Satellites orbiting Earth

iPhone 13 Satellite Connectivity Rumors

Over the last day, lots of media outlets have been reporting that the iPhone 13 will likely support calls and texts via satellites for users without conventional cellular coverage. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m suspicious the media-at-large is getting the story wrong. The reports are based on insights from respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Here’s how AppleInsider describes things:

In a note to investors, seen by AppleInsider Ming-Chi Kuo says that the Qualcomm X60 baseband chip that Apple is predicted to be using in the ‘iPhone 13’ will support low-earth orbit satellite communications. He bases this on Qualcomm’s work with Globalstar, making the latter the most likely partner for the effort.

‘There are many potential scenarios for Apple’s business model cooperation with Globalstar,’ writes Kuo. ‘The simplest scenario is that if the user’s operator has already teamed with Globalstar, the user can directly use Globalstar’s satellite communication service on the iPhone 13 through the operator’s service.’

I’m perplexed. Over the last few years, there’s been growing interest in connecting conventional phones to satellites. However, I’m shocked if there have been enough technical breakthroughs that the iPhone 13 could allow satellite-based calls at no cost to end-users.1

The story being reported in the media may be wildly off. Perhaps Globalstar is just hoping to allow conventional cell service using the n53 band it holds some licenses on. In a Twitter thread, Sascha Segan explains how a relatively mundane story about Globalstar’s spectrum might have been blown out of proportion. On the other hand, I can’t come up with a plausible story to explain how Ming-Chi Kuo got the story so wrong (or had his words so badly distorted).

Person touching a light switch

Twigby Moving To Verizon’s Network

Today, the MVNO Twigby officially announced that it’ll switch from Sprint’s network to Verizon’s network.1 MVNOs like Twigby are usually prohibited from advertising the names of their host networks, so it’s unsurprising that “Verizon” doesn’t explicitly appear in Twigby’s announcement. However, there are plenty of indicators. Twigby’s announcement includes a red coverage map and describes the new network as the “nation’s largest and most reliable”.

Previously, Twigby allowed voice and text roaming on Verizon’s network for customers outside of the range of Sprint’s network. With the latest change, Twigby will drop Sprint entirely and move to offering voice, text, and data over Verizon’s network. New customers will access Verizon’s network automatically. Existing Twigby customers can continue to use Sprint’s network until at least the end of the year. Customers that want to switch to Verizon sooner can opt to do so.

Overall, I think this change is great for Twigby. Verizon offers far better coverage than Sprint, and Twigby appears to be keeping its prices unchanged for the moment. Some of Twigby’s plans rates are well-priced for Verizon’s network:

Twigby plan examples

US Mobile, another small MVNO offering service over Verizon’s network, still has better prices, but Twigby is offering real competition.

Supposedly, Twigby’s Verizon service includes 5G access for subscribers with compatible phones. I wonder whether iPhone 12 users will actually get 5G service. The MVNO Tello recently advertised 5G service while neglecting to mention that 5G iPhones were not supported.

Abstract image representing the idea of speed

PCMag’s 2021 Fastest Mobile Networks Report

PCMag recently released this year’s edition of its Fastest Mobile Networks report. T-Mobile won big. The network’s great speeds with mid-band 5G played a significant role.

My reservations about PCMag’s methodology in previous years still hold true this year. Most importantly, PCMag’s focus on speeds is misplaced. To get a good cellular experience, people need consistent coverage and decent speeds. Once a phone user has decent speeds, further speed increases have hugely diminishing returns. Whether you’re browsing Reddit, streaming video, or using a messaging app, 25Mbps speeds will be good enough. Moving from 25Mbps to 250Mbps won’t have a tangible effect on a user’s experience.

So yeah, T-Mobile won. But it doesn’t mean much. Availability and consistency trump average speeds.

On a less critical note, PCMag’s city-by-city results are interesting. And you can see availability metrics even if PCMag doesn’t give those much weight in its final scores.

A lock

Visible Will Lock Phones For 60 Days

On Friday, Verizon’s flanker brand Visible announced that it will lock phones customers purchase from its online store for sixty days. Phones will automatically unlock after sixty days of service with Visible.

The announcement mentioned an exemption to the rules for members of the military. While Visible suggests customers can make international calls while a phone is locked, rules around international roaming aren’t made explicit:

Locked devices will still work as normal on Visible, and will still be able to make calls internationally to Canada, Mexico, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. And for those serving in the military, Visible will be able to unlock devices before the 60 day period if you are being deployed outside of the Visible service area.
I’m inclined to think Visible’s locked phones won’t work by default with international carriers.

