T-Mobile has announced that over the past two years it has greatly expanded coverage. And it has. But many users will not have access to that coverage. Worse, the newest coverage, shown on the maps, is not actually usable until 2018 and then, only if your are willing to buy a brand new phone!
T-Mobile makes it rather difficult to discern actual coverage on their web site. If you click through their prominent “Coverage” link, you’ll see a map like this one (for my area in the PNW):
Lots of Magenta coverage shown everywhere. Except this is their coverage at the end of 2017 using their 700 and 600 Mhz spectrum allocations. The 600 Mhz spectrum will not have phones available to use it until sometime in 2018! (Well, may be one by the end of 2017.)
A better representation is this map, which includes their 700 Mhz spectrum allocations – good coverage but less than the above. Plus, you need a recent model phone, typically high end and expensive, to access LTE Band 12 (700 Mhz) that supports VoLTE (Voice over LTE) to work on the 700 Mhz spectrum.
If you have the kind of phone that most customers typically have in 2017 – which does not support LTE Band 12 and VoLTE, then this is your coverage map – with a lot of “no coverage zones”.
This news report has a very nice map showing the entire U.S. with 700 Mhz versus the future 600 Mhz network.
As you can see, the generic customer thinking of switching to T-Mobile, perhaps from AT&T or a mobile virtual network operator like Tracfone, is likely to have a phone that does not support the newer 700 Mhz band and will only get the most limited coverage. Unfortunately, its tedious to dig this information out of the T-Mobile web site, likely leading to customers switching to T-Mobile only to find they have inadequate coverage unless they also buy a new phone.
T-Mobile is correct that they have built out their network aggressively and will eventually provide access over a much wider area than their older network. However, the reality is that most of this expansion uses new frequencies and technologies that many consumers do not have (and may not realize when they sign up for service), or uses the newest 600 Mhz frequencies which are not yet supported on any phone.
If you are switching to T-Mobile to take advantage of their “expanded” coverage you need a phone that supports LTE Band 12 and VoLTE. If you do not have that, you’ll have to factor in the multi-hundred dollar cost of purchasing a new phone! And if you are in the area covered only by the new 600 MHz network, you’ll have to buy your new phone in 2018!
T-Mobile is doing a lot of “right” things with their network expansion and attractive, competitively priced service offerings. Unfortunately, their marketing is off target and is misleading – unless you plan to buy a new LTE Band 12 compatible phone today that will be obsolete in 2018 when you’ll need a still newer phone to use the 600 Mhz band.