T-Mobile Signal Finally Fails On My Unlocked iPhone

Once upon a time, T-Mobile and the iPhone were friends. Even though AT&T had exclusive rights to the iPhone, T-Mobile was a significantly cheaper, friendlier, and less busy carrier that also used GSM. T-Mobile welcomed the owners of unlocked iPhones with open antennae. But that golden era is over, reader Brielle tells us. She’s been using iPhones on TMo for four years now, and is beginning to experience problems with her signal. It just so happens that her area has recently been upgraded for 4G service…right around the time her iPhone’s signal crapped out. They’re happy to sell her a new 4G Android phone, though.

I had been happily using my iPhone 3GS with T-Mobile for around two
years now, and another 2 or so years prior with a first gen iPhone.

Because of the lack of compatible 3G service, I had to use EDGE which
is perfectly fine by me.

Around the beginning of this year, I began having serious signal
issues with my iPhone 3GS on T-Mobile’s network.

My phone would spend 50% or more of its time with “No Service”, and I
could confirm the same behavior on other iPhones including my first
gen and an unlocked Blackberry Tour.

Of course, when I borrowed a 3G Android phone from T-Mobile from a
co-worker, all worked fine.

First call to support in Jan resulted in a trouble ticket being
opened, and them discovering a problem with the local tower, which
they claimed to have fixed.

Due to being extremely busy, I couldn’t follow up for a few months. I
started bugging support once again in March/April about the lack of
service. Got the run around, various admissions of there could be a
problem, but most likely not but they’ll still look into it.

Finally, service got so bad I was down to around 10% of the time
having an actual signal. Called support again, and got an actual
engineer on the phone who was able to tell me exactly what kind of
changes they’ve been doing in my area.

Low and behold, the exact same time when my service went into the
toilet was when they ‘upgraded’ my area for ‘4G’ service.

But, unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to help me any further with
this issue because the iPhone is not a supported phone, and I should
have it checked out because it is most likely having hardware issues
because the service is working fine in my area. There was also some
mutterings about how EDGE service is obsolete and likely to go away
soon enough.

But, on the bright side, they are more then willing to sell me a brand
new Android phone with 3G service to replace my obviously broken

Fast forward to last week – I’m pissed off, and angry, so I order a
StraightTalk AT&T SIM card and the unlimited service no-contract

Got it yesterday, shoved it in my phone, ported my number, and the
phone has 4 bars of service, 3G works fine, as does EDGE.

Some quick calls to friends in NJ and even to Texas report the exact
same problems with their iPhones on T-Mobile.

T-Mobile seems to be throwing iPhone users who are stuck on EDGE under
the bus in their effort to ‘upgrade’ to ‘4G’. Rather then admit
they’re upgrades are fouling up EDGE, they’re blaming hardware
problems with people’s iPhones, most likely in an effort to sell more
Android phones.

!@#$%^! But, what do you expect from the only major carrier without an

Any other iPhone/T-Mobile customers out there experiencing similar problems? Your best option is to do exactly what Brielle did: buy a SIM from StraightTalk and enjoy luxurious, commitment-free 3G access.


Edit Your Comment

  1. sp4rxx says:

    I blame the OP. She honestly thought that her iPhone would still work on a newer system that handles 3G/4G combination connections? If 4G never existed for any carrier and everyone was on 3G only, then it wouldn’t be a problem.

    It’s hardware – plain and simple. Phones nowadays are built to be replaced. Get over it and get a different phone.

    • 180CS says:

      RTFA. His iPhone magically worked when he swapped the tmobile sim for a straight talk one. Last I checked, SIM cards didn’t fix hardware issues.

      Beyond that, 3G isn’t being phased out. If you knew anything about cellular technology, you would know they are separate systems on separate spectrums. For the most part, 4g towers aren’t even built on or around 3g poles. Even when you have a 3g/4g tower, the 4g equipment is 100% separate from the 4g equipment unless you think sharing a power line is something special.

      • consumed says:

        Actually around here (Texas), AT&T and Verizon are multiplexing LTE into the existing antennas on the same towers as their 3G/CDMA/HSPA carriers.

      • The Brad says:

        Yes but Straightalk is AT&T while the issue is with T-Mobile. If T-Mobile is phasing out their EDGE network (the only one the OP can connect to with an iPhone on T-Mobile) then the hardware will stop working too.

