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. 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 challenging 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, a customer switching to T-Mobile, perhaps from AT&T or a mobile virtual network operator like Tracfone, may have an older phone that does not support the newer 700 Mhz band and will only get the more limited coverage. Unfortunately, its tedious to dig this information out of the T-Mobile web site – some customers may switch 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.
- In the very near future, T-Mobile, with a newer phone, will likely have the best coverage of any operator in the U.S.
- T-Mobile’s coverage is today far better than it was just two years ago. They are seriously improving their network.
However, some of this expansion uses new frequencies and technologies that many consumers do not yet 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 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 somewhat misleading on the coverage issue – unless you plan to buy a new LTE Band 12 compatible phone today or a still newer phone, not yet available, to use the 600 Mhz band.
Your best bet is to poke around the T-Mobile web site and explore all the maps on coverage. You can – in fact – once you get to the right location on their web site – select your phone device from a list and there they will show you the coverage you should expect for your phone.
In Spite of That, We Switched to T-Mobile!
Please note – in spite of this we switched our own phone service to T-Mobile. We had a chance to really give the network a work out on a cross country driving trip through Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Northern California and Oregon.
The good news – we are glad we switched to T-Mobile.
Data service has been much faster than our previous provider, and as long as you look at the coverage map representing your actual device (in my case, LTE Band 12 700 Mhz supported), their coverage maps are accurate (unlike some other providers). Do be sure to zoom in to the map as the colors change as you zoom in. What appears as solid magenta coverage in the wide angle view is, in some places, particularly in some rural areas, is just voice and text messaging. That’s not a problem in our view – they are honest with their coverage maps once you select the right one.
Overall, we are glad that we switched to T-Mobile and have no desire at all to go back to “the other carrier” we were using before we switched.