Thanks For Approving My Merger!

T-Mobile’s former CEO, John Legere, was extremely successful in branding himself as an advocate for consumers. While I admire Legere’s success, I don’t think he lived up to the persona he created.1

Today, Legere shared a tweet that reaffirmed my feelings:


While I think a lot of criticism of Ajit Pai has been unfair, “advocating for wireless competition” is quite the phrase. It feels particularly insincere coming from Legere who made the better part of $100 million from a bonus and other compensation tied to the closure of the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. I’m on the record saying I expected the merger to be bad for consumers. Eight months later, I continue to stand by my view.

Green traffic light

Tracfone Acquisition Gets A Green Light

Earlier this year, Verizon announced plans to acquire Tracfone and its roughly 20 million subscribers. Before an acquisition like this one becomes official, companies have to notify the FTC and DOJ. Here’s how the FTC explains the process:

The Hart-Scott-Rodino Act established the federal premerger notification program, which provides the FTC and the Department of Justice with information about large mergers and acquisitions before they occur. The parties to certain proposed transactions must submit premerger notification to the FTC and DOJ. Premerger notification involves completing an HSR Form, also called a ‘Notification and Report Form for Certain Mergers and Acquisitions,’ with information about each company’s business. The parties may not close their deal until the waiting period outlined in the HSR Act has passed, or the government has granted early termination of the waiting period.

It looks like Verizon’s acquisition of Tracfone was granted an early termination of the waiting period:

Screenshot from the FTC's website

More On Starlink Terminal Costs

A Business Insider article (paywalled) came out a few hours ago and suggested SpaceX is paying STMicroelectronics about 2.4 billion dollars to manufacture a million Starlink terminals. Business Insider kept the identity of its source confidential, but the source is described as someone “known to Business Insider.”

The source is quoted saying:

The production agreement specifies 1 million terminals at a price of roughly $2,400 each.

$2,400 is a significantly higher price tag than I would have expected for a terminal, but I’m not sure how seriously to take the new information. While I think it’s true that STMicroelectronics is manufacturing Starlink terminals, the full details of SpaceX’s arrangement weren’t communicated in the Business Insider piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if millionth terminal’s marginal cost ends up well under $2,400.

Verizon Hints At Plans For Tracfone Subscribers

Earlier this year, Verizon announced plans to acquire Tracfone and its roughly 20 million subscribers. While more than half of Tracfone’s subscribers already have service that runs over Verizon’s network, it has been unclear what might happen to the 8 to 9 million Tracfone subscribers on other networks.

In an investor event a few days ago, Ronan Dunne, a Verizon executive, hinted at how Verizon might handle those subscribers if the acquisition goes through:

Just for context, about 13 million of their [Tracfone’s] 21 million, 22 million customers ride on the Verizon network today, but there’s 8 million or 9 million thatride on competitor networks. And we have the opportunity to migrate those across to be on to Verizon.

I’m not sure how seriously I should take Dunne’s words. I still think Verizon may sell off Tracfone subscribers on other networks—selling off some subscribers may appease regulators who are reluctant to allow the acquisition.

Mint Mobile Testing Premium “Treatmint” Support Program

A user on Reddit recently shared a glowing review of a premium support program Mint Mobile is testing. Here’s an excerpt:

Just participated in Mint Mobile’s white glove support program called Treatmint.

Totally rocks! live human support seven days a week…Best tech support I have ever received from any carrier. Totally knowledgeable about carriers, devices, LTE bands, settings.

It’s great to see Mint experimenting with potential improvements to the customer support experience. I’d love to have more carriers buck the norms of lousy support, convoluted phone trees, and long hold times.

As best as I can tell, Mint is considering using Treatmint as an add-on service or a perk on premium plans. The idea of allowing subscribers to pay for better support is interesting. There’s an argument that charging for good support is both fair and efficient. Some people rarely call customer support and try their hardest to resolve issues without help. Does it really make sense for these people to subsidize the costs of subscribers that call customer support regularly?

On the flip side, I worry that a premium support program could create perverse incentives. Carriers charging for premium support might let the quality of their regular support decline so that more people pay for premium service.

Satellite Dish

Starlink’s Terminal Costs

Starlink beta testers can purchase a user terminal and a router for about $500. Starlink probably sells these terminals at a significant loss. In a tweet shared earlier this month, Elon Musk wrote:

Lowering Starlink terminal cost, which may sound rather pedestrian, is actually our most difficult technical challenge.

In a recent earnings call, Pradman Kaul, CEO and President of Hughes Network Systems, gave some perspective on the cost of Starlink’s terminal in comparison to conventional terminals for satellite internet:

The big advantage we would have over Starlink is the economics…Our antenna in Jupiter [Hughes’ terminal], it costs $40 to $50. I think most people would agree that, today, the phased array antenna [what Starlink uses] costs are around $1,400, $1,500. So the economics just going to not be a big advantage for them. In fact, it’s going to make our offerings much more attractive.
eSIM concept photo

Mint Mobile’s eSIM Rollout

Mint Mobile is starting to rollout eSIM plans. Yesterday, a Reddit user posted a screenshot of a text conversation with a Mint Mobile support agent. In the discussion, the agent stated, “We will be offering eSIM soon, for iPhone X and above.”

The information the chat representative shared can’t be entirely accurate since the iPhone X doesn’t support eSIMs. I’m guessing Mint will initially support eSIMs on all iPhones released after the iPhone X.

