Using T-Mobile and stuck with one bar at home? A signal booster can help

After a long dry spell, T-Mobile USA is once again providing signal boosters to customers who meet criteria for the devices. A signal booster can amplify a weak cell signal to make it easier to use your cell phone in your home. What's more, the signal booster is offered to qualifying customers for free.

T-Mobile's made great strides over the past year to build out their wireless network. There are still some weak spots, however. Until T-Mobile gets its towers operating at 700 MHz (expected later this year) — and until customers upgrade to phones that support LTE Band 12 — building penetration is going to be limited, as well. So if phone service is weak in your house, what should you do?

Up until 2013, T-Mobile offered certain postpaid customers the ability to acquire a signal booster manufactured by Nextivity called Cel-Fi. The device comprises two pieces: a window unit that sends and receives the cell signal and a coverage unit, placed elsewhere in the home. The Cel-Fi takes an existing 3G or 4G cell signal and amplifies it, enabling you to make and receive phone calls within a coverage area of about 13,000 square feet.

T-Mobile stopped offering signal boosters as the company revamped and built out its network. Additionally, the Cel-Fi device maker, Nextivity, worked on a new version that supports additional radio frequencies T-Mobile now depends on. Now that device is shipping, according to information posted on the Cel-Fi web site, with availability beginning at the end of May, 2014.

This works different than the AT&T 3G MicroCell, a "mini cellular tower" AT&T offers to some customers with weak signal strength in their home. The MicroCell connects to your broadband Internet service; the Cel-Fi operates using existing cell service. As a result, you do need at least one bar of 3G or 4G service from T-Mobile somewhere in your home to connect.

If you're a T-Mobile "postpaid" customer, and if you have only one bar of 3G or 4G service in your home, you may want to give T-Mobile customer service a call to inquire about obtaining a signal booster. T-Mobile makes them available to customers who meet specific qualifications (what those qualifications are is a bit of a mystery; they don't list them on their web site).

If, for whatever reason, you're not able to get one from T-Mobile, you can consider buying one from Nextivity yourself, but be prepared to pony up $575 for the privilege.

 
There are 98 comments

Mobius360 says:

I want this for my work badly

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marisdaman says:

I'm good!

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A couple of years ago the criteria was having more than one line on your account and being willing to extend your contract for two years.

Peter Cohen says:

Now you need to be a postpaid customer; beyond that, they're purposely vague about what the criteria are, but given that they're focused on Simple Choice, two-year contracts just aren't a thing anymore. And it wasn't an issue for me, anyway.

mhmmdy123 says:

It's a free contract if you bring your own phone, otherwise it is two years agreement until you pay off the phone.

iowabeakster says:

Not exactly.

It's not a "free contract". It's not a contract, at all, if you bring your phone. Try it for a month and don't like it? You can walk away. Done.

There is also no contract on service even if you buy a new phone from them. Basically you get a phone on credit, which of course you do have to pay for.

The "contract" is simply a credit contract, not a service contract. If you pay off the balance of your credit, you can walk away after one single month, with no other penalty fees (unlike the carriers with service contracts, which would charge you an arm and leg to walk away at any point in the two years, and charge you considerably more every month during those two years than T-Mobile, even after the value of the subsidy has already been repaid in full).

mhmmdy123 says:

Exactly, if you take the phone on monthly payment, it stick you with agreement for two years. That`s what I`m saying. If you bring your own phone on any carrier you`ll get service without agreement not just T-Mobile.

kwajr says:

No it is not 2 year the agreement is up to 2 years you can elect to pay early and its done

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Analyss14 says:

kwajr is correct, it's not really a two year contract as much as a loan agreement for the cost of the phone, not the service. T-Mobile does not "subsidize" the cost of the phone (none of the service providers really subsidize thou they advertise they do), thus you are paying full price plus tax and interest, spread over two years. If you bring your own phone at anytime you can elect to cancel service and leave with no fee due. If however you buy your phone from T-Mobile, you can still cancel service at any time but you are then required to pay up the remainder of your phone's bill. There is no ETF for canceling and you walk away same as if you brought your own device.

