PROS / T-Mobile’s prices are half what you’ll pay at most of the competition.
CONS / Given how important reliability is to mobile internet, the company’s substandard rural coverage could be a deal breaker.
VERDICT / If you don’t need internet access in rural areas, T-Mobile is hands-down the most cost-effective provider in the country.
T-Mobile is a very different beat from most mobile internet providers. It’s run by a love-him-or-hate-him CEO who’s probably better at marketing the company than any past spokesperson has ever been. It insists on calling itself the Uncarrier, rubs its pricing strategies in its competitions faces and prides itself on big stunts that don’t mean much but look great on paper – for example, every T-Mobile customer was recently given a single share of T-Mobile stock in a move that doesn’t really mean anything to customers but sure sounds great in a marketing campaign.
Underneath all its pomp and circumstance, T-Mobile is actually a really good carrier. It offers good network coverage, great customer service and spectacular prices. From a budget standpoint, you won’t find cheaper mobile broadband plans anywhere – certainly none as feature-packed. But T-Mobile’s network isn’t the strongest, and strong connectivity is the most important checkbox we ticked when making our comparisons.
Coverage & Quality
Verizon still takes the top spot for coverage, and AT&T is a close second, but the magenta carrier has managed to squeeze into third place in a battle with Sprint that’s been neck-and-neck for many months. Different metrics put Sprint and T-Mobile ahead of each other in different areas. T-Mobile has the win in terms of speed, managing truly incredible speeds in many cities and handily beating out even Verizon in peak spots.
T-Mobile falls behind in coverage, though, and that’s our biggest concern. We expect our broadband hotspots to just work – that’s why we invest in dedicated mobile internet in the first place. T-Mobile works, so long as you stay out of heavily rural regions. For business travelers, this isn’t a problem. For truckers or other road warriors who wander in and out of metropolitan regions, T-Mobile’s spotty coverage becomes a bigger concern.
Pricing & Fees
However concerning its coverage might be, we have no such qualms about T-Mobile’s prices, which beat out every other contender in the industry. You can get 2GB of monthly data for just $20 – compare than to $40 for Verizon’s 2GB plan, or $50 for AT&T’s, and it’s easy to see how the savings can add up. For just $15 more, you can get access to T-Mobile’s 6GB plan, or you can bump up to 10GB for $50. Fifty bucks bags 4GB of data at Verizon and 5GB of data at H2O Wireless – our number one and two picks, respectively. Getting 10GB for the same price is a stellar deal.
As an added bonus, every T-Mobile data plan from the 6GB level on up includes Music Unlimited and BingeOn. These are streaming features that let you listen to certain music sites or watch video on major platforms without counting toward your data cap. Usually we’re wary of such promises, but T-Mobile has partnered with almost every major music and video brand on the internet. iTunes, Google Play Music and Spotify are just three of the audio services you can stream without using up your data, while on the video side, major sites like YouTube, Netflix and HBO all work with BingeOn. You might have to stream at reduced quality, but you never have to worry about that Game of Thrones marathon eating away at your allocation.
Portable internet devices come in two types: mobile hotspots and USB dongles. Hotspots offer connectivity for multiple devices, serving as wireless routers that generate a localized Wi-Fi signal. USB dongles are cheaper, but they only offer connectivity for a single laptop. T-Mobile doesn’t sell any USB dongles and only carries a single hotspot, but it’s affordable at $80 and lets you connect up to 10 devices at once.
Help & Support
What a difference a few years can make. Before John Legere took T-Mobile’s helm as CEO and the Uncarrier marketing drive kicked off, T-Mobile was known for merciless customer service. Today, the carrier does anything and everything to keep its customers happy. Service reps are unfailingly chipper and willing to work with you to solve strange issues, whether it’s a problem with a device or an issue you have with a bill – something a few of our employees took advantage of on more than one occasion.
T-Mobile isn’t the best provider of mobile broadband in America, but it’s certainly the cheapest. With rates that undercut everyone else in the business by a significant margin, there’s no doubt it’s the most affordable way to access the internet anywhere – so long as you accept the fact that “anywhere” doesn’t necessarily include rural regions. When T-Mobile manages to expand its network and truly compete with Verizon, there will be a new sheriff in town with a magenta badge. Until that time comes, it will remain the best pick for people that stick to metropolitan areas in their travels.