There are four national cellular carriers in North America: AT&T and Verizon Wireless are the two larger carriers with Sprint and T-Mobile US as the two smaller carriers. Of these four, T-Mobile US is the smallest carrier by subscriber numbers and as one might expect, has an aggressive business model designed to increase market share. In particular, T-Mobile US have adopted “Uncarrier” branding designed to steal customers away from the other networks. Other business practices that T-Mobile US have employed include improving relationships with investors (shareholders, stakeholders), customers and consumer advocates and to this end, they have just released their first-ever transparency report for 2013 and 2014, which shows just how often the US government asked T-Mobile US to provide them with information. It turns out that despite their smaller size compared with the other three providers, in 2014 the Uncarrier received the most requests from the US government for data, at just over 350,000. T-Mobile’s transparency report details that of the 351,940 requests it received, 177,549 were criminal and civil subpoenas, 17,316 were warrants and over 3,000 were wiretap orders.
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To put these numbers into perspective, T-Mobile has around half as many customers as either AT&T or Verizon. Over 2014, AT&T received 263,755 requests and Verizon saw 287,559 requests. Sprint, America’s third-largest carrier, received 308,937 information requests. T-Mobile US customers were more than twice as likely to attract the attention of law enforcement agencies compared with AT&T and Verizon. Perhaps the larger number of requests is why T-Mobile US were the last of the big four US carriers to release the information? Other interesting snippets include the growth of requests witnessed from 2012 to 2013, then to 2014. 2013 was a busier year than 2012 with T-Mobile receiving 7% more requests, but 2014 was an even busier year and showed an 11% increase compared with 2013. It seems that US law enforcement agencies are determined to keep cellular operators’ information desks busy! Almost all of the 2014 requests came from the US government with T-Mobile disclosing that only eight requests came from foreign governments (these being Canada, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong and Columbia). There was no T-Mobile US spokesperson available to comment on the increase in requests or to comment on why T-Mobile US has received more information requests compared with its peers.