iPhone to its customers. And Alaska Communications will also be selling the iPhone 4S later this month.

Is the iPhone 5 in T-Mobile's future?
It's pretty clear at this point that T-Mobile won't be getting the iPhone 4S. But what about the iPhone 5? That's a tough question to answer. First of all, we don't know for certain when the new iPhone will be launched. It could be this summer or it could be in the fall. And we don't know what new features it will have. You mention in your question LTE, 64GB storage, and a bigger screen. These are all strong possibilities.

Support for 4G LTE is almost certain, given how many competing products now offer 4G LTE. What's more, the new iPad offers LTE, so clearly it's something that Apple has been working on. While LTE would be a fantastic addition to the product line for all Apple iPhone fans, it could be bad news for T-Mobile subscribers who want the iPhone.

Why? T-Mobile is planning to launch its own 4G LTE network. But it won't be available until 2013. Meanwhile, all three of the major U.S. carriers now offering the iPhone either already have or will soon have 4G LTE deployed. Verizon Wireless is the furthest in its deployment with AT&T running second. Sprint has announced its network and will start offering LTE service in certain markets in the next couple of months.

Without LTE, it's hard to imagine Apple making the new iPhone available to T-Mobile, according to my CNET Reviews colleague Kent German. He said he just can't see Apple making a special version of the iPhone without LTE to satisfy T-Mobile. And I tend to agree. There is a chance that T-Mobile could still offer the device and not have the LTE portion turned on.

So to answer your first question, there is a slight chance that Apple may offer the new iPhone on T-Mobile, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

If T-Mobile doesn't get the next iPhone, what should you do?
This is a really tough question to answer since it sounds like you're getting a great deal from T-Mobile right now. You need to ask yourself if it's worth giving up the discount you get with T-Mobile for Apple and the iPhone. Personally. I think it's hard to give up a $20 to $30 savings each month simply for the iPhone or any other device.

Historically, T-Mobile customers haven't had to sacrifice too much when it came to getting cutting-edge devices, with the exception of the iPhone, of course. T-Mobile was the first carrier to offer a Google Android phone. But recently, things have changed for T-Mobile customers. And the carrier isn't keeping pace as much with the newest Google Android devices or the latest software updates.

Part of the reason may be because T-Mobile has been catering to customers interested in getting the most bang for their buck. This may have hurt its chances of getting the most advanced devices.

Another reason why it may not be getting the most cutting-edge devices is because it doesn't yet offer 4G LTE. As device makers like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola focus on bringing new LTE devices to the market for AT&T and Verizon, they've included most of the high-end specs in LTE devices. As a result, they may be overlooking the needs of T-Mobile's customers.

That doesn't mean that T-Mobile hasn't gotten new devices. It has, but many of its new smartphones have not had the most advanced specifications. For example, T-Mobile was the first carrier in the U.S. to offer a Nokia Windows Phone. But instead of Nokia making the higher-end Lumia 800 available, it made the less expensive Lumia 710 available.

T-Mobile also got the lower-end version of HTC's latest smartphone, the One S. While it's still an impressive device with an advanced 8-megapixel camera with super fast shutter speed, it runs a dual-core CPU instead of a quad-core processor found in the higher end One X, which is available on other carriers.

Still, I expect T-Mobile to get the new Samsung Galaxy S III, when it's rolled out this spring. Details of this hotly anticipated Google Android phone have not yet been released. But Samsung sent out an invitation for a May 3 event in London, where the device is likely to be unveiled.

While we don't know for sure what the specs on this device will be or which carriers will get it, I can tell you that it's expected to run the latest version of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. Other rumored features include, a 4.8-inch full HD 1080p resolution screen, a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera, and 4G LTE support.

As I mentioned, I don't know for certain that T-Mobile will get the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it has gotten previous versions of the Galaxy S family, so I suspect that Samsung will not have a problem tweaking this one for T-Mobile. With that in mind, I'm not sure if the 4G LTE capability will be bundled into the T-Mobile version of this device, given that T-Mobile won't have LTE until next year. There's a chance that the carrier can offer it as an LTE-capable device or it may leave LTE out of it.

Should you switch carriers for the iPhone?
In your e-mail question to me, you said you've been using a Google Android phone the past couple of years. If you are happy with the operating system, then I think the Galaxy S III may be the device for you. It will definitely be the top of the line when it comes to smartphones, so I don't think you will feel like you're missing anything with this device. And you will be able to keep your inexpensive T-Mobile plan. And since your contract will be up for renewal, you're likely to get a great subsidized price on the device.

You could buy an unlocked version of the new iPhone when it's released and use it on T-Mobile's network. But it's likely that the device won't be optimized for the frequencies that T-Mobile uses for its 3G or 4G LTE network. And that may mean that the device won't perform up to its potential. Plus, it will cost you a lot more out of pocket to buy the new iPhone. I'm kind of cheap, so I'd much rather get a subsidized phone, even if it means I have to agree to a two-year contract on a carrier and be limited to the devices that carrier offers.

