T-Mobile exempts music streaming from its data plans, partners with Rhapsody

There is a bit more to Uncarrier 5.0 than the new Test Drive iPhone loaner program T-Mobile(s tmus) announced earlier this evening. CEO John Legere said that T-Mobile is allowing unlimited music streaming on its Simple Choice data plans — regardless of whether you subscribe to an all-you-can-eat plan or one with a monthly data bucket.

T-Mobile is basically giving audio streaming services like Pandora(s p), iTunes Radio(s aapl) and Spotify a free pass on its network as long as you to subscribe to a $50 or higher plan (it’s not available on Simple Starter plans). Any data used won’t count against your monthly allotment. That’s good news if you subscribe to one of T-Mobile’s 1GB, 3GB or 5GB plans, but not that noteworthy if you pay  the $80-a-month plan, which already supports unlimited data of any sort.

Source: Kevin Fitchard / Gigaom

John Legere at T-Mobile’s Uncarrier 5.0 launch event (Source: Kevin Fitchard / Gigaom)

But T-Mobile had something to offer unlimited subscribers as well. It’s partnered with Rhapsody to provide an programmable internet radio service called unRadio. The service is a streaming radio like Pandora, not an on-demand music subscription like Spotify, but T-Mobile is also removing ads and setting no limits on how many songs can be skipped. UnRadio will be free for unlimited plan subscribers and $4 a month for other customers.

Music is becoming a popular ad-on service with the mobile carriers. AT&T(s t) and Sprint(s s) are both offering discounted and family plan subscriptions to Beats Music and Spotify respectively. And next month, we’re going to see the launch of a music-centric virtual operator called ROK Mobile that bundles an on-demand music subscription and radio service with unlimited voice and data plans.

But Legere said many of those carrier music deals are really just Trojan horses. They offer discounts on the music service, but then “gouge you” for the data necessary to consume those services, Legere said. That kind of model benefits the carrier much more than the consumer, Legere concluded.

How T-Mobile enforces the new streaming policy will be interesting to observe. For now, T-Mobile plans to create a list of the top six third-party music streaming services, as well as partner platforms like Samsung’s Milk and Rhapsody, and not count data usage against them. But it could start sniffing out audio streaming packets on its network. The latter approach would mean a much more versatile service that exempts streaming audio from any source, not just from the popular music and radio services.