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T-Mobile 'rewrites the rules' on cellular data, offers free in-flight coverage

The up-and-coming star of the U.S. cellular scene says Wi-Fi Calling will deliver service to rural areas where few, if any, cell networks have gone before.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET/CBS Interactive

"The s**t that been said externally, it's blowing my mind."

That's T-Mobile chief executive John Legere for you. He was talking about some of the "mainstream tech" his company has been ahead of the curve on — like Wi-Fi Calling and next-generation LTE cellular speeds — yet is only just landing in modern phones. Legere took a pop at nearly every other cellular giant, Amazon, and even a verbal battering aimed in Apple's direction.

He probably shouldn't have downed that entire can of Red Bull just as he was walking onto the stage.

After a lengthy introduction, on Wednesday at an event in San Francisco, Legere introduced the company's seventh and latest Uncarrier event, in which he promised to once again shake up the U.S. cellular industry.

The company said it "rewrote" the rules on wireless by delivering service to areas where few, if any, cell networks have gone before.

The "Wi-Fi Unleashed" event was focused almost entirely on how Wi-Fi technology can complement — in some cases replace — traditional cell service.

For areas where T-Mobile doesn't have cell service, like many rural U.S. communities and in the air, it has a plan.

T-Mobile said it has struck a new exclusive agreement with in-flight Wi-Fi company Gogo, allowing T-Mobile customers to send and receive unlimited texts and pictures, and receive visual voicemail, on any global Gogo-equipped flight wthin the U.S.

T-Mobile said this accounts for three-quarters of all domestic flights across the U.S. in the last year. That move alone will be a boon to business travelers who need to keep connected on the go — let alone at 30,000 feet.

The service goes live on September 17, and is free for all Uncarrier customers.

Legere also lauded Wi-Fi Calling, a service enabled in the latest HTC, Samsung, Apple, and LG phones, as a game-changer for customers with generally poor cell service.

As all of the new smartphones in T-Mobile's stores are ready-to-go with Wi-Fi Calling, a service that allows calls to go through even when there is no cell service, all of T-Mobile's customers will be eligible to upgrade to a Wi-Fi Calling-ready device.

Legere compared this to "adding millions of towers to our network in a single day."

He also said that every broadband connection "can now become a T-Mobile tower," thanks to its new personal cell service technology. Dubbed the T-Mobile Personal CellSpot, the 802.11ac home router allows users to plug in the personal hotspot into their home network to enable full-bars of service at home, or in their office. It also operates alongside or in conjunction with existing home routers.

The personal hotspot device is free, with a $25 refundable deposit, and is available September 17.

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