T-Mobile CEO says he's open to leasing program for phones

"I wouldn't rule it out," John Legere says about emulating Sprint's leasing model, but adds that there are no plans to roll one out in the near future.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
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T-Mobile CEO John Legere is open to the idea of leasing phones out. Roger Cheng/CNET

NEW YORK -- T-Mobile CEO John Legere may regularly take swipes at Sprint, but he knows when to give credit where credit is due.

In this case, it's Sprint's leasing program, which Legere complimented and said it was something he'd consider, even if it wasn't something for the near future.

"I wouldn't rule out a leasing plan," he said in a 30-minute interview ahead of its press conference here Wednesday. "I think it's a pretty good idea."

Legere was in town to tout Uncarrier 9.0, or T-Mobile's push to get into the business world with a slate of simplified pricing plans, as well as its offer to pay off the device installment plans for customers willing to switch over. That Legere would consider utilizing Sprint's trademark leasing program in some form speaks to the ever-heightening competitive environment in wireless, which has yielded better deals for bargain hunters.

Sprint, for its part, continued to tout its own leasing program.

"We've been pleased with the response to our program and recently expanded it to include a wider range of devices," said a Sprint spokesman. "We're clearly doing something right and our competitors are taking notice."

Sprint and T-Mobile are in a tight battle for the No. 3 position behind larger rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T. While Sprint claimed to still be the nation's third-largest carrier after the fourth financial quarter, T-Mobile argued that Sprint muddied its numbers to make itself look better.

As such, Legere couldn't talk about Sprint without taking a shot, particularly at its network coverage. "It's really bad still, and there are no signs that it will change," he said, noting that he believes there is a large group of discontented customers in Sprint's base.

Still, Legere lauded Sprint's "iPhone for Life" leasing program, which he said was timed well with the launch of Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. "When the iPhone was bouncing around, you weren't spending time thinking about how sh---y the network is," he said. "Now you are."

Sprint, however, has improved the quality of the phone calls and text messages that travel across its network, according to testing firm RootMetrics.

"Our network gets better every day and recent third-party reports validate those improvements," said the Sprint spokesman. "And last quarter our existing customers upgraded at the highest rate ever, indicating satisfaction with the Sprint network."

If T-Mobile were to roll out a leasing program, Legere said he would be sure to show customers all the options, noting that customers on leasing programs don't actually keep their smartphones.

Under "iPhone for Life," a Sprint customer pays $20 a month for the device, and trades it back in after 24 months for a new iPhone. The program has been successful enough that Sprint has rolled out an annual upgrade option for $30 a month, and extended the leasing program to other devices like the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S5 Sport.