AT&T Matches T-Mobile’s $15 Plan

Last week, T-Mobile began offering a plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data for only $15 per month. A few days later, AT&T responded by offering its own $15 per month plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data.

Plan terms

I dug around to learn about the plan’s policies. Here are my impressions at the moment:

  • New subscribers need an AT&T prepaid SIM (costs $4.99).
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering are permitted.
  • Unused data rolls over for one month.1
  • Taxes and fees are not included in the $15 base price.
  • Unlimited international texting to over 100 countries is included.
  • Streaming video traffic will be throttled by default, but subscribers can turn the throttle off.
  • The plan is not eligible for AT&T’s discounts for paperless billing or automatic payments.
  • Data has a soft cap—once 2GB of regular data has been used, additional data can be used at significantly reduced speeds.

Limited time offer

AT&T has repeatedly described its new $15 plan as a promotion and a limited time offer. I don’t know when the plan will cease to be available.2

T-Mobile Connect vs. AT&T’s plan

AT&T’s $15 plan has a handful of substantial advantages over the $15 T-Mobile Connect plan:

  • AT&T has better nationwide coverage.
  • SIM cards are cheaper from AT&T ($5 vs. $10).
  • Only AT&T offers data rollover.
  • AT&T has a soft cap on data, while T-Mobile Connect has a hard cap.

However, it’s not clear how long AT&T’s plan will be around. People who take advantage of AT&T’s offer today won’t necessarily get the same great deal each month for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it looks like the T-Mobile Connect plans will continue to be available to new and existing subscribers for years.

Update: The $15 plan from AT&T is no longer available.

T-Mobile Connect Launches With $15 Per Month Service

In November 2019, T-Mobile committed to offering a new, budget plan if a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint was approved:1

[The New T-Mobile will offer a] competitive $15 per month prepaid option– half the price of the lowest T-Mobile plan today – to EVERYONE, especially lower-income consumers.

T-Mobile launched that plan last week. I didn’t expect it to be available so soon. It looks like the plan’s rollout was accelerated in response to the coronavirus:2

T-Mobile Connect was announced in November of 2019 as part of 5G for Good – the first planned Un-carrier moves for the proposed New T-Mobile – but in response to customer needs in these trying times, the Un-carrier is launching it this week.

Plan versions

The new T-Mobile Connect plans come with unlimited minutes and texts. Subscribers have two options for their data allotments:

  • 2GB plan – base price of $15 per month
  • 5GB plan – base price of $25 per month

Taxes and fees are not included in the base price of either plan. T-Mobile plans to boost data allotments by 500MB each year:3

T-Mobile Connect also has an Annual Data Upgrade, giving customers an additional 500MB of monthly data, every year, at no additional cost, for the next five years.

Plan terms

I’ve read through a lot of detail’s T-Mobile’s published about the plan. Here are my biggest takeaways from that reading:

  • New subscribers must purchase a T-Mobile SIM card for $10.4
  • International roaming is not available for T-Mobile Connect plans.
  • Data has a hard cap. Subscribers who’ve used all their regular data cannot continue to use the internet at reduced speeds.
  • Up to five T-Mobile Connect lines can be combined on a family plan. Line prices stay constant regardless of the number of people on a plan.
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering are permitted.
  • Video is throttled to 480p by default, but subscribers can turn off throttling.

Metro’s offer

T-Mobile’s flanker brand, Metro, will temporarily offer a plan similar to T-Mobile’s $15 plan:5

For the next two months, Metro is offering a $15 plan – that’s half the price of the current most affordable plan. For 60 days after customers activate, it’s just $15 per month for unlimited talk and text plus 2GB of high-speed smartphone data.

Unless I’m missing something, it seems like anyone who’s torn between the T-Mobile’s $15 plan and Metro’s plan should go with T-Mobile.

