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T-Mobile becomes the first carrier to offer nationwide 5G, rolls out holiday ad blitz

Ad Age 02 Dec 2019 02:00

T-Mobile on Monday became the first major carrier to roll out nationwide 5G coverage to consumers. The telecom carrier, which acquired Sprint for $26 billion last year, is also rolling out a new ad campaign blitz as the holiday season swings into full gear. 

“T-Mobile has been quiet on broadly marketing 5G to consumers,” Matt Staneff, executive VP and chief marketing officer at T-Mobile, says. “We’ve been silent because we wanted to make sure it was right and we wanted to make sure it was available to all consumers.” 

Although rivals such AT&T and Verizon offer 5G, they only do so in select cities and, in some cases, the technology is very limited. T-Mobile’s announcement, however, promises 5G coverage nationwide.

T-Mobile's ad campaign was created in-house, and will span across TV, radio, digital audio, social media, among other channels. Unlike many T-Mobile commercials, its recent spots feature real T-Mobile engineers talking about what 5G technology can bring (a move out of Verizon’s playbook).

“We know consumer trust is low in [the mobile] category,” Staneff​​​​​​​ says. “We are showing real engineers and our coverage area instead of touting future things that are not yet possible.” 

5G Marketing Map

The company will also promote what it says is a highly-detailed coverage map so consumers know exactly where 5G coverage can and cannot be obtained (see above). 

Will consumers upgrade? 

The difference between 4G and 5G is considerable. For example, with 5G, users can download the “Baywatch” movie in less than 30 seconds, compared with about an hour with 4G. There is not a significant price difference between 4G and 5G phones, as a 5G phone costs about $800 to $1,000 today.

However, consumers are still holding onto their current devices longer. Although the notion of faster speeds is appealing, there are no 5G applications garnering mass appeal. The arrival of 4G, for instance, brought Uber, ecommerce, social media and overall a better web-browsing experience when compared to 3G. 

With no applications, many believe consumers may hesitate before dishing out serious dough for a 5G handset. But T-Mobile intends to encourage holiday shoppers to upgrade to 5G by offering either a Samsung Note 10+ 5G or a OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren smartphone for free when they switch to T-Mobile and trade in an eligible phone. 

Staneff​​​​​​​ is also bullish that 5G applications will eventually arrive in the near future. “You can’t innovate unless you have something to innovate on,” he says, adding that “Uber didn’t exist when 4G launched.”

“Our belief is innovation will follow,” Staneff​​​​​​​ says. “This is the start of a journey that will take multiple years to pay out over time.” 

Tech plays role in marketing message

T-Mobile’s ability to offer nationwide coverage first is a direct result of an $8 billion investment it made by “low-band spectrum” from a Federal Communications Commission auction. 

Radio frequencies known as spectrum are the technical infrastructure required to bring smartphone service to life. Smartphone speeds depend on which band of the spectrum carriers use: “low,” which is the slowest, but has the largest coverage area; “medium,” a balance between coverage and speed; and “high,” which offers ridiculous speeds (gigabit), but a tiny coverage area.

A low band is suitable for rural areas, for instance, while high band is more appropriate for densely populated areas because high-rise buildings can affect speeds. 

T-Mobile’s $8 billion purchase from the FCC auction gave it an abundance of low band spectrum. That move is playing a direct role in its new marketing effort. Ads focus on T-Mobile bringing faster 5G speeds to rural areas that historically have been underserved. Meanwhile, should the Sprint acquisition go through as expected, T-Mobile will then have access to medium-band spectrum, which will serve it well in urban areas. 

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