Two smart guys talk about T-Mobile's behavior in clinging to metered session pricing: John Yunker of Byte Level Research talks about the inexorable path to flat-rate pricing for not just data, but voice. T-Mobile wants to keep charging by the hour or day and not roam with other carriers, but they're ignoring the reality of all that's happening around them. (T-Mobile's recent roaming agreement with the WBA has its best benefit, as I noted a few days ago, for their existing and potential flat-rate subscribers who travel regularly but infrequently overseas and who also have cell service from T-Mobile.)
David Haskin of Mobile Pipeline--a publication for which I'm writing two articles--references Yunker's monthly newsletter and notes that John writes there, "The only question is when, not if, Starbucks will offer Wi-Fi for free." Yunker says that Starbucks managers are pushing for free access for their customers. But as I've written many times, inclusion of T-Mobile locations in other companies roaming plans is just as good as free in some ways. I agree with Haskin's analysis of the market.
Free means never having to say you're sorry; for-fee means that you're making a promise about service. If T-Mobile switched to Wayport's view and charged a fixed rate per location per month to roaming partners instead of letting their partners go free, T-Mobile would vastly increase usage while reducing customer irritation and billing support issues.
In speaking to various Wi-Fi industry figures over the last six months, it's clear that the question is not whether Starbucks will turn its Wi-Fi billing off, but rather when, not if, T-Mobile will open itself to roaming partnerships that don't rely on their structure for session billing.
T-Mobile may be making the internal numbers they need to continue to expand, but Wi-Fi routes around pricing bottlenecks the same way that the Internet routes around outages. SBC has produced a model that all of its DSL subscribers will be incredibly motivated to adopt because of its cheap and easy nature. If SBC customers can't roam onto T-Mobile locations, they'll roam onto partners of SBC. Just chart the fluid dynamics of it, and T-Mobile will see ever-declining usage as the SBC/Wayport approach grows.