        • 180CS says:

          Where I am (Illinois) they are putting up new towers for the most part, and the few that are shared 3g/4g aren’t muxed. Even if they where though, if you do that right, you won’t have any issues sharing a spectrum for the 3g/4g connections, beyond slightly degraded speed maybe. If they are muxing the 3g/4g where he is, and it’s screwing up the 3g, then in my opinion, that’s a problem with their implementation, not his phone.

          • The Brad says:

            But he was trying to access T-Mobile’s 2G network and after getting the AT&T Straightalk SIM he started accessing AT&T’s 3G network. The issue is that T-Mobile is screwing up their 2G network and it is not allowing his iPhone ot connect.

            The iPhone would never connect to T-Mobile’s 3G network due to the bandwidth they used for their 3G network wasn’t the same as the bandwidth used by AT&T for their 3G network.

      • 3fingerbrown says:

        If he swapped out the sim for a Straight Talk AT&T compatible sim it would “fix” the issue. If he chose a ST T-Mobile sim he would be on the same towers as before and would have the same issue.

      • njack says:

        RTFA, they didn’t say they were phasing out 3G, they said they were phasing out EDGE. Unlocked iPhones don’t work on T-Mobile’s 3G network, they get EDGE. as the OP stated. Also Straight Talk uses the AT&T network which would explain why it would work on their network. If the OP wants to be an iPhone fanboi, they should stick to a network that actually supports it, which they now do. Nothing to bitch about here.

        • 180CS says:

          Damn, I should have noticed that. Good point.

          Interestingly though, 3g should work if his EDGE isn’t anymore though. Look here: http://support.t-mobile.com/thread/21487

          Maybe the OP is at fault now for not checking if 3g is in his area now, maybe tmobile is taking their time in the crossover, but it sounds like they are bringing 3g support for the iphone at the same time they are turning off their 2g, does it not?

        • Willow16 says:

          So what happens if I have a T-Mobile 4g phone that sometimes switches to edge? Will I now get no data when I’m in an edge area? Just curious how this will work.

    • ripoffnation says:

      @sp4rxx “Phones nowadays are built to be replaced. Get over it and get a different phone.”

      Why should I buy an expensive product like a phone if it becomes obsolete in less than 5 years. Do I need such a product ? My cars, houses, appliances, education, last generations. The design, management, manufacturing and capital that goes into producing computers/cellphones are no less, and in some cases far greater than traditional durable goods like appliances. The fact that computers/cell phones are being marketed and sold as disposables (ie deliberately cannibalized by the manufacturer) simply indicates consumers have not caught on to this scam.

    • jnrcorp says:

      There’s no reason to blame anyone for this. T-Mobile announced recently that they are re-purposing their network. Each “G” in (2G/3G/4G) runs on a different frequency. It seems that T-Mobile should have notified customers running phones with unrecognized IMEI #s of the impending change (not sure if they did this). To learn more check out these links:



      Or Google (news and regular): t mobile voice of lte

  2. do-it-myself says:

    I’d file this under “O” for OH WELL!

    This is the price to pay for having an unlocked phone on a network where the carrier does not carry nor have an agreement with the device manufacturer of your choice.

    This situation is still better than being under contract, believe it or not!

    • elangomatt says:

      My thoughts exactly. She should be happy that it worked as long as it did. If you use an unsupported phone on a network then you will just have to deal with it if you don’t get the service you expect. Just because the phone used to work on t-mobile’s network, doesn’t mean they are going to go out of their way to keep supporting a phone they don’t officially support.

  3. RxDude says:

    T-Mo is using they money they got from the failed AT&T merger to improve their network. They are expanding their “4G” coverage in the short term, and rolling out faster protocols in the future. Since the spectrum they have is finite, they have to cut support for the older protocols as they expand the newer ones.

    So, T-Mo is doing what AT&T has been slacking on (network upgrades) and the OP is upset that her non-T-Mo phone isn’t working on the upgraded network. Maybe she’s holding it wrong.

    Then again , T-Mo is the only carrier without the Jesus phone, so they must be idiots.

  4. Willow01 says:

    My iPhone 2G is working just fine on T-mobile. Then again, I don’t have a data plan or texting nor have ever had them, and only use it for making phone calls, I’ll message people with it if I have a WiFi signal.

