T-Mobile US Inc (NYSE:TMUS) is experimenting with a new feature that would let customers permanently unlock their smart phones by pressing a couple of buttons, but the new program doesn’t come without plenty of caveats (h/t Greg Kumparak at TechCrunch). It’s currently only available on the Samsung Galaxy Avant (not exactly a flagship product), for customers who meet certain conditions.
Only fully paid off Avants can be unlocked with new feature
First of all, you have to have actually paid off your phone, no unlocking it and taking your business elsewhere when you still owe T-Mobile US Inc (NYSE:TMUS) a bunch of payments. You also need a T-Mobile account at least 40 days old that’s still in good standing, so you’re going to have to unlock your phone and then switch carriers (if that’s your plan) not the other way around. Restricting the program to a single model is just a way for T-Mobile to dip its toes in the water, presumably with some of its less profitable clients since the Samsung Galaxy Avant is considered a mid-range smart phone.
You can also unlock your phone for 30 days at a time without all the restrictions, which seems like it should be a standard feature so that people traveling abroad don’t have to jump through so many hoops.
T-Mobile has been opening up to compete for market share
T-Mobile has been trying out different models to win over US customers who have a generally low opinion of carriers after years of complicated contract plans that came hand-in-hand with deeply subsidized smart phones. T-Mobile US Inc (NYSE:TMUS) has been pushing prepaid plans that have much lower fees than their customers, but charge full price for the phone itself (usually spread out as an installation plan). If the move to make its phones easier to unlock spreads to all of the phones that T-Mobile sells, it could be another sign that the company would rather compete on prices than defend a captured audience of users. For a service provider that still has a lot to do building its market share, the trade-off probably makes sense.
But before we declare T-Mobile US Inc (NYSE:TMUS) the telecom most interested in transparency and customer service, it’s worth remembering that the Federal Trade Commission accused it of cramming premium text messaging services on customers’ bills that it ought to have known were fraudulent.