For many years T-Mobile in the U.S has offered a little freebie to its Pay As You Go customers – T-Zones, a walled garden of mobile web sites. It includes basic account management features like checking you balance, adding funds and switching between the two available prepaid plans. That’s hardly unusual, lots of operators have free mobile web based account management sites for users without data plans, but the T-Zones homepage also offers unlimited access to the ABC News mobile web site..
In addition you can access a few other sites by entering their URLs into the browser. Available sites vary but currently include Weather.com (tmobile.xhtml.weather.com) Yahoo Mail ( m.yahoo.com/w/ygo-mail) and Sports Illustrated (tmobile.si.mlogic.mobi). I’ve been using this little bonus on many different phones over the years, most recently a Nokia N95-3. Between T-Zones and the public WiFi that is prevalent in San Francisco, I get by pretty well without a data plan.
I was one of the lucky people to get a free HTC Ion at Google I/O. The Ion came with 30 days of T-Mobile service including unlimited data. When the free service ran out I expected to be able to use the T-Zones on it too. The 30 days actually turned out to be 42 days, thank you Google and T-Mobile. When it finally ended, I put my Pay As You Go SIM in the phone only to discover no free web, not with wap.myvoicestream.com, which is the T-Zones homepage, and not with ESPN, CNN, Yahoo or any of the other sites that normally work on prepaid. Every attempt to access the web just gave me a page titled “Subscription Upgrade Required”. The page is blank except for several broken images. This is the case with either of the two APNs, wap.voicestream.com and epc.tmobile.com that work on other phones. I tried it both with and without the 216.155.165.050, port 8080 proxy that T-Zones required until recently with the same results.
When I put the SIM back in the Nokia N95-3 all the T-Zones links plus Traffic.com, Radar and Yahoo Mail worked again. It looks like T-Mobile is identifying Android phones, even non-T-Mobile branded ones like the Ion, and blocking them from prepaid T-Zones. Users on HowardForums have reported that with the right settings, the free prepaid T-Zones works on everything from dumbphones to Windows Mobile and Palm OS devices and even the iPhone. But no one seems to have been able to make it work on any Android phone. It seems wierd that T-Mobile, which used advertise “T-Mobile – Get More” to emphasze their plans affordability, is actually offering less to prepaid customers who happen to be using their marquee smartphone platform, Android.
Oh well, it just means that I’ll be keeping the T-Mobile SIM in the N95 so I can still read the news and check email in spots where I have no WiFi. The Ion sits SIM-less now. I really like the phone and still use it at home on WiFi and even play at doing Android development. But with no T-Zones and thus no SIM and no phone service I won’t be carrying it any more when I go out.
Update: Several months after I wrote this T_Mobile started allowing T-Mobile branded Android phones to use the T-Zones home page to check their balance, add top-ups and purchase a Web Day Pass. However access to the free 3rd party sites like Yahoo is still blocked on T-Mobile branded Android phones.
Related post: T-Mobile To Go’s Free Mobile Web