Gavel with money behind it

C-Band Auction Results

The FCC’s C-Band Auction closed in January, but the full results weren’t released until earlier today. Here’s how I described the auction in a previous post:

In the C band auction, about 280 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.7-3.98GHz range was reallocated to cellular companies. Spectrum in this frequency range is particularly appealing to operators of cellular networks. The spectrum offers great characteristics, combining a potential for covering large areas with a potential for delivering fast speeds.

The C-Band Auction had fifty-seven qualified bidders. Twenty-one of the bidders won at least one spectrum license. Here’s a breakdown of the winners (note that Cellco Partnership is Verizon and Little Bear Wireless is Dish):

Bidder Gross Winning Bids Licenses Won
Cellco Partnership$45,454,843,197 3,511
AT&T Spectrum Frontiers LLC$23,406,860,839 1,621
T-Mobile License LLC$9,336,125,147 142
United States Cellular Corporation$1,282,641,542 254
NewLevel II, L.P.$1,277,395,688 10
Canopy Spectrum, LLC$197,021,760 84
Widespread Wireless, LLC$64,606,668 14
Cellular South Licenses, LLC$49,850,284 8
Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$23,652,000 4
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$18,565,480 7
Nex-Tech Wireless, L.L.C.$12,164,043 5
East Kentucky Network, LLC$8,675,753 1
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$7,638,336 3
Smith Bagley, Inc.$6,635,510 4
Nsight Spectrum, LLC$5,424,123 3
Agri-Valley Communications, Inc.$4,915,460 2
LICT Wireless Broadband Company, LLC$4,267,485 5
Union Telephone Company$3,123,600 2
Little Bear Wireless L.L.C.$2,510,020 1
Grand River Communications, Inc.$1,590,200 2
Granite Wireless LLC$170,510 1

Verizon spent a bit more than some analysts expected. Interestingly, Dish barely spent anything. While Comcast and Charter registered to participate jointly as C&C Wireless Holding Company, they did not win any licenses.

The full results can be explored in the FCC’s Public Reporting System.

Speed abstract

Will Starlink Double Speeds This Year?

When I got invited to Starlink’s beta, the company included this message in my invitation email:

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

Yesterday, a Starlink user tweeted a screenshot showing a download speed of 130Mbps and a latency of 44ms. Here’s the reply Elon Musk left:

It’s an audacious goal. While some tests with Starlink have already shown sub-20ms latency, that kind of performance is far from typical. Getting speeds to 300Mbps this year would be a real accomplishment.

In the last several months, Musk has made a handful of bold predictions. He has claimed humans will probably land on Mars in the next 6 years and that Tesla will be capable of Level 5 autonomous driving by the end of 2021. While I don’t think either of those predictions will come to fruition, I find Musk’s speculation about Starlink’s performance more plausible. I think there’s about a 50% chance the prediction will look basically correct a year from now.

Traffic jam

T-Mobile Will Increase Premium Data Allowances. It’s Bad News For Most Subscribers.

T-Mobile just announced a handful of upcoming changes to a few of its unlimited plans. Journalists covering the news are praising the carrier’s decision to offer unlimited Premium Data on the Magenta MAX plan. I think these journalists are falling victim to the bullshit T-Mobile filled its press release with:

Legacy smartphone plans are built for lower capacity 4G LTE networks, so Verizon, AT&T and even T-Mobile’s unlimited plans allow providers to lower your network priority if you’ve used a massive amount of data, which means that you might hit speed bumps if the network gets congested. Verizon and AT&T market this as ‘Premium Data’ and give most customers 50GB. But, there’s nothing premium about paying more for fast 5G that’s only in ‘some parts of some cities.’* Now we’re in the 5G era, and T-Mobile has lit up the highest-capacity 5G network available — a network so powerful it can start unleashing the power of 5G to deliver unlimited Premium Data.

Let’s unpack that.

First, T-Mobile is giving way too much credit to 5G. Most of T-Mobile’s customers don’t even have 5G-compatible phones. Premium Data is still available to customers limited to 4G connections.

Second, deprioritizing ultra-heavy data users is a pretty efficient way for network operators to manage resources. Under the usual 50GB-ish per month thresholds, only ~1% of unlimited plan subscribers use enough data to get deprioritized. Users that T-Mobile deprioritizes will experience slower speeds when network resources are under heavy demand. However, deprioritized users can still experience normal speeds when networks aren’t under a heavy load. According to T-Mobile’s own website, deprioritization usually doesn’t have practical consequences (emphasis mine):

Where the network is lightly loaded in relation to available capacity, a customer whose data is prioritized higher than other traffic will notice little, if any, effect from having higher priority. This will be the case in the vast majority of times and locations.

I guess you could say T-Mobile’s Premium Data is only useful in “some parts of some cities.”

The utility of Premium Data hinges on how much Premium Data is being used by other network users. By including unlimited Premium Data with the Magenta MAX plan, T-Mobile is slightly degrading service quality for tens of millions of users in order to improve service for a tiny fraction of the company’s heaviest data users. In my view, it’s a bad tradeoff from a network management perspective. T-Mobile is choosing to make the tradeoff because it gives the company a new perk to advertise on its most premium plan.

