Want an unlimited data plan? With T-Mobile it may not be too long before you don’t have much of a choice. Responding both to consumer hatred of over the limit charges and over complicated billing plans, T-Mobile is making a hard marketing push to move as many customers as possible onto their unlimited plan.
But the move is not all stick and no carrot. The company is lowering the price of its unlimited plan, making it more attractive – though not cheaper – for customers on other plans.
Part of the consumer PR logic behind the push is the idea that streaming and WiFi are the new “necessities” of modern communication and entertainment. There was a time when cable was a novelty, now it’s nearly eponymous with “TV”. Streaming technology is quickly headed that direction, and it may not take nearly as long as cable did to become the de facto television choice for most American consumers.
Streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon producing their own content will shepherd this trend quickly, and the mobile carrier most able to provide the services needed will win the most customers the fastest. But “soon” is not “yet” and, for many, unlimited data is still viewed as an unnecessary luxury expense. An extra outlay each month that some on limited budgets simply can’t quite justify. For these folks unlimited data would mean canceling Netflix or Pandora, and that’s just not going to happen. Watch commercials? Not this crowd. Nope. Nope. Nope.
However, in one respect, while presumptive, the move is also a smart one. It’s the direct opposite of recent moves by Verizon and AT&T to offer more unlimited plans while also raising prices for customers who want to blow the lid off their data consumption.
T-Mobile plans to sweeten the deal by allowing many customers to stream video from Netflix, ESPN and HBO Go without actually using their data plans. While this might seem shortsighted – people don’t need unlimited data if they get streaming for free – it does establish customer loyalty in a time when T-Mobile is trying to gain the focused attention of their customer base while also attracting new customers.
The new plans will be phased in beginning the first week of September. The success or failure of this gambit may well rest on the PR campaigns between now and then.
Chris Burch is a venture capitalist and founder of Burch Creative Capital.