If you sign a piece of paper saying you'll pay money, its a contract.

**Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!**

Analyss14 says:

"it's not really a two year contract as much as a loan agreement for the cost of the phone, not the service."

Thank you, captain obvious. You might want to go over this portion again: two year contract. The point was whether or not T-Mobile locked you into a two year contract. They don't. Which is why I used the terminology loan instead of contract. They're extending you a line a credit to purchase something you might otherwise not be able to buy outright, with the option to pay it off in two days or two years, assuming you remain with them. Same as most loan agreements. My bank lets me pay off my house in 30 years or 5 years, but if I want to move my loan to another bank, I have to get the other bank to pay off (or buy) my loan from them first. Same concept.

Analyss14 says:

ps - a loan agreement IS a type of contract.

eve6er69 says:

Get a s5 on the 0 down and the remaining you pay is 660 for the phone. Buy one from another carrier and pay 100 and pay a 350 etf. The contract etf was cheaper than leaving from the new sc plans. People just like the sound of no contract.

hmmm says:

I thought t mobile had WiFi calling. Wouldn't that solve this in cases where you have broadband? Very few people would need this I assume.

lightyear420 says:

Not all phones have wifi calling. Most newer ones do, but even my Nexus 4 doesn't. There's a few thousand $ bounty on XDA to get it working.

Yeah, the Nexus line doesn't get it (I asked about it for my N5). The reason is that, being a Nexus phone, Google won't allow them to put their proprietary wifi calling app/code (whatever it ends up being) onto it; if they did, they would no longer be allowed to use/support the phone.

When I asked TMobile people about this, they verified that, and said my best bet would be something like GVoice, Skype calling, or Viber... which kind of defeats the purpose.

Going to try and look into this

cj100570 says:

You can't send or receive text/MMS over Wi-Fi. And of even more importance, if you're paying for cellular service, you should be getting cellular service.

techymarkbo says:

Mine sends text and mms just fine over wifi and I don't have any cell signal.

hemihauler20 says:

I can with no problems over wifi

kelayz says:

I send mms over wifi all the time. Now it doesn't always work but it does most of the time.

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sandyvern says:

I use WiFi at home all the time and always send texts/mms all the time.

will_solo says:

I can send texts and mms when I'm on Wi-Fi calling using my Note 2. But using Google Hangouts, I can send texts using Wi-Fi but I can't send or receive MMS on Wi-Fi. Extremely annoying.

bjn714 says:

Have you verified the APN in Hangouts settings is correct? One of the updates a while back switched the APN on me. Verify that the fast.t-mobile.com APN is selected. Not sure if this is necessarily the issue, but it very well could be.

I think it's only meant for a few people. Putting a $575 box in every home would eat a lot of profit. There are two people using Nexus phones in my family (no Wi-Fi calling), so for us the Cel-Fi has been a great help.

bjn714 says:

You do have to return it if you ever cancel otherwise you get charged for it. Plus I am sure their contract with the manufacturer gets them a much better price than $575 per unit.

Jyscal says:

It would if your handset supports it. IMO, it should be an app for T-Mo customers, but it's baked into the phone ala carrier bloat. So if your phone doesn't come from T-Mo with it, it's a no go. Big example of this is anything Apple, Motorola, or anything that comes from the Play Store.

TurboFool says:

It has to be baked into the OS. Tapping into the calling functionality and rerouting it over entirely different protocols is, at bare minimum, root-worthy stuff, and actually deeper even than that.

bjn714 says:

I find the quality of wifi calls to be lacking, to say the least. The quality at best is on per with 2g voice quality. Voice calls on the 3g network are significantly clearer and less staticy than wifi calling. At least it is with the two major ISPs in my area.