Update abstract

T-Mobile To Update Unlimited Plans

On February 24, T-Mobile will update its Magenta and Magenta Plus plans. While the Magenta plan will keep its current name, T-Mobile will rename the Magenta Plus plan “Magenta MAX”.

High-priority data

Currently, customers on the Magenta and Magenta Plus plan get 50GB per month of high-priority data. Soon, the allotment will double to 100GB for Magenta subscribers. Magenta MAX subscribers will have limits dropped entirely and will receive unlimited high-priority data. For a while now, Verizon and AT&T have been referring to high-priority data as “Premium Data”. It looks like T-Mobile is about to follow suit with the same terminology.

Hotspot allowances

The hotspot/tethering allotment on the Magenta plan is moving up from 3GB per month to 5GB per month. On the Magenta Plus/MAX plan, the allotment is doubling from 20GB to 40GB.

Netflix for single-line plans

Until now, T-Mobile has only offered free access to Netflix for subscribers with family plans. Once the plan updates go live, T-Mobile will start offering Netflix to single-line subscribers as well.

Megaphone

Tello Launches 50% Off & Free SIM Promotion

In January, Tello started transitioning to T-Mobile’s network. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Tello, a carrier that has historically run over Sprint’s network, is now offering new customers service over T-Mobile’s network. Despite switching to a network with much better coverage, Tello has not increased its prices.

I think Tello is now one of the best options on the market for customers that don’t need a lot of data.

With a promotion that Tello just launched today, the deal is getting even better. New customers can now get (a) 50% off their first three months of service and (b) a free SIM card for Tello’s T-Mobile-based service. The SIM card normally costs about $10. Existing customers that add lines are also eligible for the promotion.

The deal is slotted to run until February 28. More details can be found in a blog post on Tello’s website.

Starlink Expansion

Several bits of news about SpaceX’s Starlink came out yesterday.

#1 Pre-orders are open

Starlink started accepting pre-orders in a whole bunch of countries. If you’re living in an eligible area, you can enter your address on Starlink’s website and get a rough estimate for when Starlink service will be available to you. A pre-order can be placed by putting down about $100

#2 More beta invites

It looks like Starlink may have sent out a record number of invitations to the beta program yesterday. And I got one!

I paid about $500 for the satellite dish and router plus about $100 more for shipping and taxes. Starlink is suggesting shipping may take 2-4 weeks right now since the company is dealing with a heavy volume of orders.

In an email I received, Starlink doubled down on some performance claims (emphasis mine):

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.

I’m excited to get started testing Starlink, and I’ll try to share details about my experience as soon as possible.

#3 Starlink tweets

SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, recently shared a few noteworthy tweets about Starlink. One vague tweet touched on a potential Starlink IPO:

Another tweet included some sober details about the difficulties of running a satellite internet business:

Finally, I thought this exchange was great:

Up arrows indicating improvements

Visible Party Pay Improvements

Visible, a flanker brand of Verizon, offers just one plan: unlimited minutes, texts, and data for a base price of $40 per month. In 2019, Visible launched a feature called Party Pay. With Party Pay, customers can join together in parties to get lower rates:

  • 2-line party – $35 per line each month
  • 3-line party – $30 per line each month
  • 4-line party – $25 per line each month

Unlike conventional family plans, Visible bills each member of a party separately. Additionally, Visible doesn’t try to limit parties to family members. Visible subscribers are allowed to form parties with strangers and over the internet.

Previously, Visible capped parties at a maximum size of four people. Today, Visible dropped that cap. It’s a great change. Managing a Party Pay group used to be clunky. If one person dropped out of a full Party Pay group, the remaining members would have to either pay more or scramble to quickly re-fill the party. Now, large parties can be formed online. If someone drops out of a party, monthly prices for those left in the party won’t change as long as at least four lines remain.

I might start my own Party Pay group that’s open to anyone, but if you’re looking for a group now, consider joining this big one that’s actively seeking members.

Other changes at Visible

Visible recently released a handful of other updates:

  • e-SIM is now supported for subscribers with compatible iPhones.
  • Visible brought back a referral program. If you refer a friend, you get a month of service for only $5.
  • Calls from the U.S. to Mexico, Canada, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are now free.
  • Visible launched a new community forum platform.
Woman holding cell phone

US Mobile’s Plans Get Even Better

In October, US Mobile launched two plans that I thought were some of the best bargains on the market. Both plans included unlimited minutes and texts. At the time the plans were launched, a $30 per month plan included 10GB of data each month, and a $15 per month plan included 2.5GB of data each month.

In December, U.S. Mobile sweetened the deal. Without raising prices, U.S. Mobile boosted the data allotment on the $15 plan to 3.5GB and the allotment on the $30 plan to 30GB.

Today, U.S. Mobile is at it again. The $15 plan now has a data allotment of 5GB. Two amazing new plans are also available:

  • 12GB – $20 per month
  • 18GB – $25 per month

While US Mobile’s prices are outstanding, potential customers should know that US Mobile tends to have higher fees than most low-cost carriers. After taxes and fees, the final cost of these US Mobile plans will usually come out about $5 per month higher than the plans’ base prices.

The plans are available over either Verizon’s network (“Super LTE” in US Mobile’s words) or T-Mobile’s network (“GSM LTE”). You can find more details about the plans on US Mobile’s website.