Sometime in the last few months, T-Mobile made a change to their coverage map (image above) that makes it very hard to tell where T-Mobile native coverage ends and roaming coverage begins. Zoomed out T-Mobile's maps have long shown the whole US swathed in an almost unbroken swath of magenta, but that's not what I'm talking about. Until recently, once you zoomed in to the point where individual cities, towns and roads where visible, the map changed to using different colors and patterns for LTE, 4G HSPA+, 3G, 2G and "partner" (roaming) coverage. But the latest maps only show two types of coverage, "4G LTE" in solid magenta and "Talk, Text & Non-LTE Data", which includes roaming areas, with magenta stripes. That means that roaming areas are indistinguishable from areas that have non-LTE native service.
It's bad enough that the maps no longer distinguish between 4G HSPA+, 3G and 2G native coverage, but hiding roaming makes T-Mobile's maps practically useless for customers who travel into rural areas where T-Mobile coverage tends to be a bit spotty. There a huge difference between being in a 2G or 3G native coverage area, where high speed data allowances are measured in gigabytes, and a roaming area where T-Mobile customers get anywhere from no data at all to a maximum of 200 MB per month of roaming data. There's confusing and conflicting information on the T-Mobile site about how much roaming data is included with each prepaid plan, but as far as I can determine the limits are:
- 200 MB of domestic roaming on the $50, $65, $80 and $95 Simple Choice plans and the new $30 Tourist plan.
- 100 MB of domestic roaming on the $50 and $60 Simply Prepaid plans.
- 50 MB of domestic roaming on the $40 3 GB Simply Prepaid plan.
- No roaming data on the $30 "Walmart" plan or any prepaid mobile broadband plan
Actually, there is a way to see if T-Mobile roams at specific point on the map but it's pretty tedious. When you click a point on the map to "drop a pin" a pop up appears that indicates whether native or "partner" (roaming) coverage is available there. For native areas the pop up also shows if 2G, 3G or 4G data is available. But it's very time consuming to drop pins all over the map to see where native coverage ends and roaming begins. T-Mobile also provides a "Partner Coverage Map" but it's just a static image of the whole US that can't be zoomed or searched and isn't very useful.
Fortunately there's an easier way to see where T-Mobile roams, the MetroPCS coverage map (image below) still shows LTE, 4G HSPA+, 3G, 2G and roaming coverage separately. MetroPCS is part of T-Mobile and its native and roaming coverage areas are identical with those of T-Mobile Prepaid, although MetroPCS does not include data roaming on any plan.
I use T-Mobile and I find that their coverage generally works well for me. I've also noticed significant improvements in T-Mobile's coverage over the last few years. T-Mobile has a great network that can stand on its own without T-Mobile having to resort to map trickery to make the network look bigger than it actually is. I just wish someone at T-Mobile would realize how stupid and useless their current coverage maps are and fix them so they actually show what sort of coverage users can expect.