T-Mobile kicks off free tablet data of 200 MB per month

Businesses get 2.5 GB per month of free data service for first three months

T-Mobile on Wednesday announced it will give away 200 MB of tablet data per month over its 4G LTE network to customers who sign up for a Mobile Internet account.

For businesses that activate a Mobile Internet line, T-Mobile is offering 2.5 GB per month of free data service for the first three months.

The initiatives, which start Nov. 1, are the latest installment by T-Mobile in its "Un-carrier" promotion that recently included free unlimited data and text in 115 countries for customers on its Simple Choice plan.

The carrier also said it will have the new iPad Air and iPad mini tablets on Nov. 1 to add to its Apple lineup, which includes iPhones. Eligible customers will be able to purchase either device with no down payment.

With T-Mobile, the iPad Air over Wi-Fi + Cellular will be zero down plus 24 monthly payments of $26.25 for the 16 GB model, a total of $630. The iPad mini will be zero down with 24 payments of $17.91 for the 16 GB model, for a total of $430. Later in November, T-Mobile will offer the new iPad mini with Retina display for zero down with 24 payments of $22.08 for the 16GB model, a total of $530.

Every T-Mobile iPad customer will also get the 200 MB of free 4G LTE data offered to other tablet customers for the life of the tablet, subject to signing up for a Mobile Internet plan, which includes T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan starting at $10 a month.

Customers can also apply the trade-in value of some tablets to their new tablet purchases, even if the older tablet is Wi-Fi only.

With T-Mobile's Tablets Un-leashed, customers can use the free 200 MB per month of tablet data service to send about 800 Instagram photos, more than 2,500 emails, or stream 200 minutes of music.

Other tablets that T-Mobile will offer under the plan include the Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.

T-Mobile said that after the free 200 MB is used up in a given month, the cellular data service stops, at which point customers have the option to join a service plan or can wait until the start of another month. There are daily, weekly and monthly options for adding 4G LTE data, which start at $10 a month for 500 MB of LTE data service when added to a voice service plan.

For businesses, after the three months of free 2.5 GB monthly data service ends, they will be charged $20 a month for 2.5 GB.

T-Mobile's early trade-in JUMP! plan does not apply to tablets, only to smartphones, T-Mobile said in a press conference in which questions were fielded over Twitter.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere cast the news about free tablet data in a competitive light, saying that other carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, have a "tendency of more restrictive tablet data plans."

Noting that nearly 90% of tablets are Wi-Fi only, Legere said customers want constant mobile access when Wi-Fi isn't available. "We will prove we have the lowest cost of ownership for tablets" over cellular, he said.

T-Mobile said the new iPads will work over all of its LTE and HSPA+ frequencies.

The T-Mobile announcement for tablet LTE data stands in contrast to attempts by AT&T and somewhat by Verizon Wireless to expand access to thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots in recent years. Clearly, T-Mobile sees potential revenue in attracting customers to pay for cellular usage over LTE.

"Our whole un-carrier strategy is to address the guy who has to find some hotel lobby for free Wi-Fi, so it's a very compelling proposition for a business traveler to not have to find that Wi-Fi hotspot," said Drew Kelton, senior vice president of business-to-business at T-Mobile, in an interview.

LTE cellular is an important potential revenue stream for T-Mobile, Kelton said. "The name of the game is offering business value to our customers and our shareholders," he said. "We think it's worthwhile to have the flexibility of not having to worry about finding free Wi-Fi, and our LTE service is killer."

Kelton said he believes industry projections are accurate, and that a wirelessly connected tablet will supercede the laptop by as early as 2015. "I think the tablet will become the de facto business tool for the road warrior," he said.

The new lighter iPad Air, weighing only 1 pound, will be attractive to road warriors, as will the device's having more LTE bands -- a total of 14 -- that will expand the number of LTE markets where the device will work.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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