John Legere smiled, the kind of smile reserved for a man who knows he has already won and is just waiting to announce it. Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US, the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the country, was giving an interview to Bloomberg TV in July to introduce a program that would allow customers to upgrade their phones twice a year. The smile appeared when he was asked about other carriers, which had complained off the record about the cost of the phones they sold to their own customers. Legere tugged at the neck of his shirt. “You know what?” he said. “It’s the best part of what you just said. I’ll tell you what hurts them, is the fact that they’re telling you off the record that they don’t like this variable about serving their customers, because frankly they don’t have the balls to say it.” By the end of the summer, AT&T and Verizon had followed Legere’s lead with similar upgrade plans of their own.
He wore a T-Mobile T-shirt. Legere (pronounced “ledger”) always does when he’s in public. The shirt’s almost always pink and worn with a silver pendant necklace. He wears his hair shaggy. Telecommunications is not, traditionally, a T-shirt-wearing trash-talker’s business. After all, some of these companies have been around since the telegraph. But there Legere has been, for the year since the company brought him on, taunting the rest of the industry, calling out AT&T and Sprint by name, and constantly repeating that T-Mobile is so unlike all of the other wireless companies that it deserves its own genus: the un-carrier. The un-carrier charges less for unlimited texts and data. It sells you an iPhone with nothing down. It doesn’t charge you for international roaming, and it gives you a little free data with every tablet.