T-Mobile hints at 'big, bold' plan this week

In an interview, T-Mobile's chief operating officer spills the beans on a potentially attractive, alternative service plan and on its new cross-border program.

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Roger Cheng
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T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert shares his thoughts on the company's new international plan at the New York CNET office. Sarah Tew/CNET

T-Mobile isn't done yet.

The nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier is poised to introduce a new service plan option this week, its chief operating officer, Mike Sievert, said in an interview on Thursday.

"We've got something big, bold and cool coming that people will love," he said.

The new plan, which will make its debut on or before Wednesday, marks the latest in T-Mobile's "Uncarrier Amped" campaign, a series of programs and features designed to attract customers and pressure its rivals during the usual summer lull. The moves, however, are part of the continued intensifying competition between carriers as they employ new plans and up their marketing campaigns to gain an edge.

The new plan comes on the heels of last week's announcement that customers would be able to use their smartphones in Mexico or Canada without any additional charges. Last month, T-Mobile introduced a combination leasing and installment plan that allows customers to upgrade their smartphone up to three times a year.

One catch of the Canada-Mexico feature, however, was that customers on older unlimited data plan, or a promotional plan like its four-person, 10-gigabyte family plan -- which proved popular last summer -- weren't eligible for the new cross-border benefit.

Those customers won't be left out, Sievert said. The Canada-Mexico feature launches on Wednesday, and anybody who signs up or switches to one of T-Mobile's plans on Wednesday would get the same benefit. One of the plans is a yet-to-be-introduced option designed for those customers on a promotional plan looking to switch.

Customers who insist on keeping their existing plans can pay $10 a month to add the North American option.

Thank AT&T for the new cross-border plan?

AT&T may arguably get the credit for T-Mobile's "Mobile Without Borders" program. Earlier this year, AT&T scooped up two Mexican carriers in Iusacell and Nextel Mexico with the intent to build a seamless wireless network across the two countries.

The move likely set the other players in Mexico and the US on alert, and opened the door for T-Mobile to go down and strike new cross-roaming deals with the No. 1 and No. 2 carriers in Mexico, as well as with six carriers in Canada.

So would this plan exist without AT&T? "AT&T's competitive actions could have been a motivator," Sievert said. "It's hard for me to know."

Watch this: How T-Mobile is knocking down the wireless borders to Canada, Mexico

But T-Mobile did go down and strike its deals after AT&T made its moves, he said. Sievert added that this was something customers on both sides of the border wanted, noting that the US is a top destination for customers in these countries. That helped the carriers on both sides to come together on new cross-border deals.

AT&T declined to comment on T-Mobile's new plan.

Using your smartphone outside of the US is typically a pricey proposition because of the hefty roaming fees that international carriers charge each other. But T-Mobile struck new plans that lowered the cost of those roaming fees.

"We created a new arrangement with new economics," Sievert said, without discussing the details of the deals.

He contrasted T-Mobile's approach of partnering with other carriers to AT&T's move to acquire companies and build out its own network. Shortly after the deals, AT&T offered unlimited calling to Mexico as part of its $5-a-month international plan. The ultimate vision is to have one consistent network for businesses and consumers.

"We're still waiting," Sievert said. "They're working at AT&T speeds."

AT&T has argued that its investment would improve the wireless experience in Mexico for both customers in that country, and existing AT&T customers looking to call or travel there.

Sprint CEO's "bad day"

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure caused a bit of a stir last week when he called out T-Mobile CEO John Legere and his Uncarrier campaign "bullsh--" on Twitter.

What did Sievert make of the vulgar jab -- something his boss, Legere, has been known to do in his many public outings?

"He was having a bad day," Sievert said, noting that the quarter had come to an end and he was likely looking at the subscriber tallies.

T-Mobile said last week that it had added 2.1 million net new customers, while Sprint reports its results in the next few weeks.

Sprint declined to comment on Sievert's speculation, noting that, "We've moved on." On Claure's tweet, Sprint noted that he was calling out a competitor who only claims to be transparent, something his company is pushing "="" plans"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="084a08ad-e606-4de8-a014-5e586f08b157" slug="sprint-bids-adieu-to-50-iphone-plan-in-the-name-of-clarity" link-text="with its " section="news" title="Sprint bids adieu to $50 iPhone plan in the name of clarity" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"084a08ad-e606-4de8-a014-5e586f08b157","slug":"sprint-bids-adieu-to-50-iphone-plan-in-the-name-of-clarity","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"mobile"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Tech^Mobile","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> .

Despite the recent kerfuffle, Sievert said that his main targets remain AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which still service a majority of the nation's wireless customers.

"We don't need (Sprint) to fail in order to continue to succeed," Sievert said.

Going overseas?

T-Mobile's existing international plan allows customers to tap into the slower 2G network for free when overseas -- they can pay to boost the speed. But last week's announcement meant customers would be able to tap into the much faster LTE network in Mexico and Canada for free.

So will T-Mobile be able to strike similar deals in Asia and Europe? Sievert doesn't dismiss it. He noted that Mobile Without Borders was something no one else has done because no one though it could be done.

"I can't predict where we go next, but that's the philosophy that we use," he said.

The move is all about going address the needs of its customers. "Even if what they want is crazy and absurd, we go try," he said.

Correction, 8:50 a.m. PT: This story incorrectly stated the amount of data included in T-Mobile's promotional four-person family plan. It includes 10GB of data.