My take

T-Mobile’s Connect plans will be a great option for budget-sensitive consumers that don’t use a ton of data. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like subscribers on the Connect plans will have a level of priority on par with most of T-Mobile’s postpaid subscribers. If my speculation is accurate, that may give the Connect plans a big advantage over the budget-friendly plans offered by many of the MVNOs that operate over T-Mobile’s network (e.g., Mint Mobile).

Earlier today, I placed an order for the $15 per month T-Mobile Connect plan. I’ll write more about it once I’ve had a chance to trial the service.

TracFone Botching eBay Orders

Earlier this month, I posted about a plan TracFone was offering through its eBay store. For a single payment of $40, customers could get one year of service with 3GB of data, 1200 minutes, and 1200 texts. TracFone was offering coverage over a customer’s choice of either AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile’s network. I thought this was an incredible deal for a low-use phone plan, so I decided to place an order.

Multiple listings

TracFone had a few different listings with the $40 per month plan. In one version of the listing, customers could select the network of their choice from a drop-down menu:

In another version of the listing, TracFone was offering customers a product that included three SIM cards (one for each of the available networks). Customers who purchased from this listing could use the SIM card for their preferred network and discard the two unused SIMs.1

Receiving the wrong item

I wasn’t confident which network I wanted to use during my trial, so I ordered from the three-SIM version of the listing. A few days later, I received my order in the mail, but it only included an AT&T-compatible SIM card.

When I looked back at the eBay listing, it suggested the product only included an AT&T-compatible SIM. This left me confused. I wondered whether the listing had changed or if I’d just made a mistake. TracFone’s customer support on eBay assured me the listing hadn’t changed (emphasis mine):

We have read your e-mail today, March 20, 2020 at 3:25 PM EST. This is in regard to your TracFone Prepaid Wireless Smartphone Plan+SIM-1200 Min, 1200 Txt, 3GB Data.

Please be informed that nothing has changed, but we have added several listings of the same item with different options.

However, the listing had changed. Here’s a screenshot from the listing’s revision history:

Looking back at an archived version of the listing, it’s clear TracFone quietly changed what it was offering. Here’s a product image from the time I placed my order:

Here’s an image from the listing today:

Other reports of issues

Around the time I received my SIM card, I learned other customers who purchased the $40 plan were experiencing issues. A Reddit thread and a discussion on HowardForums detailed the problems. Some people experienced the same issue I had. Other people received SIM cards that didn’t have any airtime or data attached to them.

Those who tried to work out issues with TracFone’s customer support often had a hard time. TracFone’s regular support agents aren’t used to dealing with purchases made through eBay. As I experienced, TracFone’s support on eBay isn’t necessarily all that helpful.

That said, people who tried to get a refund right away (rather than sort out issues with TracFone’s support) probably had an alright experience. eBay is generally buyer-friendly. I doubt many refund requests were denied.

eBay feedback

TracFone’s feedback on eBay shows that issues were widespread. While the $40 plan makes up a minority of TracFone’s sales on eBay, almost all of TracFone’s recent, negative feedback is related to the plan.

TracFone's recent, negative feedback scores

I can’t recommend the plan

I gave my AT&T-compatible SIM a try. Fortunately, it had airtime and data attached as it was supposed to. Service was fine in my brief testing. Still, I can’t strongly recommend the plan. And I wanted to. A year of service for about $3 per month is an amazing deal. The combination of mistakes in fulfilling errors and a lack of customer support agents that can solve issues is a deal-breaker.

UNREAL Mobile Duplicates Mint Mobile’s Pricing Structure

The MVNO UNREAL Mobile recently revamped the structure of its plans. Here’s a screenshot of the carrier’s new offerings:

UNREAL Mobile Plan Options

Copying Mint

If you follow the wireless industry closely, this may look familiar. UNREAL Mobile has duplicated Mint Mobile’s plans and pricing.1 The structure isn’t just similar between the companies. It’s exactly the same. Mint even offers the same special deal for new customers that purchase 3 months of service.

