T-Mobile doesn't get modern mobile business

The also-ran carrier has pioneered some mobile innovations but shows itself to be clueless when it comes to what businesses need

When T-Mobile's PR rep called a few weeks ago to set up an interview about the cellular carrier's business mobile strategy, I was interested. Although T-Mobile is a second-tier carrier not known for its business focus, it's also introduced some innovations in mobile, such as creating phones and in-home routers that switch between Wi-Fi and cellular networks automatically and being the first to offer an Android smartphone (the G1 from HTC). In recent years, T-Mobile has drifted to the background as AT&T and Verizon Wireless have aggressively marketed smartphones for both consumer and business users; hearing that T-Mobile might be back in business got my attention. And it's upgrading its cellular network this year to a much faster version of 3G called HSDPA, giving it a speed advantage for a few months in at least a handful of cities.

A woeful tale of cluelessless
Unfortuately, the call with T-Mobile exposed the carrier's cluelessness when it comes to business needs beyond phone plans. The sales guy on the line had no inkling of a business's mobile data needs or issues, and that's where the action and promise is in mobile today. (I won't embarrass him publicly by sharing his name.)

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For him, what counted as "business" was the fact that companies could save money by making calls over Wi-Fi and those doing business overseas could get better rates with T-Mobile because of its parent company, Deutsche Telekom. But when I asked about Asia, he admitted the Deutsche Telekom advantage only applied to some European countries and wasn't as global as he wanted me -- and, thus, you -- to believe. If you conduct lots of business in Europe, you might get better pricing via T-Mobile, but that's not guaranteed. Anyhow, any business will take the time to understand the complete rate picture, not swoon over the fact that T-Mobile's parent company is German.

As for Wi-Fi calling, I have nothing against it, and unlike AT&T or Verizon, T-Mobile's approach doesn't require a separate number to make the calls as you would if you used a service like Skype, nor does it require installing a unified commnunications server such as Agito Networks'. So it could save you some money based on your plan's cellular usage limits and could be more convenient than other carriers' options. But that's icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Also, it's old icing: T-Mobile has been offering variations of Wi-Fi calling for a decade.

The most naive comment was that some of T-Mobile's Android phones support Microsoft Exchange and, thus, are business-oriented. (BlackBerrys offered by T-Mobile also support Exchange, if you use BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BES Express, as do its few Windows Mobile devices, but we were talking the new generation of devices such as iPhone and Android.) The sales guy didn't know that the Exchange support is only for unsecured email connections, those that don't use Exchange ActiveSync policies. It's true that many small businesses don't secure their email access, but if you claim to target "business," you have to understand the issues in at least midsize firms, many of which will need some basic access security and on-device encryption capabilities. T-Mobile doesn't seem to understand this.

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