    What do you expect, it was given to me for free for working on someones computer, and I’m a cheap bastard.

  5. MartyF81 says:

    OP is an idiot. They are phasing out their 2G network, you were using a 2G phone (EDGE) to connect….. What do you expect. Even though your 3GS supports a 3G network, it is not the 3G network for T-Mobile, hence why you were using only 2G up until this point.

    So please continue to blame the carrier for “fouling up” how you hacked your phone on to their network.

  6. tinmanx says:

    My iPhone 4 still works fine on T-Mobile here in NYC. I have no service in certain buildings, but it’s the same problem with my AT&T devices.

  7. scoopie77 says:

    If you sign up for this StraightTalk plan, does that cancel your AT&T plan or do you have to pay for both?

    • 3fingerbrown says:

      Straight Talk piggybacks on AT&T’s towers, but is different company. Although they have phones and sims that work on the AT&T towers (and Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) signing up for ST does not change any contract you have with AT&T. If you consider using them make sure you read ST’s Terms and Conditions of service on their website. It is Unlimited with an asterisk. It’s not perfect for everyone.

  8. RayanneGraff says:

    T-Mobile seems to be throwing iPhone users who are stuck on EDGE under the bus in their effort to ‘upgrade’ to ‘4G’. Rather then admit they’re upgrades are fouling up EDGE, they’re blaming hardware problems with people’s iPhones, most likely in an effort to sell more Android phones.

    Oh, shut the f*ck up.

    I’m sure it’s quite jarring to find out the world doesn’t actually revolve around you, but get the hell over it. No, T-Mo doesn’t care about iPhone users. They don’t carry or support that phone, so they have absolutely ZERO reason to care whether it works on their network. They’re busy improving services & coverage for their own devices. If you want a carrier that will kiss your butt for having an iPhone, sign up with AT&T. Don’t blame the carrier when your hacked, unsupported, outdated phone doesn’t work right on their network.

    I think “Brielle” is gonna be hard-pressed to find much sympathy for her tragic little first world problem.

    • Not Given says:

      I just wish companies wouldn’t lie about stuff like that. Just tell her up front that their network has outgrown her unsupported phone instead of blaming it on her equipment. This is the reason I don’t trust what a company’s employees tell me. They pull it out their ass most of the time.

      • QuantumCat says:

        They’re not wrong, though. Her equipment is the problem, as they’ve made sure to keep their supported phones compatible with their network.

        unsupported phone is the key term here.

        • Not Given says:

          They didn’t tell her it was because it was unsupported, at first, they told her her phone was broken and she had to buy a new one. Clearly she didn’t, she just needed to change providers.

      • RayanneGraff says:

        I doubt they outright LIED to her. She probably spoke to an hourly tier 1 drone who was foggy about what EDGE even is to begin with, doesn’t know that data runs on different frequencies & that AT&T phones have different data bands than T-mo phones, & who automatically assumed that since their network was not down altogether, there had to be something wrong with her phone. I had trouble back in 2002 with my Nokia 3390 not picking up signal all of a sudden. I was told that my phone was probably “broken” too, and that I’d have to buy a new one. Fast forward to present day, and my ancient 3390 works just fine. The reps are often woefully uninformed & give customers incorrect information all the time.

  9. Brontide says:

    T-Mobile has been rolling out iPhone friendly 4g ( er, actually 3g but marketing calls it 4g ) service in many markets. Have you tried turning 3g back on in the 3gs to see if it makes a difference?

  10. necrosis says:

    Blame the OP.

    Bitching and moaning that something does not work that was never intended to work is just beyond stupid. My guess is T-Mobile’s attitude was “If it works great! If it does not or stops working, don’t come complaining to us.” Which honestly makes sense. They don’t have a contract with Apple to run their phone on their network (hell they can’t even sell it) so they are not going to go out of their way to make sure it works.

    Be glad you got your 4 years. STFU and buy a new phone for their network.

    • consumerd says:

      +1 and agree,
      you got four years on a iphone that wasn’t supported by them to begin with. You were lucky and took a gamble, and lost after 4 yrs. They didn’t support the iphone nor were they interested! That should have been your first clue you were living on borrowed time.

  11. Deeya says:

    The government doesn’t “pay” the bills of those people who wind up being unable to afford their medical bills from emergency room visits, except in a few disproportionate share hospitals. The vast majority of these bills are sent to collections, and written off as a business loss. Those losses are then passed on to other customers via price increases.