UNREAL runs over AT&T’s network. In many respects, AT&T has a better network than T-Mobile, Mint’s host operator. Still, I’m not ready to say UNREAL is a better option than Mint. I had a lousy experience with UNREAL’s current parent company, Red Pocket. Joe Paonessa of BestMVNO had a lackluster experience with UNREAL itself.2 That said, the new prices are excellent for service over AT&T’s network. Despite my reservations, I’m still tempted to trial UNREAL’s service.

Bogus “Unlimited” Plans

UNREAL offers extra data at vastly reduced speeds for customers that use up all of their allotted, regular data.3

In Unlimited Plans At 2G Speeds Are Bogus, I argued that it’s ridiculous to describe plans with this policy as “unlimited plans.” Mint has enough integrity not to advertise its basically identical plans as “unlimited.”

Twigby Launches Smart Value Plans

The MVNO Twigby just launched a handful of what it calls “Smart Value Plans.” These plans are an alternative to plans using Twigby’s build-your-own-plan structure.

Each of the new plans comes with unlimited minutes and texts. The plans differ in their data allotments. Twigby has a 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB Smart Value Plan. The new plans cost a bit less than an equivalent plan would cost under Twigby’s old build-your-own-plan structure.

Monthly DataNew PriceOld PriceSavings
3GB$20$2829%
5GB$25$3324%
10GB$35$4319%

For the first six months of service, Twigby offers customers 25% off the prices above.

Mint Mobile Giving Unlimited Data To All Subscribers

The MVNO Mint Mobile is temporarily offering all subscribers unlimited data at no charge. Here’s an excerpt from an email I just received:

Starting on 3-15-20 through 4-14-20, Mint Mobile will be providing all current and new customers with FREE unlimited high-speed data add-ons.

Further details

Like many other carriers, Mint Mobile is making changes in its policies in response to the coronavirus. Mint’s subscribers can take advantage of Mint’s new policy by adding data to their plans in 3GB chunks. Subscribers will need to use up most of their add-on data before they’re eligible for additional add-ons:1

95% of data add-on must be used prior to adding an additional data add-on
Data add-ons can be processed from the Mint Mobile app or through Mint Mobile’s online account system. Subscribers’ credit cards will temporarily be charged for add-on data, but Mint will quickly refund the charges.

It looks like even new customers will be eligible for unlimited data.2

Reflections

I’m not sure if Mint Mobile is taking a huge financial hit to offer this policy or if Mint’s host operator, T-Mobile, is doing something unusual that makes the new policy possible.

Mint is one of my favorite budget-friendly carriers, and I’m happy to see the carrier’s latest move. If you’re thinking about switching to Mint, consider checking out my detailed review of the carrier.

U.S. Telecom Companies Take The “Keep Americans Connected” Pledge

In response to coronavirus-related threats, the FCC recently asked a large number of U.S. broadband and telephone companies to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Companies that take the pledge commit not to cut off subscribers who fail to pay their bills for reasons related to the coronavirus. Companies further pledge to waive late fees for subscribers that fail to pay.

From a document on the FCC’s website:

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;(2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and(3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

In a very short period of time, a ton of American telecom companies took the pledge. Here’s an incomplete list of players in the wireless industry that have already pledged:

  • AlticeUSA
  • AT&T
  • Comcast
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile
  • TracFone Wireless
  • US Cellular
  • Verizon

It will be interesting to see how these companies’ commitments play out.

Verizon Launches New Flanker Brand: Yahoo Mobile

Today, Verizon launched a new flanker brand, Yahoo Mobile. The new carrier is extremely similar to another Verizon flanker brand, Visible. You could argue that Yahoo Mobile is closer to a reseller of Visible’s plans than a distinct carrier. Both Visible and Yahoo Mobile have extremely similar websites, policies, and plans. Yahoo Mobile explicitly mentions Visible in FAQ entries, and Yahoo Mobile’s terms of service make the relationship clear:1

Yahoo Mobile wireless service is provided by Visible Service LLC (“Visible”). Your use of the wireless service is governed by the Yahoo Mobile Terms and Conditions which you are entering into with Visible, as well as the Yahoo Mobile Privacy Policy.

