Sprint and T-Mobile US announced unlimited data plans within minutes of each other Thursday morning, triggering accusations and insults by their CEOs that the other had copied the idea.
At one point, Sprint’s Marcelo Claure called John Legere of T-Mobile a “con artist.”
Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s introduction of unlimited data plans comes as the industry enters a heightened level of competition for each other’s subscribers. It began with back-to-school, accelerates with next month’s expected launch of a new iPhone and rolls into the holidays.
T-Mobile, however, went further than Overland Park-based Sprint by pledging that it would also get rid of its regular rate plans that provide a set amount of data each month. It’s going all-in on unlimited data.
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“Relatively soon, this will be the plan and way of doing business with T-Mobile,” Legere said.
Years ago, unlimited data plans gave way to monthly packages of data allotments — 2 gigabytes, 4 gigabytes, 6 gigabytes, etc. It’s where competition for customers has focused.
Sprint’s return to customer growth began after it launched its half-off rate plan promotion in late 2014. It targeted Verizon and AT&T households by giving customers who switch the same amount of data at half the cost.
On Wednesday, AT&T rolled out new data package plans that allow customers to avoid charges for going over their monthly allotments. It offers unlimited data currently to customers who also buy its DirecTV service.
Verizon does not offer an unlimited data plan.
Data is what mobile consumers need to stream video, download apps, check Facebook posts and enjoy many other popular features of smartphones and tablets. All the carriers’ plans provide unlimited voice and texting.
T-Mobile’s new plan is called T-Mobile One. Customers will pay $70 for one line, $50 for a second and $20 for each of the next six lines. Buyers will have access to unlimited data.
There are some limits. Data use for video is unlimited, but the video will stream at standard definition, which is the pace of data usage under T-Mobile’s Binge On feature, instead of high definition. Users can pay extra for high definition video.
Heavy data users also can expect to see data speeds slowed once they’ve used 26 gigabytes of data, T-Mobile said.
Sprint said its Unlimited Freedom plan will cost $60 for the first line, $40 for the second and $30 for each additional line up to 10. Sprint’s prepaid brand Boost Mobile also is offering unlimited data plans.
Like T-Mobile’s new offering, Sprint’s plans will deliver video at standard definition rather than high definition but without an option to pay up for high definition on an unlimited basis.
“Wireless customers want simple, worry-free and affordable wireless plans on a reliable network,” Sprint’s Claure said in the carrier’s announcement. “Now customers can watch their favorite movies and videos and stream an unlimited playlist at an amazing price.”
Sprint also is keeping its data package plans that are promoted now through the half-off rate plan advertising.
Sprint had been testing unlimited plans in trials for weeks but had brushed off questions of whether that meant it planned to offer one nationally. Spokesman Dave Tovar said the launch of Unlimited Freedom had been set for Thursday well before T-Mobile said it would make an announcement Thursday.
Sprint’s Unlimited Freedom plan will be available in its stores Friday.
T-Mobile One launches Sept. 6.
The company said its regular rate plans would continue for a while after that day and did not say when it would drop them to offer only an unlimited data plan.
The near simultaneous announcement of the plans rekindled the personal battle the company CEOs have waged for years. One such fight erupted in social media in November when Sprint extended its half-off rate plan promotion to T-Mobile customers who switch to Sprint.
On Thursday, each CEO publicly accused the other of copying or even stealing the idea of launching an unlimited data plan. Their fight flashed first on social media and then moved to cable television.
T-Mobile’s announcement had come first, but Sprint’s wasn’t far behind as Claure tweeted his news would follow in five minutes.
Legere’s reply charged Sprint with copying and pasting T-Mobile’s ideas, which provoked Claure to call him a con artist.
CNBC interviewed Legere first, and the reporter noted rumors that Sprint’s parent company, SoftBank Group Corp., still would like to buy T-Mobile. Legere then was asked whether he might end up at a corporate Thanksgiving dinner table with Claure.
“I’d throw potatoes in his face,” Legere replied.
Claure appeared on CNBC by phone about an hour later and defended his Twitter charge that Legere had stolen the idea and was a con artist.
“If we were copying his idea, how in the world could we be ready to launch (unlimited service) tomorrow while he cannot launch until Sept. 6?” Claure said. “Somebody who does that to me and who basically has the audacity to say we are copying and pasting is a con artist.”
T-Mobile’s announcement had made clear that the unlimited focus was aimed at taking customers away from the largest wireless carriers Verizon and AT&T. In the conference, Legere said T-Mobile is gaining customers at the expense of each of its rivals, a claim Sprint also has made.
“Only T-Mobile’s network can handle something as huge as destroying data limits,” Legere said in the announcement. “I hope AT&T and Verizon try to follow us. In fact, I challenge them to try.”
Jeff Kagan, a wireless industry analyst, said T-Mobile would not be able to change the market so dramatically by committing to unlimited data. He also wondered whether the unlimited plan would change customers’ choices.
“I believe a segment of T-Mobile customers will take this plan,” Kagan wrote in an email. “Whether or not they (T-Mobile) will attract customers from other carriers is another question since other carriers are heading in the same direction.”
A look at the plans
Sprint Unlimited Freedom
$60 for the first line
$40 for the second
$30 for each additional line up to 10
$70 for one line
$50 for a second
$20 for each of the next six lines
Starts Sept. 6