Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AT&T To Keep T-Mobile's Price Structure - But For Who?

This is out of CTIA.  And pretty interesting or not depending on what you think of it.  AT&T will allow T-Mobile to keep the price structure as they exist right now.  Certainly, that sounds like a great thing if you're a T-Mobile like myself.  That is to be expected.  For publicity alone, grandfathering in existing user plans make sense.  Otherwise, it would make AT&T look bad and the outcry would certainly crippled the merger even before it got started.

So, if this is all that AT&T mean, as reported by some blogs, then the story ends here.  However, could there be more to it?  The mobile warriors I know will want to know.  I am sure the regulators are also anxious to learn just what a super-sized AT&T is about and what the T-Mobile part of it will look like.

Let me map out a few scenarios.  First is the one I've already mentioned.  T-Mobile plans will continue to exist for T-Mobile subscribers, prepaid or post-paid.  That simply makes sense.

The second scenario is that T-Mobile is sort of a subsidiary of AT&T and it is entirely possible it will be allowed to operate as it exists now, within reason.  So long as T-Mobile do not interfere with the bottom line of the bigger AT&T mobile arm, things will be fine.

Here's the thing that AT&T can do over the course of a couple of years, the length of a two-year contract that post-paid users sign up for.  It can easily and slowly bleed T-Mobile and compel current users to switch over to AT&T.  For instance, it can continue to offer the iPhone or certain high-end Android devices on AT&T but relegate second tier devices to T-Mobile customers who refuses to budge.  Over time, these users will move to AT&T, which would be a lot easier than going to Verizon Wireless or Sprint, which may not be around as an independent company as we know it now.

The thing is that in either case, AT&T will get what it wants at the end.  It'll get most of the T-Mobile customers under AT&T terms.  It's possible that AT&T might make it easier for T-Mobile users to stay.  For instance, it might continue to offer unlimited data plans if they want the iPhone but the voice plans or, in my case, myFaves will have to go away.  

Obviously, what we hope, which has a slim to none chance of happening, is that AT&T adopts T-Mobile's influence rather than the other way around. Imagine gravitational shift in mobile world if this is to happen.  AT&T can leverage its greater economy of scale to make it happen.  

At the end of the 12 months, I doubt there will be much surprises, much less pleasant ones.  Which is why I've said in the past that this presents other carriers, particularly Sprint, a golden opportunity to take advantage of the confusion that is already growing and potential chaos that happen.

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