warthog9: Warthog9 (Default)
 So if you haven't heard the news, AT&T has/will be buying T-Mobile US.  This looks like it's pretty much a done deal, save the typical regulatory hearings, but I don't see how any road-blocks can be thrown at this to make any difference.  Irregardless of what carrier you are on, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint or Verizon this is horrible and tragic news.

If you don't know why it's so bad, just look a little North beyond the border to Canada where, until very recently, there was a duopoly in the cell phone market.  On the surface of it there have been 4 carriers in Canada: Rogers, Fido, Bell, Telus.  Rogers directly owns Fido, which is hilarious as many Fido stores are opposite their parent company Rogers stores, causing many customers to vehemently describe the horrible service they get from Rogers to Fido employees as they "switch" carriers.  This leaves Bell and Telus, which are independent companies but are so linked at the hip in the cellular space that they more or less mimic Rogers and Fido.  There have only been two entities that control the entire market, thus a duopoly.

What did this do for Canada?  I gave them some of the highest rates for cellular communications on the planet, gives them horrible service, a stagnant market and generally provides a complete disservice to every Canadian who uses a cell phone.  Now I mentioned above that there have been 4 carriers in Canada, in 2009 Wind Mobile came upon the scene, offered better service, cheaper prices, great customer service and everything else you could want.  Guess what happened?  People flocked to Wind Mobile like mad, and the existing duopoly immediately started attacking them in any grounds they could, in particular legally.  But it also forced those same stagnant monsters to start moving again, they've cut prices, are offering better service and generally doing a little better.  It's still pretty rough being a Canadian with a cell phone, but it's at least not quite as bad as it was.

Now getting back to the mess at hand, AT&T buying T-Mobile, what does this mean?  Well lets start by equating T-Mobile (US) to Wind, they offer more competitive and CLEAR pricing, give good customer service and generally overall are well liked by their customers.  They don't have the same coverage that Verizon does but it generally just works.  Heck, T-Mobile US has even been recognized, 3 years running, as one of the worlds most ethical companies.  This has kept AT&T, Verizon and Sprint competing against T-Mobile, as well as amongst themselves.

When AT&T closes the deal with T-Mobile you can expect all of the things that make T-Mobile worth worrying about, customer service, price and their ethical stance, to go out the window.  AT&T will raise prices, their customer service will go exactly the same way that Cingular's did when it was acquired, and generally things will get worse for T-Mobile customers.  No surprise, it just sucks to be staring down that barrel.  However this WILL make things worse for everyone.  How?  Because the US cellular market is already walled gardens, this just eliminates one of those gardens.

In the US there are 3 sets of cellular tech being used.  There is what's refereed to as CDMA, which is the basis for Sprint and Verizon.  And there is GSM, which is the basis for AT&T and T-Mobile.  The only difference between Sprint and Verizon is that neither will allow things on their network unless they explicitly approve it.  This means if you have a Sprint phone and go to Verizon, even though the phone will work perfectly fine and identically on Verizon's network, they won't let it on because it's Sprint branded.  This is also true in the opposite, they each have their little sandbox and they absolutely don't want to let anyone or anything from the outside in to play unless they approve it first.

AT&T and T-Mobile are slightly different, they use GSM at their core, which functions a little differently.  Mainly the authentication mechanism for their networks isn't specific to a phone, it's attached to a sim card, which can go into any GSM phone.  This has the advantage that I can get service from any carrier (they give me a sim card) I throw it into the phone of my choosing and it just works.  Switch phones, move the sim, still works, etc.  There is nothing stopping you from taking an AT&T sim card and putting it in a T-Mobile phone, or vise versa.  There is a small catch in the US though: AT&T and T-Mobile use incompatible, and completely different, 3G frequencies.  So if you are using data on a T-Mobile phone with a sim from AT&T you'll get degraded data performance, and vise versa, HOWEVER you will get data and phone calls still work.  I should also note that CDMA is only used in the US and a small handful of other places, GSM is by far dominant worldwide.

So when AT&T buys T-Mobile this eliminates and open, and friendly carrier, replacing it with a giant behemoth that doesn't care, and leaves you with two other carriers that are walled gardens you can play in.  Want to guess what's going to happen?  Everyone will get more expensive.  Things you enjoy now, will cost more, innovation in phones will get harder and you will be more at the whim of your carrier for what they are willing to support.  The iPhone didn't come to T-Mobile but you could use it there when it came out.  What happens when AT&T get's another exclusive phone, now you can't use it anywhere in the US but with AT&T.

This really does just make the entire US cell phone market a bigger nightmare, and will just foster further anger, resentment and dislike of cellular carriers overall.  We are heading towards the same fate already enjoyed by our Northern brethren: higher costs, less service and falling further and further behind the rest of the world and being mocked for our backwardness.

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