What T-Mobile is Missing by Not Quickly Upgrading to EDGE

Martin O'Donnell pointed out an excellent article in The Seattle Times called T-Mobile Resists the Rush where several T-Mobile USA executives suggested that it was too early to roll out faster wireless data services. The choicest quote in the article came from Cole Brodman, T-Mobile's Chief Development Officer:

What is it that they [customers] will be missing? Today, you can get e-mail on devices, you can get instant messaging and you can get Internet access.

He's right up to a point.

I can get a device which is a good email client on T-Mobile. It's called the T-Mobile Sidekick II. It works well from what I understand except for two issues:

  1. It has a UI that's designed to appeal to hipsters rather than business people.
  2. Its email client is an IMAP polling mechanism rather than a real IMAP client.

The core problem is that there basically aren't any T-Mobile wireless email solutions more sophisticated and dependable than the Sidekick II.

  • The palmOne Treo 600 provides customers with true email client choice, but it's hamstrung by its low-resolution display and, more importantly, by a lack of wireless data bandwidth.
  • T-Mobile has extensive BlackBerry device offerings, but the backend email infrastructure offered to individual and small business customers is primitive compared to that which users of corporate email systems with integrated BlackBerry Enterprise Servers receive.
  • The H-P iPAQ h6315 is a troubled device which has not received the kind of technical support from Hewlett-Packard that's necessary to keep it in the good graces of the gadget pundits.

Cutting edge mobile data devices, like the palmOne Treo 650 and the Motorola RAZR V3 are designed for the EDGE wireless data protocol which runs at 154.32 kilobits per second at peak and averages 107.11 kbps. T-Mobile's GPRS wireless data network tops out at 39.09 kbps.

If you were running palmOne or Motorola's handset businesses, would you sign a distribution deal for your flagship mobile Internet device with a mobile provider whose network runs at 20 percent of the peak data rate supported by the device? (That's T-Mobile.) Not if you can deal with a carrier that supports your device at its full data rate (Cingular), and just as an added bonus, has two and a half times the marketshare of the carrier with the slower data network.

A couple of weeks ago I said that I was switching from T-Mobile to Cingular because I wanted the Treo 650 and I wanted the bandwidth that was available from Cingular. The greater bandwidth allows me to run Chatter Email, a full IMAP email client that is the most Blackberry-like email implementation I've seen on a PalmOS device. It works, it's worth it, and I'm not looking back.

As the smallest national mobile carrier in the United States, T-Mobile USA needs more than the hipster demographic to get to the next level. The easiest vertical market to capture after the hipsters would have been the gadget connoisseurs. In order to be competitive in that market you have to have the best available wireless data network compatible with your infrastructure, not the slowest and cheapest.

We'll see how long it takes T-Mobile's management to conclude that accelerating EDGE deployment is a top priority.