Updated: 4 Things You Need to Know About T-Mobile 3G

Updated:  Today is the big announcement in New York by T-Mobile, which will show off its spiffy new G1 phone powered by Google.  The G1 is the first smartphone to run the Google Android operating system and is expected to work seamlessly with Google services like Gmail and Google Maps.  The G1 will support the relatively new T-Mobile 3G data network, and since not many are familiar with T-Mobile’s 3G, it’s a good time to take a look at four things you should know in order to get the most out of 3G.

Data plans.  T-Mobile is currently offering two 3G data plans.  The unlimited data plan is $29.99 monthly when added to a voice plan and allows full access to T-Mobile’s 3G network where available.  The unlimited data plan + hotspot will set you back $49.99 per month but adds access to T-Mobile’s vast Wi-Fi hotspots to the 3G to keep you covered. T-Mobile is expected to offer a special data plan to go along with the G1 and this plan may have special pricing.  UPDATE: in the press conference today T-Mobile outlined the two plans available for use with the G1 phone.  There will be a $25 unlimited data plan with 400 texts and a $35 plan with unlimited data and texts.

Tethering.  Mobile professionals working on the go with a laptop derive great benefit if they can “tether” their phone to the laptop for connectivity.  This is accomplished either through a wireless Bluetooth or a USB cable connection from the 3G-enabled phone to the laptop.  Tethering turns the 3G phone into a modem that accesses the high-speed data network so the worker’s laptop gains access just as if it was connected directly to the network.  Many U.S. carriers charge extra for tethering their phones to laptops but it is allowed currently on all T-Mobile data plans without an extra charge.  UPDATE:  T-Mobile stated during the G1 press conference today that tethering with the G1 is not possible.  It is not clear if they are simply forbidding it or if they are blocking the ability on the phone/ network.

Phones.  The T-Mobile 3G network may look like those in use by other global carriers, but it’s not.  T-Mobile uses a radio frequency band (1700 MHz) for 3G connections that is unique in the world.  The carrier claims it allows faster data speeds but the reality is it means that only phones specifically designed for the T-Mobile network will work at full speed.  You can’t just use any phone, which limits the consumer’s choices for handsets.  According to the T-Mobile web site there are only five phones that support 3G offered by T-Mobile, not counting the newly announced G1, which is not available yet.  These phones are the Samsung t639, t819, Nokia 3555, 6263, and the Sony Ericsson TM506.

3G coverage. T-Mobile has only begun rolling out their 3G network for the past few months and it is not yet available outside some of the larger cities in the U.S.  In the past week, the carrier has lit up their local 3G coverage maps that depict the coverage on a zoomable map based on the consumer’s zip code or address.  This makes it possible to determine what your coverage will be prior to committing to a 3G data contract with the carrier.