Among the big four mobile carriers in the United States, T-Mobile styles itself as the rebellious underdog—the magenta-hued “uncarrier” that’s unleashing customers from long-term contracts and exorbitant roaming charges.
At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, though, trash-talking T-Mobile CEO John Legere got disruptive in a more literal sense. As CNET’s Roger Cheng reported, Legere crashed a swank party that rival AT&T was throwing for its developers at the Palms Hotel on Monday night. (Among other attractions, the rapper Macklemore gave a live concert.) Legere even stopped to take a quick photo with Cheng, which the latter promptly tweeted.
Then, 15 minutes later:
Legere told Re/Code’s Ina Fried afterward that “all of a sudden these gigantic goons said, ‘Can I talk to you over here,’” and then told him he’d be charged with trespassing if he didn’t leave immediately. Characteristically, Legere took the chance to get in a dig at AT&T’s business, telling Fried he could have cut prices for subscribers with all the money AT&T spent on the shindig.
But the best part was his excuse for why he showed up in the first place: “I just wanted to hear Macklemore.”
The dustup marks an amusing new high point in an increasingly bitter war of words and service plans between the two providers. AT&T has been locked in a battle for U.S. wireless supremacy with Verizon, and has said in the past that it’s not worried about T-Mobile, which has less than half as many subscribers. Recently, though, it has started offering T-Mobile customers hundreds of dollars in credit if they switch to AT&T, which Legere has called a “desperate move.” Indeed, T-Mobile has been gaining ground lately in terms of new subscribers, many of them at the expense of beleagured also-ran Sprint.
T-Mobile is expected to unveil its own incentives at CES on Wednesday, amid speculation that it will try to one-up its rivals by offering to pay their customers’ early-termination fees if they switch to T-Mobile.
The juicy rivalry is almost enough to make you forget that the two companies tried to merge just two years ago, in a deal that was nixed by the Department of Justice on antitrust grounds. Back then I wrote a somewhat contrarian piece arguing that the DoJ shouldn’t have intervened—that the merger wouldn’t have harmed consumers, and might well have helped them. I was wrong: T-Mobile is proving pluckier than I’d imagined, and its budding rivalry with stodgy AT&T is a reminder of what makes competition great—not to mention just plain fun.
The latest rumors once again have T-Mobile pairing off with Sprint. This time I’m agin’ it—especially if it means the ouster of Legere and the transformation of the “uncarrier” into just another member of a fat and happy wireless triopoly.
(Those in the market for some more data-driven reasons to oppose the merger should read Lydia DePillis’s recent post on Wonkblog.)