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T-Mobile Wants to Get You Addicted to Mobile Data – Now Offers a Free 200MB Plan With Tablet Purchase

apple-ipad-air-1Ask any telecom what they like least about tablets and they’ll probably tell you about how phablets and tablets are more likely to use wifi than 3G/4G. Wifi is naturally cheaper than a mobile data plan, and of course telecoms don’t make any money off of you when you are browsing the web from your local coffee shop’s free hotspot.

T-Mobile wants to change that trend, so today they took a leaf from the drug-dealer’s playbook. Starting next month T-Mobile will be offering a free data plan with every tablet purchase.

There’s a reason why the first hit is free.

The data plan is limited to only 200MB a month, which is barely enough to keep up on email and basic web browsing while on the go. But on the upside this plan is going to be free for the life of the tablet (or until it turns into a money pit for T-Mobile, whichever comes first).


It’s not completely clear to me whether you can pay cash for a tablet and get the free data plan (instead of financing it), and it’s not clear whether this plan will include an automatic overage charge. But even though the details are still sketchy this is still a relatively good deal.

The Nexus 7 (2013) costs $349 if you get the LTE option, and if T-Mobile does offer a truly free with no hidden costs data plan then the 200MB a month will be a nice bonus worth $40 or so a year. In comparison, when Amazon launched the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 last year they also announced a $50 a year data plan that offered 250MB per month.

T-Mobile is betting that this minimal data plan will be enough to tempt users into upgrading to a more expensive plan which start at $20 a month for up to 500MB. They could well be right, and if they are wrong it won’t cost them that much network traffic.

A number of different market analysts have said for years now that mobile devices with larger screens tend to use wifi instead of mobile networks in order to access the internet. The latest data comes from OpenSignal. In April they released a study which showed that

  • one, data use tended to increase in proportion to screen size, and
  • two, the amount of data sent over wifi grew at an average rate nearly 4 times as fast as that of mobile data plans.

Of course, OpenSignal was only discussing smartphones and phablets, but I have read similar stories about tablets, with at least one such story dating to 2012. This is market trend, and it is one that T-Mobile wants to change.


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Fbone October 23, 2013 um 7:40 pm

It’s unclear what the $16/month for 24 months is for.

LoganK October 23, 2013 um 8:39 pm

That’s if you buy from T-Mobile with their "zero-interest financing" deal. Pay cash up front or pay nothing today (well, I believe sales tax on the full price for states that have it) and then get billed a little very month until it’s paid off.

As for 200MB, it seems plenty to me. (I typically use 140MB a month on my phone, including multiple email accounts and web browsing.) It’s such a great deal that I could easily see myself paying extra to upgrade to a T-Mobile tablet instead of the WiFi model (currently about $80 difference for the Nexus 7). For $10 (the price of 1GB), I could stream three Netflix movies at low quality if I was out traveling.

But then reality crashes down, and I don’t really want a tablet with a modem. I want my phone to be a hotspot for my tablet and laptop. While this is possible, it’s still a little clunky and generally a huge drain on the battery. Once the technology catches up, I’ll simply have one device as my gateway to mobile connectivity, and I won’t have to worry about topping up this device or that as my usage patterns shift.

This isn’t really the site to ask, but I do wonder about the statistics for cellular tablet usage by non-businesses (vs., say, hotspot device/service purchases). How many are willing to pay an monthly bill? I suspect it isn’t many, but lower usage makes for much higher margins on tablet data plans.

Fbone October 24, 2013 um 1:50 am

Buy what from T-Mobile? An iPad Air for $384?

LoganK October 24, 2013 um 2:28 am

No, the $384 price is for the LTE Nexus 7 using the T-Mobile 2-year payment plan. The comparable iPad Air is $729.

Fbone October 24, 2013 um 12:36 pm

Ok, thanks. It’s a slight increase from the $349 retail price from Google.

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