Having filled a multitude of roles at most every level for nearly 25 years at T-Mobile, Mike Katz admits there are a couple jobs he hasn’t been allowed to attempt on his journey to becoming the company’s Chief Marketing Officer.
“They haven’t let me be a lawyer or an engineer yet … and that’s probably for good reason!”
While he admits it’s best those titles are left to the given professionals, one could argue he’s actually been engineering something pretty cool in the world of wireless: As CMO, he’s in a unique position to guide others in an increasingly mobile-first existence.
"One of the promises of 5G and one of the things you're seeing already is that these high-capacity networks can enable literally anything that can be connected to be connected, which was a big limitation of previous generation networks," Katz explains. "I do think we are going to see a big change in just the number of things around us that are connected, and how those things all communicate with each other. One of the reasons you hear about self-driving cars being a big 5G use case isn't so much because you need 5G for an individual car to be able to self-drive. It's all the cars on the road being also interconnected, which takes massive capacity, really low latency and wide distribution of network. And I think you're going to see examples of similar kinds of use cases happen across multiple industries over the next few years."
Mike’s clearly driving toward something big when it comes to harnessing the power of the latest wireless technology in this smart highway we call life. He recently sat down with the hosts of T-Mobile Stories podcast series “Mobile Diaries” to review some of the white-hot wireless advances that have been made since the beginning of the pandemic, and how our 5G future is swiftly coming into focus. You can listen here and read an edited version of the conversation below.
What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the world or wireless since your early days at T-Mobile?
When I started at T-Mobile and its predecessor company, VoiceStream, mobile phones were kind of an accessory. And they were really a luxury item that very few people had, and they really couldn't do much beyond place phone calls. And you look at today, and this is the main connection to the internet, and to pretty much any other information source that we get in our lives. I'm really proud that I get to do this this job at T-Mobile. It's one of the reasons why I've [been here] for so long. But I also know that the most important thing I do is being a husband, and dad to my four kids. And so for me, it's about getting the opportunity to spend a bunch of time with them. And I think that's one of the nice things that our technology enables, because it does enable, in some sense, time, right? The fact that I could be across the world on a vacation with my family, and still check in and have a productive session at work is extremely valuable to me because it allows me to invest more time in the thing that's most important to me, which is all those people at my house.
On our podcast, "Mobile Diaries," we have been exploring emerging mobile personas and archetypes coming out of the past couple years of the pandemic. Can you share with us a little about where you see we all are today, and what's coming down the pike in terms of mobile lifestyle and technology?
I still think we’re in the very early days of 5G in terms of its capabilities, and the kinds of experiences and products that it can enable. I think what you're seeing right now with 5G is use cases that are beginning to take advantage of the massive amount of capacity that 5G enables. A really great example for that is home internet. We just had our earnings last week, and we announced that we have 560,000 new home internet customers on T-Mobile. And what it's telling you is that first, there's a huge demand for alternatives to traditional home internet access, but also secondly, it really underscores the power of what a 5G network can do. A few years ago, you were talking about light web browsing on a smartphone. And now you have 5G networks literally powering your connection inside your house, which is one of the most important connections in your life, but it’s also the one that's the most strained because you've got Netflix and gaming and automation devices and security devices.
Unlike other technologies - say, broadband - that have left a lot of people stuck in the digital divide, something like 5G offers great promise for closing that gap. Could you offer a little insight into that, and even how T-Mobile itself is uniquely positioned to address that - and maybe even some examples of how it already has?