Advantages of Yahoo Mobile

In most respects, Yahoo Mobile looks nearly identical to Visible. So far, I see two little advantages the service has over Visible:

  • The base price of Yahoo Mobile is a penny cheaper each month ($39.99 vs. $40.00).
  • Yahoo Mobile comes with access to Yahoo Mail Pro at no extra charge.

Advantages of Visible

The advantages Yahoo Mobile has over Visible will be almost meaningless for most people. On the other hand, Visible’s offerings are better than Yahoo Mobile’s in a few substantive ways:

  • Visible discounts the first month of service to only $25.
  • Visible’s Party Pay system allows subscribers’ ongoing monthly rates to drop as low as $25.
  • Visible has a swap program that allows new customers to trade in junky, old Android phones for decent, new phones at no charge.

Tracfone’s $40 Per Year Plan

Tracfone is offering a super cheap annual plan through its eBay store. For $39.99, customers can get a plan with:

  • 365 days of service
  • 1200 texts
  • 1200 minutes
  • 3GB of data
  • Service over AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile’s network

The allotments of data, texts, and minutes last for an entire year and do not renew each month.

It’s awesome to see that the offer is available on AT&T and Verizon’s extensive networks. As I understand it, Tracfone will ship a SIM card for each of the three networks, and subscribers can then choose which network to use.

This is one of the best deals I’ve seen for an extremely low-use plan. Unlike some of the other companies offering ultra-cheap plans, I have a lot of faith in Tracfone. I’ve gone ahead and ordered a plan, and I expect to post an update once I’ve had a chance to trial the service. I don’t know how long this deal will be around for. Tracfone has suggested it’s a limited time offer.

Retrospective: Black Wireless and Mango Mobile’s Wild Promotion

Earlier this year, two brands owned by the carrier Red Pocket, Black Wireless and Mango Mobile, began offering what looked like a great deal. Subscribers that purchased six months of service upfront could get all of the following for only $16.67 per month:

  • Unlimited minutes & texts
  • 50GB of full-speed data
  • 20GB of full-speed, hotspot data
  • Additional data throttled to 128Kbps

Reservations

While the offer looked amazing, I didn’t bother writing about it. I’d previously had bad experiences with the carriers’ parent company, Red Pocket, and this recent offer looked sketchy.

  • The descriptions of the offer were confusing and possibly contradictory.
  • While Black Wireless typically offered service over AT&T’s network, the promotion was for service over T-Mobile’s network. Black Wireless was doing a terrible job of conveying that information to potential customers.
  • I couldn’t understand how Mango Mobile and Black Wireless would be able to profitably sell cheap plans with data allotments so much higher than those offered by other carriers piggybacking on the same networks.

Negative report

A Reddit thread from about two weeks ago lent some legitimacy to my reservations. Here’s an excerpt from the user that started the discussion:

The package was extremely sketch. It was a plain white letter envelope with Black Wireless rubber stamped in the corner. There was nothing in the envelope except a generic T-mobile sim card. No activation instructions, no receipt, nothing else. The envelope wasn’t even sealed well. I’m surprised the card didn’t fall out in transit.

The user went on to explain that Black Wireless’s activation system was offline. A support agent told the user that Black Wireless didn’t know when activation would be possible.

Around the time the Reddit thread started, the 50GB plan went out of stock. Black Wireless’s in-stock plans were much less competitive.

A positive update

I was suspicious the promotion would end up as a fiasco that looked bad for Red Pocket. However, it looks like the company has sorted things out. Two commenters on the original thread said they had no trouble activating service. The original poster eventually commented with this update:

FYI: Eventually activation started working again.

It took about a week before I could activate my SIM.

I would speculate that they buy SIMs in bulk and then prime them for activation in batches.

I called my credit card company and canceled the fraud case.

My service has been working really well.