NEW ORLEANS -- Six months after AT&T's deal to buy T-Mobile USA collapsed, T-Mobile's TV ads are going back on the attack against a favorite target: AT&T Inc.
Philipp Humm, the CEO of T-Mobile, showed off a new ad Tuesday featuring a hapless man on a motorcycle, cruising on a desert road as a woman on another motorcycle blows past him. The voiceover explains that the man represents an iPhone 4S on AT&T's network, and the woman is T-Mobile's 4G network.
The ad recalls other attack ads T-Mobile showed a year and a half ago. They likened the iPhone to a young man, carrying on his back a frumpy middle-aged man who represented AT&T's data network. The message: AT&T's network slows down the iPhone.
Those ads disappeared last spring when AT&T offered to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion. That deal collapsed in December after regulators opposed it on grounds that No. 2 carrier AT&T buying No. 4 T-Mobile would reduce competition.
Between the announcement of the deal and its collapse, T-Mobile was in limbo. That hurt the company's brand, and it's now looking at "relaunching" it, Humm told attendees at CTIA Wireless, the U.S. cellphone industry's annual trade show, which kicked off Tuesday in New Orleans.
Ralph de la Vega, the head of AT&T's wireless division, was on hand at the same event to give his opinion about the ads.
"It's comparing a phone to a network," de la Vega said. "Everyone gets that, right?"
The iPhone 4S can't use AT&T latest wireless data network, which uses so-called "LTE" technology. Nor could it utilize the top speeds on T-Mobile's network, even if it were available for T-Mobile subscribers.
"That's why this industry has a bad rap, we take the truth and we stretch it," de la Vega said.
Sprint Nextel Corp. CEO Dan Hesse, on the same panel discussion, chided both AT&T and T-Mobile for their advertising, saying some in the industry have "taken creative license around the use of the digit `4'." Both AT&T and T-Mobile have networks that are considered "3G," or "third-generation," in industry jargon, but started advertising them as "4G" when they upgraded the speeds.
Hesse argued that the wireless industry's "Achilles' heel" is the low trust people put in it, and the confusion around the network branding doesn't help.
T-Mobile subscribers could get a chance to test the claims of the motorcycle ad later this year, as T-Mobile rejiggers its network. That will, for the first time, make the iPhone compatible with T-Mobile's "4G" network. Even if T-Mobile doesn't sell the phone, used iPhones could be brought over from other carriers.