Rizwan Kassim, a co-founder of Mint, eventually commented on the Reddit thread. Kassim confirmed that eSIM was coming and attempted to temper people’s expectations:

Before everyone goes ballistic … let the thing actually come out and I’ll share more then. =)

Whatever happens, it’ll be a phased rollout and won’t be available in all places to all people immediately. but soon thereafter.

Today, another Reddit user shared that he or she successfully ordered eSIM-based service. While the rollout of eSIM has started, Kassim’s point about the phased rollout looks accurate. My attempts to order eSIM service (or even find an eSIM option) were unsuccessful.

Ting Launches New Plans & Pricing

Ting’s subscribers and some of the company’s other assets were acquired by DISH earlier this year. At the time of the acquisition, Elliot Noss, the CEO of Ting’s parent company, wrote:

Soon, DISH will be offering much improved pricing.

Today, Ting is delivering on that promise. The carrier just launched four new plans. While almost all Ting subscribers will get better prices through the new plans, an email I received stated, “Existing customers are also welcome to keep their current Ting Mobile rates should they wish to.”

Ting’s new Flex option is similar to Ting’s old pay-for-what-you-use model. A base price of $10 per month provides service with unlimited minutes and texts. Subscribers on the Flex plan then pay $5 per gigabyte of data used (half of Ting’s old $10 per gigabyte rate).

Ting’s new plans include three other options that may make sense for heavier data users. Each option includes unlimited minutes and texts:

Set 5 GB

  • $25 per month
  • 5GB of full-speed data each month
  • No restrictions on mobile hotspot data

Unlimited

  • $45 per month
  • 22GB of full-speed data each month
  • Up to 12GB of data per month can be used for mobile hotspots

Unlimited Pro

  • $60 per month
  • 35GB of full-speed data each month
  • Up to 30GB of data per month can be used for mobile hotspots

Subscribers on these plans that run out of full-speed data can use additional data at sluggish, 2G speeds at no extra charge.

“Unlimited” done right

I’m normally critical of carriers offering “unlimited” plans that cap full-speed data. While the word “unlimited” in the names of some of Ting’s plans could be misleading, Ting is transparent about data caps. The screenshot below comes from Ting’s Plans page:

Ting "Unlimited" plan characteristics screenshot

Ting’s transparency stands in contrast to the usual strategy of burring limitations in fine print.

Ting post-acquisition

I’m not sure how much confidence I have in Ting following the acquisition by DISH. While Ting currently offers a great customer experience and some of the best support agents in the industry, I’m less optimistic about the long term.

I’m guessing Ting’s subscriber base will eventually be folded into DISH or another carrier owned by DISH. In all likelihood, the transition will lead to deterioration in the quality of subscribers’ experiences.1

Mint Mobile’s Pre-Black Friday Promo

Today, Mint Mobile launched a promotion where new customers can purchase a three-month plan and get three extra months of service at no cost. The latest promotion stacks with Mint’s existing introductory offer allowing new subscribers to buy three months of service at the monthly rate normally reserved for subscribers that purchase twelve months of service upfront.

Mint Mobile promotional image for the pre-Black Friday deal

With the combined offers, Mint’s plan with 3GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts costs only $45 for six months (or $7.50 per month). While I haven’t seen an official end date for the latest promotion, I expect it’ll run until at least Black Friday (November 27).

Pricing

Total prices for six months of service (before taxes and fees):

  • 3GB plan – $45
  • 8GB plan – $60
  • 12GB plan – $75
  • Unlimited plan – $90

Effective monthly prices for the first six months (before taxes and fees):

  • 3GB plan – $7.50
  • 8GB plan – $10
  • 12GB plan – $12.50
  • Unlimited plan – $15

The final price of Mint’s services will typically be about 10% higher after taxes and fees. You can find additional details or subscribe on Mint’s website.

Man holding a ruler

Mint Mobile Pushes Back On Charging For Data Subscribers Don’t Use

In September, Mint Mobile launched an unlimited plan. The plan is a good deal with a price as low as $30 per month, but I’ve been critical of Mint using the word “unlimited” to describe a plan that actually includes 35GB of data each month.

Yesterday, one of Mint’s owners, Ryan Reynolds, shared a video about an upcoming feature on Mint’s unlimited plan. Soon, Mint will begin recommending that light and moderate data users on the unlimited plan renew to cheaper plans with smaller data allotments. Here’s how Mint explains it:

What if you don’t really need unlimited? Seriously, if you don’t, we can help you save even more money with Mint…we’re gonna be sending you monthly updates showing you exactly how much data you’re using. You can also check your data usage in the app. Then, when it’s time to renew your plan, we’ll recommend the perfect plan for you so you can save as much money as possible. And if that means you should downgrade into something that isn’t unlimited, then we’re gonna suggest you do so. BTW, the average person only uses about 6GB per month.

But wait, don’t most big wireless companies try to upsell me even if I don’t need it? Yes, they certainly do…but luckily, we’re not them. Our whole thing is to make sure you get premium wireless for less. Because if you’re only using 5, 6 or even 9 GBs a month, you shouldn’t be paying more for an unlimited plan you don’t need.

I’m glad to see Mint pushing against the industry’s trend towards unlimited plans for everyone. You can see Ryan Reynolds full announcement below: