The gloves are coming off at AT&T and T-Mobile.
T-Mobile is running three ads in the nation's largest newspapers directly attacking AT&T for taking "cheap shots" at it. AT&T last week ran an ad titled "The truth about T-Mobile's network" that claimed the superiority of AT&T's own coverage and network speed over those of T-Mobile.
T-Mobile, in turn, took AT&T's ad and ran with it. In one ad, T-Mobile asks, "What keeps AT&T up at night? Apparently us." Another one directly addresses the AT&T spot: "Can you see the beads of sweat in this ad?" The last one asks, "If AT&T thought our network wasn't great, why did they try to buy it?"
Stuck in last place among the national carriers and still bleeding its most valuable customers away, T-Mobile has shown a willingness to compete more aggressively, with its charismatic CEO, John Legere, unafraid to mince words when it comes to his competitors.
The tussle began at the Consumer Electronics Show in January when Legere called out AT&T's network in New York, saying plainly that "it sucked." While the crowd was amused, AT&T clearly wasn't, leading to last week's response. AT&T, unfortunately, is playing against a carrier with a lot less to lose and more willing to take a risk.
"We love a good scrap, especially when the winner is the consumer," said T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert. "What's more, we love that thousands of customers drop AT&T for a better experience at T-Mobile."
He added specifically that 2 million customers have brought unlocked iPhones to T-Mobile. Only AT&T's iPhones are compatible with T-Mobile's network.
AT&T had only a short response to the ad.
"Yawn," said AT&T representative Mark Siegel.
That AT&T and T-Mobile have turned on each other marks a reversal from 2011, when the two companies were in sync and seemingly on the road to a merger. But the deal was derailed by regulators who feared that the combination would hurt competition in the industry.
The ads are part of what will likely be a more visible campaign for T-Mobile. The company has vowed to be more aggressive in going after customers and competing against its larger rivals. Meanwhile, its own reach will grow when it completes its merger with regional prepaid provider MetroPCS.
Updated at 9:32 a.m. PT: to include a response from AT&T.