Over the last few months, the four major US wireless carriers have finally started to differentiate themselves for smartphone users. It will be interesting to see how these changes play out over the next few years in terms of market share and overall industry growth. As consumers enter their next upgrade cycle later this year (perhaps some prompted by the launch of a new iPhone) they will have some interesting choices to make when thinking about which wireless carrier to pick. It's no longer simply about coverage, price, and who has your smartphone of choice. Below, I've summarized the value proposition of each of the carriers (in my humble opinion.)
- Verizon: Best LTE coverage nationwide
- T-Mobile: Inexpensive plans without a contract, bring your own device, frequent upgrades
- Sprint: As their slogan says, 'truly unlimited data'
- AT&T: I'm not quite sure??
AT&T's value proposition is unclear to me. Are they hell-bent on rivaling Verizon in terms of LTE coverage and network quality? Are they taking a slightly different track and trying to be the fastest network in large cities like New York? Or are they trying to be all things to all people (for example, their recent AT&T Next announcement.)
As the HSPA and LTE networks of T-Mobile and Sprint grow, I believe they will attract more tech-savvy users that want to get the most out of their phones. And trade those phones in frequently, in T-Mobile's case. T-Mobile finally getting the iPhone certainly doesn't hurt. I also think they'll spend huge amounts on marketing to get that message out. Meanwhile, I think it will be business as usual for the nation's largest carrier, Verizon. They'll continue investing in their huge LTE network and offering tons of devices from various manufacturers. Personally, I'm not a fan of their pricing strategy on smartphone plans, but I do enjoy Verizon coverage on my tablet data plan. Coincidentally, I'm writing this post using my iPad Mini's Verizon LTE connection in the middle of South Carolina somewhere.
If I were in the market for a new smartphone and carrier T-Mobile would be my first choice. The only reason I'd elect not to go with T-Mobile would be if their coverage in my area was poor or I needed better nationwide LTE coverage. I'd probably buy my phone separately and use their $50 unlimited plan. They're just so much more affordable and convenient, especially for users that are comfortable buying and selling their phones whenever they want.
Whether this differentiation is a temporary phenomenon, or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. Either way, it's a great time to be a smartphone users with so many different choices in the market.