T-Mobile sent me one in February after I called about the poor service around my house. Works great!

lion7718 says:

They sent me one around the same time after I answered one of their text surveys. It works great with my N4.

cj100570 says:

Got me one a few months ago after a comment I made on G+ got the attention of a T-Mobile social media team member. It has definitely helped.

movielover76 says:

I bought one of the old ones used for sale on eBay. It wouldn't work for me well because my apartment isn't big enough and I couldn't get the units far enough away from each other. The coverage area i could get from it was very small in one corner of my apartment. The fact that I have 3 -4 bars outside and near windows and like 1 in my apartment because it's an old building made out of thick brick might be part of the problem it had. Not a good option for apartment dwellers or people with small houses. I think a microcell would be more useful.
I just sold it again a couple days after I got it.
Luckily the 1900mhz deployment fixed most of my indoor issues.
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I just bought a used on on e-bay: same situation as you. The walls of my apartment make a Faraday Cage inside it. I have the same issue about not being to get them far enough apart but it's enough that I can get signal almost everywhere in my apartment now. So for the $250 I spent, I could not be happier. Let me get off the horrible LG G2 ROM and onto AOSP.

Clak says:

Unless you live in a metal cage, it isn't a Faraday cage per se, it's just blocking your signal.

aaronsmalley says:

Thanks for this. 15 minutes later they are shipping me one out. Note: They make you agree to a disclaimer (verbally over phone) that if you ever leave t-mobile that you must return the booster unit in good repair or pay up to $500.

ASUDave says:

I definitely need one of these! I happened to move into a neighborhood that, for some reason, is in a donut hole of coverage for TMO. The coverage map shows that there is great service there, but everyone I know on TMO in my neighborhood has great difficulty getting signal inside their homes. Even the guys at the nearby TMO store acknowledge how bad my particular neighborhood is for TMO service.

Only edge in my city. So guess until I move to austin I will stick with ATT

deuceja says:

I just ordered mine thanks to this article. There's a $6.99 shipping fee but I was able to get that waived. Other than that mines should be here by next month.
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mattopotamus says:

They told me it was free expedient shipping :)

glazedfaith says:

*Land mines

LadyDi says:

I just ordered mine and they tried to hit me with a $6.99 shipping fee as well. I told him I have an email with an incident number created letting Engineers know I am experiencing service problems in my area. I even read some of the email and after that he waived the fee. I did have to agree to a disclaimer about if I leave T-Mo that it must be returned undamaged, the up to $500 charge if not returned and how much signal I need for the device to work. He also reminded me that it is T-Mo's unit. Ok.

I think my only question would be can I return it sooner if it does not work once I receive and set it up? And where/how would I return it?

I tried to get one a few months ago and they weren't available. Just placed an order for one thanks to the heads up from this article.

yankeesusa says:

I think someone locally on craigslist has one here and it's exactly this model and they only wanted $100 for theirs. Maybe I should buy it

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gatorboi352 says:

LMFAO

Posted from my VERIZON device

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jakeuten says:

my mom gets 2 bars and 5 Mbps on her iPhone 5S in an XLTE market in our house. i however get 30 Mbps and 4-5 bars in the same house on my AT&T S III.

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wezi427 says:

A guy I work with sits next to me with his iPhone 5S(AT&T), he needs to go outside to use his phone. I have a Note 2(Verizon) and I consistently average 3 bars.

I'm the kind of guy who stops a microwave at one second to feel like a bomb defuser.

Joseph G says:

I consistently get Three bar's of data services on T-Mobile networks.!!!

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geoff5093 says:

So this isn't for you...

jakeuten says:

so if you only have 1 bar, and you get 4 Mbps LTE down and .5 up, is that the speed the booster will amplify?

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bkosh84 says:

No, it won't amplify LTE, just 3G and HSPA+.

crxssi says:

>"Until T-Mobile gets its towers operating at 700 MHz (expected later this year) "

Many, many areas, including the 1.7 million people area I am in, will not be getting any 700Mhz service.

mattopotamus says:

Just called and it is on the way :)

patstar5 says:

Tmobile's Coverage is horrible. Everywhere but major cities have edge. All other carriers have lte in my area. I know they are expanding but won't be done until middle of next year. Freedom pop caught my attention. Besides offering free phone service. They also have a $20 plan that gives you unlimited talk, text, and 1 gigabyte of LTE Internet, unlimited 3G Internet. So I could buy an old sprint phone on ebay and use it on their network as a second phone. Rather use tmobile because they have sim cards but still no lte here. With att right now. On a side note: Anyone know how to improve cell phone coverage on galaxy s4? Something portable that does not need to be plugged Into outlet.

