AT&T might be trying to challenge T-Mobile's 'Un-carrier' title on several different fronts

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AT&T might be trying to challenge T-Mobile's 'Un-carrier' title on several different fronts
Can the second largest player of the massive US wireless service industry still be considered an outsider or an underdog in the fight for national (and even international) supremacy versus Verizon and AT&T? Many analysts don't seem to think so, especially under the leadership of a new and significantly more subdued CEO than former skipper and "Un-carrier" mastermind John Legere.

But while T-Mobile might be leaving behind the days of unorthodox "Dumb and Dumber" advertising, another major operator is slowly moving towards Magenta's old market position from a number of key standpoints. We're talking, of course, about AT&T, which has already fallen from second to third place in terms of subscribers, implementing more and more aggressive promotions to try to regain that precious silver medal.

No insults (for now), just deals


Although Ma Bell has yet to inject the kind of cheeky and often scandalous behaviour into its publicity stunts that made T-Mo so famous (and infamous) for such a long time, several recent deals and rebranding moves look awfully similar to some of the more innocent early "Un-carrier" plays.

As pointed out in our roundup of the best iPhone 13 deals available today, for instance, AT&T stands out from its arch-rivals by making it considerably easier (and cheaper) to get a free member of Apple's new ultra-high-end handset family. Instead of keeping the freebie exclusive to certain customers on the costliest plans, Ma Bell allows anyone with "unlimited" service to take advantage of the killer promo... with an eligible trade-in.


That's not exactly a groundbreaking or a completely industry-disrupting offer, but it's just the latest piece of evidence strongly suggesting that AT&T is making a concerted effort to change its old ways and embrace the "maverick" image T-Mobile appears to be giving up on.

Naturally, "promotionality and discounting" are merely a piece of a much larger "uncarrier"-style puzzle that AT&T will have to execute in its entirety over the next few years if it wants to recover all the ground lost to T-Mobile of late. 

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While CEO John Stankey recently confirmed that the company is already working hard on "repositioning and updating" its brand in line with new market and consumer expectations, a much more important piece of the puzzle could be an upcoming spectrum auction.

5G will also play a crucial role


Said auction is expected to open the door to significantly closer competition in the mid-band 5G arena, where T-Mo has gained a huge early advantage over both AT&T and Verizon, striking an unrivaled balance between speed and coverage with its incredibly extensive (and rapidly spreading) 5G Ultra Capacity (UC) network.

Even though AT&T will obviously need quite a bit of time to actually deploy any spectrum resulting from the FCC's soon-to-kick-off Auction 110, it's getting clearer and clearer that the carrier aims to play the long game on several different battlefields, chipping away at T-Mobile's lead with a robust combination of towering smartphone deals, continuously expanding infrastructure, and strong brand-rejuvenating efforts.


It remains to be seen, of course, if "uncarrier"-style insults and rival-mocking ads will enter the equation at any point, and perhaps more intriguingly, if Mike Sievert will continue to steer T-Mobile away from its erstwhile belligerent promotion methods.

For the time being, the original "Un-carrier" might be adopting a wait-and-see strategy, looking over its shoulder constantly to make sure the 10-year reconstruction plan vaguely teased by Stankey will not in fact end with AT&T back in second place.

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