    I wish I could get the Federal government to levy a tax increase to protect me business losses from non-payment, must be nice!

  12. Overheal says:

    I wouldn’t “Blame” the OP, but an unlocked device is never going to be officially supported by a third party carrier; if you’re having issues with it, it’s because it’s not part of their list of supported devices and as such when their telecom engineers go about their upgrades they check to make sure it won’t break compatibility for the supported devices list, for things that are not on that list it’s down to pot luck.

    Similarly, legacy software like Microsoft Office 2003 is not supported under Windows 7. This is not to say it won’t run, but it’s to say Microsoft can neither help you with technical problems you encounter when you run it in Windows 7, nor are they obliged to ensure that future system updates do not break the software’s ability to run on Windows 7.

  13. SDMike says:

    All the people blaming the OP, especially those doing so with verve, crack me up. It would seem that many of the commenters don’t understand the first thing about cellular service. T-Mo is a GSM carrier, and they have broken support for a GSM phone. This means that they likely have broken support for a great number of their phones that are only a couple years old. The lady wasn’t complaining that she couldn’t get 3G, which she rightly understands will never happen as T-Mo USA deployed 3G/4G on a completely different spectrum from most of the rest of the world, including their own parent company. She’s complaining that she can’t get GSM voice service on a GSM phone.

    Hacking the phone on to their network? Are you serious? I didn’t realize that inserting a SIM card into a phone counted as hacking nowadays. I guess I’m just a crazy hacker, then putting SIM cards into my phones as I get different ones.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      You might wanna have an inkling of what you’re talking about before you post condescending messages to people who are actually correct.

      For an iPhone 3GS to work on ANY network but AT&T, it DOES have to be hacked. It has to be carrier-unlocked & you have to manually input special data & MMS settings for it to work right. You can’t just pop a T-Mobile sim into a carrier-locked iPhone & have it work.

  14. Azagthoth says:

    This straighttalk thing is interesting. Does anybody actually use them?

    I’m seeing glorious visions of buying a galaxy nexus from the google play store, dropping my carrier and getting unlimited service for $45. This would be very nice.

    • incident_man says:

      Only if the Galaxy Nexus version you buy takes a SIM card can it work on ST. I asked the same question about my wife’s Nexus S 4G, but since it’s a CDMA phone, ST can’t activate it on their network.

      In reality, their GSM service is no better or worse than AT&T, but all their customer service is overseas or in Latin America. Good luck getting someone whom you can understand when you have a problem.

    • Willow16 says:

      The data isn’t really unlimited. Some have said that once they reach 2 gb, they are thrown off but if you use less than that, it works well. Check out the Straight Talk forum at Howard Forums and you’ll get all the info you need.

  15. jvanbrecht says:

    The issue here has nothing to do with 3g, 4g, 2g, whatever acronym that the carriers want to use (they no longer have meaning anyways since the ITU has been bending to the carriers wills on what constitutes each of those generations rather then the original specifications designated).

    What the OP is having problems with, is that ATT GSM is not the same as Tmobile GSM.

    Yes, they both share the same frequency ranges that will allow them to roam in places in the EU and the rest of the world, but local USA frequency ranges differ. AWS (LTE/HSPA) spectrum ranges differ radically between the two, and are not compatible, which is why you cannot use a Tmobile and ATT phone on each others network.

    Currently the iphone 3gs uses the the following ranges
    850 900 1800 1900 and 2100MHz

    850 and 900 are used for GSM/GPRS/Edge (aka 2G), 850 1900 and 2100 are used for HSPA (aka 3G).

    Tmobile does not support the 850 band (neither does the rest of the world, they use 900)
    Tmobile uses 900/1900 for GSM/GPRS/Edge, the only 2 bands ont he iphone that will work on the Tmobile network,

    Tmobile is doing away with the older GSM networks (GPRS and Edge), and reusing the spectrum for 3g and 4g services, that being HSPA/HSPA+/LTE (LTE is in the midst of deployment).

    So when they turned off edge, the user lost her access.

    This has nothing to do with Tmobile hating on iphone users, this has everything to do with Tmobile moving forward with it’s next gen network buildout, and being unable to support unsupported devices that they were doing so previously.