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I'm not in a major city, and I have LTE...

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bkosh84 says:

Ditto.

Jet300 says:

Same here... Go away.

geoff5093 says:

I'm in a major area but only have GPRS.

deuceja says:

Have you ever heard of Valdosta, GA...I doubt it T Mo had the fastest LTE in the city. sadly I stay a few miles outside of the city so I don't receive the benefits. ATT didn't not have ANY service at my current address and Verizon gives me the the exact same speed and coverage as TMO I chose T Mo because I pay almost $35 a month with unlimited data and I alone use between 10-15 GB a month on the family plan that I have

~My $0.02~

I have. My dads side is from Nashville Ga about an hour away from Valdosta. You're not alone.

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It's funny sometimes how commenters will say things like "all other carriers have let in my area" but never say what area that is. The world is a big place, people! Can you be a little more specific?

Kiamat says:

T-Mobile is sending mine right now.

jdbii says:

It would seem to be insanely expensive to do this on a per customer basis. I suspect that this might be creating some kind of T-Mobile-hotspot-cell-zone for everybody. So your neighbor's T-Mobile service improves alongside yours when you install one. Then T-Mobile would be plugging holes in its dead spots for the benefit of all its customers. It might partially explain the mystery behind the vague criteria. For some reason T-Mobile might not want to advertise its dead spots or reveal how many or where these are deployed. I wonder if the boosters can interact with other boosters to create a kind of neighborhood or apartment building wide hotspot?

quailallstar says:

I'll see if I can trade in my old one for one of these :-)

LG Optimus G Pro - Beanstalk 4.4 Bitches!

Sony Xperia Z1 LTE C6906

kd0h says:

Ordered one today as well! No cost, no shipping fee, only caveat is that if you leave T-Mobile you need to return it, or owe $500.

Nexus 5 4.4.2 (rooted)

2ntense says:

Not a miracle device. Best signal picked up outside is best signal broadcast though your home. Be ready to put the transmitter where you sit most in the house. Walls piss this thing off.

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kd0h says:

May be true, but can't argue with free help!

Nexus 5 4.4.2 (rooted)

michael24j says:

Mine should arrive tomorrow, my apt is a dead zone inside, so hope it helps mainly with data to send MMS

NoNexus says:

Now if they only would make it portable they might be on to something

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wezi427 says:

Hahahaha, so true

I'm the kind of guy who stops a microwave at one second to feel like a bomb defuser.

digmys says:

Why not just use a MicroCell like Sprint, ATT, and Verizon? In a remote area with 0 coverage (say a mountain lodge) plug a microcell into your cheap DSL and suddenly you have 5 bars of perfect service. This TMobile device would be completely useless in such a scenario. And if the "receiver" part of the system is only getting 1 bar, even if the "sender" amplifies the signal everything is going to be slow as hell. This just seems like bad design, unless for some reason you don't have internet at home?

geoff5093 says:

If you have broadband at home then there is no need for this as you can just use WiFi. This is for people who don't have broadband, but want to boost their wireless signal.

Yeah rip off for charging over 500.00 when you can get the wilson amp antenna for less

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xKrNMBoYx says:

They don't charge you anything if you are talking about T-Mobile

David Nurbin says:

I have one of these. It is great, but does not boost the LTE signal.

RaiderWill says:

I still don't understand why commenter's "Generalize" their personal experience with a carrier.. good or bad.
It's just too funny.. it's simple, just pick the carrier that works best in "your" area.. or pick the cheapest if that's what "you" need.. But downing T-Mobile for trying to help it's customers is just juvenile.

dougxd45 says:

Just ordered mine. The dude on the phone was super nice and said it'd be delivered promptly....whatever that means.

Anyway, no charge for anything. He said if I ever return it, there's a 20 dollar fee. Easy peasy.