I think it’s something that we’ve known for a while, but the pandemic really reinforced to us is that connectivity is such an essential part of our lives and those that don't have it are really left out of vital parts of our community. I’ve had the incredible privilege to be a part of work that's happened over the last couple of years that we call Project 10Million, where you saw the importance of this technology and how it’s changed people’s lives. The one story that really comes to mind is what happened in New York City at the beginning of the pandemic, where the city had a really tough decision in March 2020 of shutting the schools down. It’s the largest school district in America. Over a million children attend and there was a large percentage of kids, something like 500,000, that had no broadband access at home. Just put that in perspective. The largest city, in the richest country in the world, with 500,000 kids that had no broadband connectivity. I like using this example because it shows you how much of a problem we still have. But it also is a great demonstration of how mobile can solve some of these problems at scale. And that’s exactly the opportunity that we had with New York, was to come in, provide a connectivity solution that used our wireless network, and provide kids with the connection back to their classrooms so they could fully participate in school. And I'm really excited about Project 10Million, because it is our commitment to provide 10 million of these connections across America. We’ve already seen over 3 million of them utilized to date and counting.
We couldn't have even imagined our mobile lives today, even just a few years ago. In your view, where are we headed, and what's to come?
I do think that very quickly you'll start to see some things that really impact consumers. The ones that I think will be the earliest to market will be things pertaining to the Metaverse as well as AR, VR and XR kinds of experiences. With the amount of investment that's happening across the world, I think we're going to start to see the Metaverse going from words on paper into a set of experiences that are really going to change the way that we interact with each other. Both social interactions and commerce interactions are going to take place in a fully digitized world between avatars. But it's surprising me how fast it's coming to fruition.
I also think, closely related to that, will be experiences with gaming that can take advantage of mass, high-capacity connectivity with really low latency that's widely distributed across the whole country. I think it is a really interesting environment for gaming, as well as game developers creating new unique experiences that haven't been available before. We're at the very early days, but the capabilities that are in the ground right now with 5G are incredibly exciting and they're just waiting for developers to take advantage of them.
We just aired an episode on the evolution of connected travel and how that technology has changed even since the pandemic started to accelerate the way we travel today. T-Mobile had a recent Un-carrier move called Coverage Beyond, which was itself a big evolution in connected travel. Can you offer some insights?
This move, Coverage Beyond, really builds on some of the most famous moves that T-Mobile has ever done, like Simple Global, which for the first time enabled people to very simply move outside the borders of the U.S. and not have to worry about their mobile connectivity. What we did with this move was take some of those benefits and make them a lot better and also make them more contemporary to the way that people use their devices today and with new technologies that are available. So, for instance, when our customers go to over 200 countries, they can turn on their phone and receive whatever the highest speed network is that's available in that local country. And more and more often that's going to be 5G.
We also really enhanced the connectivity while you’re going to that destination on your airplane. For some time there has been limited Wi-Fi capabilities available in airplanes, and we did an Un-carrier move a while back in partnership with Gogo that allowed T-Mobile customers to connect while they’re on the plane for text messaging. Now what’s happened since that move is the technology on airplanes has advanced from a ground-based technology to a satellite-based technology. And the bandwidth is significantly better. You can actually stream on planes. With Coverage Beyond, we dramatically expanded our partnerships with Gogo and are essentially working with all the major airlines in the U.S. so when customers are on the plane, not only do they have access on more flights, the access that they have includes, when available, full streaming. You literally can open up your Netflix account or your Amazon Prime account and you can be streaming on the plane!
The other part of this that I'm really excited about is a big partnership that we did with AAA that gives all of our customers on Magenta MAX a free AAA subscription. And we amped up some of our T-Mobile Tuesdays offers like our most popular offer, which is a partnership with Shell where we give discounted gas and increased the discount to 25 cents a gallon. All of these moves we feel like were important because of the moment that we're in right now, not only this summer, one of the busiest travel summers that we've seen in a long time, but also because we’re in the middle of a 40-year record inflation and everything around us is getting more expensive. While people want to travel, they’re really concerned about the cost of traveling from airline tickets to gas. And we thought it was important for us to get these moves out at the beginning of summer to take some of that stress away from customers so that they know that T-Mobile’s got their back when they travel. I’m really proud of the team that brought these because at the middle of them were our customers and thinking about, “What do our customers need in a summer where things are getting more expensive and they really want to travel?” I think this this was a big answer to that question customers have.