    • incident_man says:

      I thought T-Mo used 1700 MHz for 3G and HSPA+ and that’s the reason why a 3G iPhone won’t work (for 3G and HSPA+) , because AT&T uses 1900 MHz 3G.

      • Invader Zim says:

        Your right….That affects the data, the phone will still work. They can turn off all data and the phone will still work for calls. Now if a new spectrum infers with the phone signal well that’s another story,

  16. SamEBates says:

    Yeah, I had to ditch my T-Mobile iPhone at the beginning of June because I almost never had service anymore and no one could contact me. I just sold my soul to Verizon and agreed to pay them to entirety of my dollar raise so that I can have a working phone.

  17. Beef Supreme says:


    Long story short, get a new phone with hardware that is compatible with T-Mobile if you want to remain their customer, if not, be quiet. They did nothing wrong.

  18. NorthAlabama says:

    like it or not, when you choose a carrier in the usa, you restrict yourself to their approved phones. sometimes unlocked phones will work, sometimes they won’t, but it’s not the fault of the carrier.

    i hear of so many stories of people who jailbreak phones, then complain the service isn’t working. really??? get a life!

  19. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    I can’t help but blame the OP for this one. This is like taking your Ford to the Chevy dealer for service and then getting pissed off that they either can’t service it or will take a long time because they have to special order parts for it. To be more apples to apples, this is also like flashing a custom firmware onto your phone and then blaming the carrier that you suddenly get spotty service or decreased performance.

    It’s silly to expect a company to make special considerations for people who are already technically outside their scope of service (especially a telecom whose only saving grace was a multibillion payoff from a failed merger). Technological socialism works about as well as the political flavor. Sure it’s nice in the beginning, but soon everything’s only one grey flavor.

    Anyone who uses third-party hard/software should be well aware of the high likelihood that there will be situations where it won’t work right. This is exactly one of those situations.

  20. mmoschella says:

    I’m getting sick of these complaining idiots. You used an unlocked AT&T phone to access T-Mobile’s network for years and now it’s T-Mobile’s fault your non-T-Mobile phone won’t work on their network. Gimme a break. When you made the commitment to use T-Mobile’s cell service, you also committed to their phones. Most of the Android powered phones in the iPhone price range are better than the iPhone, IMHO (I’ve used both the iPhone and several Android phones).
    The editors of this site need to stop posting this bullshit. Yeah, help us out when we’re screwed over, but when the consumer is at fault, which she clearly is in this case, stop wasting our time.

    • RayanneGraff says:


      What annoyed me most aside from the OP’s self-importance was her condescending tone toward Android phones. I got a thinly-veiled vibe of “OMG they actually expect me to use Android?! GROSS!”. Grow up, princess. I’m a die-hard Android fan, my GSII beats the shit out of anything Apple’s ever put out, but I’m not gonna regard the iPhone like a turd on a stick. It’s not my preferred OS, but if I had to use one to get the best service with my chosen network, I’d suck it up & do it instead of pouting like a spoilt child.

    • Benanov says:

      Unlocked phones are very pro-consumer. Yes T-Mobile-provided phones work on the network but this is GSM, it’s supposed to work.

      The problem is the 3G frequency issue.

  21. wazmo says:

    Couple of quibbles I have with the OP. First, she said her area was recently upgraded to 4G, but didn’t state which market she was in so we could vet that against TMOUS’s HSPA+ rollout.

    Secondly, although unlikely given the OP’s recent HSPA rollout claim, her local tower might have been a one-off ‘smoke test’ of the HSPA refarm to 1900 on a recently upgraded AWS locale-which means 2G voice allocation would be drastically cut back from its current levels, and she may have been victimized by that-but in realty that shouldn’t have been an issue as the 3G/4G refarm to 1900 should have played to her advantage here-unless she could never get a HSPA signal lock. But since the refarm of HSPA to 1900 and LTE on AWS is going to take quite a while, and since market was allegedly recent, I’m going to discount that.

    Lastly, no mention was made of her walking in to a T-Mobile store and asking for a new SIM on the odd likelihood that it went schizoid (which does happen, albeit rarely.)

  22. Benanov says:

    and Straight Talk is an MVNO under AT&T…so yay you’re back on AT&T of course your phone works!

  23. 4Real says:

    Um how about stop being a SHEEP and get rid of the crappy iPhone..lol