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Saturn1217 says:

I'm assuming that like other signal boosters you can't use this in an apartment right? Even though I live in Boston and generally enjoy great coverage I have to sit next to my window to reliably hold a phone conversation in my apartment. Oddly i don't have such building penetration issues at work (only like 15min away, much larger building). Kind of annoying...

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geoff5093 says:

I believe so, the two units need to be a certain distance away from each other, and usually on alternating floors.

mattopotamus says:

I am in an apartment and they sent me one.

Planterz says:

I don't need one. I live underneath T-Mobile equipment, about 50 feet away. 30-40Mb/s downloads!

Jet300 says:

FWIW, I inquired about one of these at my local T-Mobile store last week and they handed me one on the spot for free. All they had to do was register it on my account. It works OK. Don't expect 4 or 5 bars unless you are real close to it. However, it does take the 1 bar of 4G (HSPA+) service I barely get near the window of my home and give me 2 bars of 4G service inside my home with D/L speeds of 5-6 Mbps... The main reason why I got this is because you can'T send or receive MMS messages over Wi-Fi calling. In my area the data connection in the house was too spotty (I get LTE at the end of my driveway, go figure) and I was missing work related MMS messages. This has fixed that problem, so I am happy with it. It did take a while playing with locations of the boxes to get results though....

xKrNMBoYx says:

Same here. Just got T-Mobile to send me mine. But surprisingly the coverage, as far as data, has improved in my home, in the past year. I use to rarely get 4G upstairs, and nothing downstairs. I just checked I get almost no bars with signals but I now have a 4G signal in the basement. I guess I need to test it more.

.:edit:.

Although my phone still has the 4G logo I have a dbm level in the 100+ range which is bad. I guess I do need the booster.

othercents says:

Per Cel-Fi the signal booster only works for 3G and 4G HSPA+, but not LTE. http://cel-fi.com/product/products_smart_signal_booster Their next version is supposed to support LTE, but isn't available yet. Also if you purchase your own signal booster you will have to register with your carrier per FCC guidelines. http://wireless.fcc.gov/signal-boosters/index.html The registration is on the carrier websites.

breitmike says:

I have one.... Works great!

xKrNMBoYx says:

I'll have to try. I get Edge to 4G at home and the bars vary a lot. In the basement I go roaming sometimes. I wonder what the new qualifications are. Our phones have been paid off, two tear contract ends soon, and have three lines on our plan.

HTC One S, Galaxy S II/III, iPhone 4, and a LG Flipphone. We don't gave LTE in my area nor does our phones support it. This would be awesome.
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sbyke says:

T-mobile's wifi support can be incredibly useful. Many buildings, especially newer energy efficient buildings, have terrible reception inside. Yet these days almost all have wifi coverage. T-mobile used to push wifi calling, then even better switched to a new standard that required no hardware tweaks.

T-mobile please push wifi calling. Make an app that t-mobile users can use on the android phone of their choice. Or at least support more phones.

I'd *MUCH* rather have a phone where I could make/receive calls with wifi then adding some silly cellular repeater that helps some, but only in a single location.

Steamer says:

Ordered one for my Brooklyn apartment where I'd get either no bars or no service. Tech said my account qualifies almost immediately after I told her what I was calling for.

I have a Nexus 4, and live in a wooded area in Portland, OR, so only one room in my house gets a good signal, coincidentally it's the babies room. After reading this article I immediately called, mentioning I inquired about it back in October when we moved in.
Got transferred to the tech support dude. He made sure I didn't have anything due and told be when I'll receive it. Didn't mention shipping fees, and the only verbal agreement was that I'm to return it my leisure, if I'm dissatisfied, move and need, or leave Tmobile. Pretty awesome. I'm excited to have cellular data throughout home!

xKrNMBoYx says:

Just got off the phone with T-Mobile/Tech Service. They're shipping my family one soon. If anyone wants details here it is.

