Wednesday, October 25, 2006

T-mobile, T-zones, T-mobile Web and the Internet Myth...

Ok, this one's for all you T-mobile USA fans out there.

If you're a hardcore T-mobile user since the free wap days, then you already know about this. However, for those who seem to be so confused about the internet plans that T-mobile offers, allow me to explain.

There's a handful of different levels of access that T-mobile offers for internet on your mobile phone. The two major ones that are currently offered to existing customers are:
1) T-Mobile Web ($5.99/m)
2) T-Mobile Total Internet ($29.99/m)

The obvious difference is that #2, Total Internet, also gives you access to T-mobile's network of WiFi hotspots scattered across the country (starbucks, airports, etc...). However, most users could really care less about that, especially those who don't even have WiFi enabled phones!
The problem, however, is that T-mobile now requires this option for internet on their latest Windows Mobile phones. The reason for this is rumored to be because T-mobile is trying to make back some of the money they spent on this hotspot infrastructure, which seems to be much less profitable than originally expected.
But is that all there is to it? If you buy a WM phone from T-mobile, is your only internet choice to spend 5x as much as you would otherwise because they are pushing their hotpot use? Or could a MDA/SDA user just use the cheaper T-zones or T-mobile web and forget the hotspots?

What's the real difference?
Well, let's start by looking at what market each is geared towards:
T-Mobile Web: The casual consumer with an average handset.
-Originally, internet access on a phone was considered a novelty item that would get very little real-world use. How much bandwidth could you possibly use up checking your hotmail account on a limited-graphics mobile-formatted page every so often? For this, T-mobile offered a phone plan add-on that they called T-zones, which had an unlimited plan for $4.99. Times changed however, and people can do alot more online with their phones now than they used to. So, T-mobile raised their price $1, and changed the name to T-mobile Web (possibly to justify the price hike).

Total Internet: Power users who wish to have the full internet anywhere there is reception, for example a laptop with a cellular PC-card added in.
-These customers will clearly use more bandwidth, therefore a higher price is justifiable.

However, both plans advertise that they offer unlimited (ie. unmetered) data. So, what incentive is there to go with the more expensive plan? Why wouldn't a "power user" just pay a fraction of the price for unlimited data?
T-mobile has taken some precautions to prevent that sort of thing from happening. For starters, the cheaper plan is supposed to only allow web access and email access. To do this, they closed all the ports except for a handful and restricted the web port by forcing all traffic to go through a proxy server that acts as a filter. The result is that email and web work just fine, but chats, streaming media, VoIP and any other fancy tricks won't.

So, will the cheaper data plans work on my SDA/MDA?
The simple answer: Yes!
They don't want it to, but the truth is there's nothing different about it as long as you put the correct settings into your phone (since it uses the proxy server as a filter, you have to set it up in connections to get out to the internet).
You'll still be restricted to straight-up email and web (no streaming, etc...), but for most people that's all they really want anyway.

Will it be slower?
Not really. Some people seem to think you only get EDGE (the 2.5G upgrade T-mobile made in order to speed their cellular data 4x) if you pay for full internet, otherwise you're stuck with the slower (2G) GPRS speeds. That's just not true. That has everything to do with your phone's connection to the tower, and almost nothing to do with your tier of service. If your phone supports EDGE, and the tower you're connecting to supports EDGE, then you have EDGE speed. T-mobile is not set up to give different users different speeds.

What if I need more than just web/email, but don't want to pay for hotspots?
If you're someone who needs full, unrestricted access to the internet on your phone (personally I'd like to be able to stream media and use chat services), there are various workarounds, including hosting your own proxy server on an open port that doesn't have the same limitations. The easiest thing, however, would be to just claim you have a blackberry device and say you'd like a blackberry internet add-on. That plan is only $19.99, and will work the same as the full internet- all ports open and everything.
This is perfectly legitimate, because T-mobile allows you to switch your sim card into as many phones as you want whenever you want. If they say "I see you're using an MDA/SDA", you could just respond with "I also have a blackberry and I'd like to be able to use it sometimes". They can't argue with that!