As for the poor customer service you've received from T-Mobile, sadly I can't assure you that you will have a better experience at any of the other three major carriers. I've written numerous times in this column how disappointed I've been by sales representatives at AT&T and Verizon, who don't seem to know the company's own service plans or products well enough to advise a new customer. So there is a good chance that you won't find much improvement with a bigger carrier when it comes to customer service.

The conclusion? Wait
In summary, it can't hurt to wait a little longer to see what Apple will offer in either June or October. Your contract with T-Mobile isn't over until July, so you have some time. By that time, the Samsung Galaxy S III will have been announced, and it's possible the new iPhone could be announced. If it's not and you're curious to see what Apple will come up with next, wait a bit longer. I doubt that Apple will wait past October to release a new product. And there's a good chance it will release it before then.

If T-Mobile doesn't get the iPhone, I wouldn't panic and give up your sweet deal with T-Mobile. I think the Samsung Galaxy S III is going to be a terrific phone. And more than likely, it will be offered at T-Mobile. Even if it's not, the HTC One S is a terrific option as well. Yes, it's not HTC's most advanced smartphone, but it's still loaded with plenty of terrific features that should make it a worthy competitor to a new iPhone. With these other options available, I don't think you need to jump ship for the iPhone. But if the iPhone is more important to you than the bargain you're getting with your T-Mobile service, then leave for another carrier. As I mentioned earlier, thousands of other T-Mobile customers have done the same.

I hope this advice was helpful. And good luck!

Android for T-Mobile

Hi Maggie,
I am on T-Mobile, and I have had a BlackBerry for two years now. My first phone was actually a T-Mobile G1, the first Android phone. But for some reason when I upgraded I went with a BlackBerry. I guess because T-Mobile didn't have the iPhone. It was fine at first since most of my friends also had BlackBerry smartphones. I really liked using the BlackBerry Messenger feature with my friends. But now they're all on iPhones or Android phones. And I'm tired of the BlackBerry, so I am looking for a change too.

I am on a family plan with T-Mobile. AT&T is too expensive for me and Verizon and Sprint don't have good coverage where I live. So I can't leave T-Mobile. Now I am wondering what I should do. Android phones have gotten better. My upgrade is in August. And I really need to get a new phone then. I've heard great things about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S III. And I'd love to get my hands on that phone if I could. But will it come to T-Mobile? And will it be available in August?

What about the iPhone 5? Will T-Mobile finally get it? And if not, what other Android phone do you recommend for me that will be available in August? I also would like to try a Windows Phone, but I'm not so interested in the Nokia Lumia 710. Is there any chance that the Lumia 900 will come to T-Mobile?

Thanks,
Jatin V

Dear Jatin V,
Your question is similar to the question I answered from Michael. On the iPhone topic, I'm not sure if T-Mobile will get the new iPhone. But if the iPhone 5 is sporting LTE, then it's likely T-Mobile won't get it this go-around.

In terms of Android devices, I expect the Samsung Galaxy S III to be available on T-Mobile's network. But there are also other options that are already available.

Samsung hasn't officially announced the Galaxy S III or said when and where it will be available yet. But it's hosting an event on May 3 in London to announce the device, so I expect the company to announce more of the details then. There's a very good chance the device will be available in August.

Even though Samsung hasn't said officially which carriers will offer the Samsung Galaxy S III, I expect that T-Mobile will get it, since it has offered the other two generations of this product.

The Galaxy S III is going to be a hot device and I think you will be more than happy with it. It's going to be preloaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and it's likely to have loads of other great features.

I also think the HTC One S is a worthy Android device. The HTC One S also runs on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and it has integrated Beats audio technology. It also has a large 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen. It uses the latest version of HTC's Sense user interface. The feature that impressed me the most on this device was the camera. It offers 8 megapixels with rapid shutter speed so you can take multiple pictures very fast.

As for the Nokia Windows Phones, I'm not sure when Nokia will introduce new models. The company just launched the Lumia 900 on AT&T. Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T are spending a lot of money to market this device for AT&T over the next six to eight weeks. It's supposed to be one of AT&T's "hero" devices.

Once the marketing blitzkrieg is over, there's a chance that Nokia will make the device available to other carriers. But the only problem with making the Lumia 900 available to T-Mobile is the fact that the Lumia 900 is an LTE device and T-Mobile's LTE network hasn't been deployed yet. T-Mobile doesn't expect to launch LTE until next year.

The company may introduce the Lumia 800 on T-Mobile. That phone is very similar to the Lumia 900 minus the LTE. But I find it a little strange that T-Mobile hasn't introduced this device already. It was announced for Europe last fall.

Still, Nokia has plans to announce other Lumia models. And perhaps there will be one or two that will be available for T-Mobile. But I don't expect T-Mobile to get anything that is terribly forward-thinking given Nokia's relationship with AT&T. So the short answer to your question about Nokia Windows Phones is that I am sure more are coming, but it may not be by August.

I hope this advice was helpful. And good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

HOT ON CNET

Delete your photos by mistake?

Whether you've deleted everything on your memory card or there's been a data corruption, here's a way to recover those photos.