You call 1-800-937-8997. Choose to speak with a representative and tell them you are having issues with Signals/Service. Tell them you are interested in the/a signal booster. They will transfer you over to their Tech Services soon. From there they will ask you a few questions. Stuff like how much bars your getting, if you're getting any 4G or 3G signals. After the few questions they will probably come to the conclusion you need a signal booster. This device does not cost anything to receive, there are no monthly payments, no hidden fees really. You have to options of shipping, Free UPS Ground Shipping (7-8 Days), ~$14 3-Day Shipping through UPS.

The signal boosters are property of T-Mobile so they must be returned when you decide you don't need it or you leave T-Mobile. If you don't return it then you will be charged the full price which is upwards of $500. Additionally if the boosters are damaged when returned you will be charged the full price.

@Steamer Hopefully you have some sort of 4G/3G signal at your apartment as the signal booster won't work/help if you don't have any at all.

@sbyke I don't think they stopped Wi-Fi calling. It's probably comes with all phones bought through T-Mobile but the phones you buy from other Carriers, unlocked phones, will probably not have the Wi-Fi calling mode and they will not install it on there for you. It's more than an app I believe, its built into the phone/OS, which can only be modified and installed from the beginning.

Andro10 says:

Um not THAT easy. Read my comment below.

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xKrNMBoYx says:

Sorry you did not have the good luck several of our forum users had, but it really WAS as easy as I described (for me)

I contacted them through their Web Chat about 1 hour before it closed. Asked about the Signal Booster and briefly told the representative that I had signal issues at home. The rep then gave me a number to call and left a note for the other reps about my inquiry.

Immediately after ending the chat I called the given number. Chose to speak to a representative. Once again I told them about my signal issues. Rarely getting 4G HSPDA+ and 3G UMTS. The rep asked if this was an issue with all of our phones, I said yes. Then the rep said he wouls explain my issues to Tech Service as he forwarded my call.

Finally a Female Tech Support was connected. She already knew why I called and began asking the three questions. Issue with all phones, do I get 4G or 3G somewhere in the house, etc. I told her yes. She agreed that the boosters would help and got me through the ordering process.

All that did not take even 30 minutes. The usual process might take longer, but the reps seemed to want to help, I was calling from a TMobile line so blackouts could not be the issue. I was polite through the whole call and everything went well.

You either got a picky representative/support or one that genuinely wanted to help figure out the true issue so they put you through all the questions and trouble. Maybe it was easy for me as I called a little past 9PM PST when 10PM is the end of support.

Who knows.

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Andro10 says:

Not so easy. Got transferred to tech support and they said, "oh our engineers say (within seconds?) there are no outages in your area." I told her I never did there was an outage. Also that getting that depended only coverage map. I told her the map is an outside signal map, and I told her that I don't live outside. Anyways, she said to call back in 72 hours to see if the problem persisted and while their engineers looked into possibly boosting the signal. BS! I'm very sure the towers are already maxed out per FCC guidelines! Like they would keep them a little under power so people can have weak signals! 10 years with them and they try to BS me, really!?

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xKrNMBoYx says:

My location was nearly outside coverage a 1-2 years ago. My house was a deadzone. It's improved a bit now but still issues in our basement. Maybe try again? I don't know what you said but the more you tell you will be better off.

Tell them you get 4G/3G but only in one place in the house and that in the other places you get Edge or no service. That eliminates blackouts. You can say you get 4G out your door but 3G inside. If you have multiple lines or phones tell them the signal issue is for all your phones. I guess you can say guests that use T-Mobile have issues when at your residence.

Them saying they will check the towers to see if they're not fully powered is a bit of crap.

Best to prepare and build evidence and counter statements to their questions before you connect with them.

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I was talking about permanent solution where u wouldn't have to send anything back. 4g let all the time....

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xKrNMBoYx says:

I see. The manufacturer should be who takes the blame as they are the ones who overcharge the devices. Can't expect to give $500 devices for free for good.

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$575 dollars for this?! What?! Hopefully I qualify, and I pity those who would actually pay full-price for something of this nature. That is ridiculous. I will go and see if I qualify for a free one however.

Are you not listening, if u leave t mobile or damage them... You pay

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