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T-Mobile CEO Legere still swinging at rivals, researchers, and many others

Customer base grows, at a cost

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T-Mobile CEO John Legere did what he does best last week, in response to negative news about his company's network performance - he went on the offensive.

Analytics firm RootMetrics issued a report, based on crowdsourced mobile user data, that measured the relative performance of the major U.S. wireless carriers for the last six months of 2013. The findings saw Verizon Wireless take the top spot on all but one measurement of speed and reliability, with AT&T just edging it out in the overall speed category.

T-Mobile, in contrast, was dead last in all of the major categories but one - the same network speed category. This, characteristically, prompted Legere to take to Twitter and attack the validity of the RootMetrics results.

We've said it before, but I'm happy to say it again. We look at REAL results from REAL people when we make network claims. #uncarrier

The data from @rootmetrics#1yearlater might still be true for our competitors, but when you move as fast as @TMobile it's #oldnews

Our claims are made on speed tests done by actual customers on their devices. Theirs are made by a guy driving around in a BMW.

Need a refresher on how @rootmetrics reports are slanted? Watch Neville today at 1:55pm PT #uncarrierhttp://t.co/MTYJpPzzSp

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray argued on a conference call at a Morgan Stanley conference late last week that the company's own crowdsourced testing pegged T-Mobile as the leader, not the laggard, and accused RootMetrics of watering down T-Mobile's results artificially, by including numerous test results from remote areas where coverage is sparse. In the major population centers, Ray said, T-Mobile is leading the pack, though he did not provide specific figures.

RootMetrics CEO Paul Carter defended the results in an email to Network World. "We employ well-defined processes and procedures so that the performance of all network operators can be measured and compared both methodically and equally," he wrote.

Legere is what the tech media generally refers to as a "passionate" and "intense" executive, always ready with a full-throated defense of his company or a vociferous attack on its rivals. Via his well-subscribed Twitter feed - Legere boasts 103,000 followers - the T-Mobile boss rants, cajoles, declaims and generally talks a great deal of trash. His feed's background art is a magenta-hued cityscape that features a silhouette of Batman, as well as the bat-signal in the sky. Legere clearly believes he's an insurgent, a vigilante. He's also got a car to match

His usual Jokers and Riddlers are his larger wireless competitors, particularly AT&T, which seems to draw the majority of his ire. Legere recently began offering direct cash incentives for AT&T users, and that company has responded in kind, attempting to poach T-Mobile customers with similar offers of cash and savings.

He's the only CEO of a major American wireless carrier on the social network, and his uniquely combative style has won him a great deal of media attention over the past several months. Having taken the helm at T-Mobile in September 2012, Legere quickly moved to differentiate the lagging network from its larger and more successful competitors. This aggressive re-branding - the "un-carrier" strategy, as he called it - has been largely successful, at least in terms of PR.Legere's habit of spoiling for a fight at every opportunity truly entered the public consciousness at this year's CES event in Las Vegas. Having delivered a profanity-laced indictment of the wireless industry as a whole during a keynote address, he then contrived to get publicly thrown out of an AT&T party in the evening.

Legere has been busily generating headlines with his take-no-prisoners approach to PR ever since. Before the RootMetrics hubbub, he angered struggling Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry by encouraging T-Mobile BB users to switch to the iPhone. This drew an irate response from that company's CEO, John Chen, who blasted T-Mobile in an official blog post. Interestingly, Legere took a largely conciliatory tack in his initial responses:

BlackBerry follow up- We give our customers choices, but you don't have to give up your #loyalty. We will continue to support

The leopard, however, doesn't change its spots, and Legere couldn't resist a Parthian shot:

Was going to engage John Chen on Twitter, but turns out he's not here. I'll check MySpace. Don't worry @BlackBerry Something in the works!

Ouch.

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It remains to be seen exactly how helpful Legere's bellicosity - and perhaps more important, his strategic changes - will be for T-Mobile's prospects in the long run. The company trumpeted its addition of 4.4 million new customers in 2013 in its most recent quarterly results, but those results also showed the company spent big on discounts and promotions in attracting them. T-Mobile has also spent big on a major chunk of valuable 700MHz spectrum, but those licenses could go a long way toward helping the network address some of the coverage deficiencies highlighted by the RootMetrics report.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold..



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