Can T-Mobile (TMUS) Keep Hitting it Out of the Park?

Jeff Kagan  |

T-Mobile USA (TMUS) has been earning attention over this last year. Now they are earning respect with two quarters of growth. This turnaround is in the very early stages, and has been quite the surprise this year. Why are they suddenly doing better? One answer is the direction and thinking of their new CEO John Legere. But can it continue?

First let’s take a look back at where T-Mobile comes from. T-Mobile was the number four competitor until they lost their way several years ago.

Six years ago the first Apple Inc. (AAPL) iPhone and Google Android-runningphones hit the streets and suddenly changed the wireless industry.

The iPhone success often overwhelmed AT&T Mobility in those early days. They were running as fast as they could to keep up with the avalanche of sudden demand. They were the first carrier to offer the device and ushered in the new smartphone revolution all carriers now enjoy.

The sudden and immense success of the iPhone was the red flare fired to warn all networks they needed to upgrade their wireless data networks. A wireless data storm was coming. That wake up call to the industry said the future was all about smartphones.

Some carriers understood the opportunity. Some did not. Those who didn’t would suffer for years to come.

Before that point, smartphones were growing slowly. The leaders were Palm, which started the revolution in the 1990’s. Then Blackberry (BBRY) joined in. In the beginning neither of these companies were wireless phones; the first Blackberry was a pager introduced in 1999, andtThe first Palm was a personal calendar and organizer launched in the mid 1990’s.

In fact it was 2003 before they added a wireless phone to their devices. There were only a few hundred apps and growth was slow, but steady. Now, there are nearly a million.

The demand for wireless data on the networks in that time rose very quickly. That’s when we saw AT&T (T) and Verizon Communications (VZ) invest in bringing their networks up to speed. Today they both have very fast wireless data networks that can carry enormous amounts of data.

They use different technologies to bring speed to market, and their customers are very happy with both - AT&T uses HSPA+ and LTE, while Verizon uses LTE.

Sprint (S) and T-Mobile did not adapt so well. They did not invest in and deliver a faster signal. That meant neither really offered the kind of speed customers suddenly wanted.

Over the last few years since both AT&T and Verizon had the lead in speed, they won most of the customers. In fact these two carriers account for roughly 70 percent of the market share.

Today both Sprint and T-Mobile are in the very early stages of a recovery. Sprint was recently acquired by Softbank and they are busily updating the network. They have enormous wireless data spectrum at hand. More than any other carrier.

T-Mobile is going through a more immediate transformation ushered in by a new CEO John Legere, formerly of Global Crossing. Legere joined T-Mobile roughly one year ago, in late 2012.

Legere is larger than life and let’s his mouth spout off four letter words which really separates him from other CEO’s. Whatever you think if his approach, he has punched his way into the spotlight and given T-Mobile a second chance.

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Taking a closer look at the last year you can see quite a bit of activity from T-Mobile. Activity, which has led to a rapid turnaround from the company who was failing. Now they are starting to stabilize and even show some growth.

What has John Legere done for T-Mobile during the last year? Plenty. He stuck his flag in the ground and changed the direction of the company.

Going forward T-Mobile is known as the ‘uncarrier’. Legere took a look at the industry, and even though it has shown rapid growth, there were still areas he says customers don’t like. He wanted to lower costs. He wanted to transform first T-Mobile then the entire industry.

T-Mobile changed from a regular post-paid carrier like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, and looks more like a pre-paid carrier. He says this is one way for customers to cut costs.

Customers pay for their phone separate from their monthly service. They pay more for the device then from other carriers, but they are not under contract for two years. So bottom line they don’t pay more, they just pay differently. There were quite a few other changes like acquiring MetroPCS and offering the iPhone.

Remember, AT&T and T-Mobile tried to merge a few short years ago, but regulators said no. They were both too large. At the time, many said T-Mobile was a shadow of its former self. At the time they were right.

But much has changed over the last year. They transformed themselves from a company who was dying on the vine, to a company with a second chance at life. Suddenly they are up and running and competing once again.

CEO John Legere jumped in and started pounding on T-Mobile’s chest. They have been responding. Not bad for just a few months. What will come next? Will T-Mobile continue its recovery and growth?

The T-Mobile network is not as vast or as fast as that of AT&T or Verizon. When Sprint recovers in the next year or two they may have a spectrum advantage as well. Yet T-Mobile is still popping up on the radar. They are winning new customers.

They just announced their quarterly earnings and showed growth. That’s two quarters in a row of growth. That is very different. That is very encouraging.

The question is will that continue? Is this move up good for the long-term?

That depends on what’s next. If they keep growing and keep changing themselves and the entire industry then the answer could be yes. The next question is, will they have an impact on the entire industry? It’s too early to tell.

Remember however that T-Mobile, even though they are showing promise, it is still only a little squirt in an industry of giants. Will they really have an impact on AT&T and Verizon?

To do so, this story would have to look like David vs. Goliath. So for now, let’s just see whether Legere and T-Mobile can continue their growth and repair their company. Then we can look out to see if they will change the industry.


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