Switching from an old carrier to a new one is a royal pain. To convince you that it's worth the trouble, T-Mobile has a new plan: Give you three months of free data and an app that compares how its network stacks up to the one you're currently signed up for.
The new offer, dubbed Network Pass, launched for iPhones and is now available for Android devices after a short delay. It's a successor to the carrier's Test Drive trial that gave you the ability to use T-Mobile's network on an unlocked device for 30GB or 30 days, whichever came first.
With Network Pass, T-Mobile is upping the time period to 90 days and is no longer capping the data -- though like its Essentials plan, if you go over 50GB of data, your download speeds could be drastically reduced, especially in busy areas. You get full access to T-Mobile's 5G network while on the Network Pass, though some features like international data or mobile hotspot are not available (the plan users are on is equivalent to the carrier's Essentials offering).
The goal for the company is to have you live with its service and compare it in real-time with your current provider on your existing phone to convince you that switching to T-Mobile is the better choice. Both providers will live side-by-side in your phone's status bar, allowing you to compare T-Mobile's coverage and network with, say, Verizon or AT&T.
Like the most recent form of Test Drive, the new option uses virtual eSIM cards so you can have T-Mobile's service running alongside your current carrier. You still won't need to enter any credit card details or go through a credit check.
All iPhones dating back to 2018's iPhone XS and XR support eSIMs, while Samsung has supported the feature on its main Galaxy phones dating back to the Galaxy S20 series in 2020. Other manufacturers like Google have enabled the feature on its handsets like its Pixel line, though older Pixels before the Pixel 4 may not have the feature, depending on where you bought it.
To get started, users simply need to download the updated T-Mobile app, which will then walk you through the process of setting up the account and installing the eSIM. Once installed, the app will guide you on how to enable the T-Mobile eSIM for data while leaving your current provider's SIM card active for calls and text messages.
If you're happy with T-Mobile's network, the company will walk you through how to switch carriers from inside the T-Mobile app. If you still are fine with your current provider, you can delete the eSIM and go back to using your phone as it was.
T-Mobile says that it will allow people to try out Network Pass 12 months after their latest three-month trial period ends. If you've recently left T-Mobile, however, you can sign up for Network Pass just three months after you severed your service. The gaps keep people from chaining free trials together, but the carrier wants to leave the door open for people to try its network again and see how it has grown after months and years.
"Networks are ever-evolving," said Kevin McLaughlin, chief marketing officer for T-Mobile's consumer group. "A lot of people switched a long time ago, and it's super-hard for them to try another network. Now we're giving them an opportunity to do that on our end."
Making a case, but convincing people won't be easy
Carriers have spent billions of dollars improving their networks over the last several years. T-Mobile got a head start over its rivals when it acquired Sprint and its midband spectrum in 2020, while Verizon and AT&T bought huge tranches of C-band and 3.45GHz of midband spectrum to expand their own, respective 5G networks over the past few years.
Consumers have had mixed experiences with these nascent 5G networks. While they've provided high speeds in urban areas far beyond what 4G LTE could support, coverage has been spotty, especially in suburban and rural areas. Even though T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert believes the carrier's midband 5G network remains two years ahead of competitor networks, as he told CNET in April, it's hard to shake the older public perception that T-Mobile still lags behind its rivals.
"Customers give us credit for being the best value. They give us credit for providing the best service. But it's also hard to convince people that we're the best network when they have long-established ideas," Sievert said.
Network Pass lowers the barrier for consumers to plainly compare carrier networks, which is tough to do otherwise. Even if you're convinced to switch, leaving your current carrier is difficult. Many consumers are signed up for device installment programs that lock them into pay-by-month plans that can last up to 36 months.
Carriers can obstruct you even after you leave. In addition to requiring eSIM, Network Pass only works with phones that are unlocked. While Verizon automatically unlocks phones 60 days after you buy them, AT&T keeps your phone locked by default and won't unlock it until you've paid off your installment plan. Should you choose to switch to T-Mobile, the carrier's app can walk you through the process to get your AT&T phone unlocked.
As T-Mobile requires an unlocked device for Network Pass, AT&T users looking to try out the program will need to make sure their device is fully paid off.
Switching carriers may also incur other fees and penalties -- you're on your own for those. But T-Mobile will help pay off the balance of your previous installment plan with its "Keep and Switch" program, which has been expanded to a $1,000 maximum the carrier will pay, up from $800.
"We want to be the carrier that you stay with, not that you're stuck with," McLaughlin said.