Ars Technica

T-Mobile promises to end the “complete bulls—t” from TV companies in 2018

T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced today that the mobile phone operator intends to acquire TV service Layer3 TV and next year offer a TV service that lets you watch "what you want, when you want, where you want" without the "complete bullshit"—contracts, forced bundles, and promotional pricing that expires after a year—that typifies the services coming from traditional cable TV providers.

Layer3 TV brands itself as "The New Cable." It currently operates in only a handful of markets, offering access to a wide range of HD and 4K channels (more than 275 in total), streamed using the highly efficient H.265 (also known as HEVC) video codec and a custom set-top box. It's a pure IP service—there's no tuner in the box, and it will connect over Wi-Fi—and to support it, Layer3 has built out a fiber distribution network and data center in Denver that handles transcoding shows into HEVC. It also has partnerships with Internet providers to provide the last mile connectivity. This private backbone network should mean that Layer3 doesn't suffer the kinds of issues that Netflix dealt with a few years ago when its links bought from Cogent became congested.

While the distribution and compression technology are modern, the rest of the current Layer3 service looks quite traditional. Layer3 offers a basic package of about 150 channels—like regular cable TV, you'll get access to your local CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS affiliates, among others—with add-ons for premium services like HBO, Starz, and Cinemax and additional bundles to add extra sports, music, or Spanish-language programming.

And while Legere has criticized the way cable companies use promotional pricing and long contracts, Layer3 uses some of the same tricks; while it doesn't require contracts, it does have 12-month promotional pricing. In Chicago, for example, the basic package is $75/month, but after 12 months, it will jump to $89. Not as egregious a jump as some other TV providers (AT&T's DirecTV, for example, offers $35/month packages that more than double to $76/month after the first year) but still not ideal.

Currently, Layer3 has no streaming app of its own; to watch on the go, you'll have to use the individual streaming apps that each TV station offers. The company says that a mobile app is in development. The set-top box does have a handful of apps, including one for YouTube, but it presently does not integrate on-demand streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

T-Mobile isn't saying much about what its future TV service will actually look like. Given Legere's specific criticism of promotional pricing and long TV contracts, we'd expect something reasonably straightforward on that front, but other details, such as whether the bundling model will be retained or if something more à la carte will be used, remain unknown. The company promises a clean, modern user interface and decent customer service. T-Mobile's promotional video also prominently includes both Netflix and Hulu, though it includes a footnote warning that this is a "demo of possible service" and that the "final product may vary."

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.