My take

The updates to Visible’s policy are reasonable. Without the policy change, Visible would be at higher risk of people taking advantage of promotions that incentivize new customers. Before Friday’s announcement, I think Visible only locked phones customers acquired through the carrier’s swap program.

Picture poorly representing the concept of identity theft

T-Mobile Admits Customers’ Personal Data Was Hacked

Today, T-Mobile shared another press release about its recent security breach. In today’s release, T-Mobile finally acknowledged that customers’ personal data was definitely compromised.

T-Mobile shared details about the scope of the breach:

Our preliminary analysis is that approximately 7.8 million current T-Mobile postpaid customer accounts’ information appears to be contained in the stolen files, as well as just over 40 million records of former or prospective customers who had previously applied for credit with T-Mobile.

While sensitive information was compromised, it looks like financial details, including credit card numbers, were safe:

We have no indication that the data contained in the stolen files included any customer financial information, credit card information, debit or other payment information…Some of the data accessed did include customers’ first and last names, date of birth, SSN, and driver’s license/ID information.

My biggest question now is whether T-Mobile has a good justification for keeping former customers’ SSNs on file.

A fence

US Mobile Adds Limits to Its Unlimited Plans

Last week, the MVNO US Mobile announced that it would no longer offer truly unlimited data on its unlimited plans. Going forward, the small fraction of US Mobile customers that use over 75GB of data in a month will experience limitations.

A US Mobile employee I interacted with on Reddit was hesitant to confirm exactly what the limitations will be. Stetson Doggett reported that a US Mobile rep said ultra-heavy data users will be throttled to max speeds of 1Mbps.

I’ve been regularly critical of wireless carriers selling “unlimited” plans with hidden limits. I think the trend towards “unlimited” plans may eventually lead to a wireless marketplace that’s more confusing and less consumer-friendly. That said, US Mobile’s limits aren’t bad. 75GB is a hell of a lot of data. Further, a 1Mbps throttle isn’t terrible. While service throttled to 128Kbps (sometimes called 2G speeds) can be almost unusable, you might still be able to surf the internet passably with 1Mbps. US Mobile also did a good job disclosing its new limits with a post on Reddit, an email to customers, and a new disclosure:


Screenshot from US Mobile's website reading "Customers using >75GB/mo on Super LTE (or >50GB/mo on GSM) may notice reduced speeds."


The disclosure is technically accurate, but I think it should be rephrased. “May notice reduced speeds” has become the industry-standard phrasing for situations where customers are deprioritized. With US Mobile, it looks like we’re dealing with throttling.1

No surprises

In the past, only network operators and flanker brands owned by the operators could offer truly unlimited data.

In March, US Mobile shared a blog post titled: We’re going all in! Uncapped, unthrottled, unlimited. The post made a fuss about the carrier’s launch of a truly unlimited plan. It’s full of phrases like these:

  • “Truly unlimited plans”
  • “All-in Limitless”
  • “Uncapped. Unthrottled.”
  • “Unlimited will be unlimited again”
  • “Shed this limitation”

In the end, I guess US Mobile succumbed to the economic forces that make truly unlimited plans impractical for MVNOs.

Image reading "system hacked"

Huge Data Breach At T-Mobile

Yesterday, Joseph Cox at Motherboard reported that a hacker was trying to sell stolen data from 100 million T-Mobile customers. The compromised information isn’t trivial:

The data includes social security numbers, phone numbers, names, physical addresses, unique IMEI numbers, and driver licenses information, the seller said. Motherboard has seen samples of the data, and confirmed they contained accurate information on T-Mobile customers.

The hacker allegedly downloaded all of the data locally before losing access to T-Mobile’s servers.

Today, T-Mobile issued an evasive press release and acknowledged that its systems were compromised (emphasis mine):

We have been working around the clock to investigate claims being made that T-Mobile data may have been illegally accessed…We have determined that unauthorized access to some T-Mobile data occurred, however we have not yet determined that there is any personal customer data involved. We are confident that the entry point used to gain access has been closed…Until we have completed this assessment we cannot confirm the reported number of records affected or the validity of statements made by others.

Bullshit. Customers’ personal data was compromised. T-Mobile knows it.

I won’t be surprised if this data breach ultimately ends up looking similar in magnitude to the infamous 2017 Equifax fiasco. T-Mobile’s stock closed today about 3% down from its closing price on Friday.1

Update:
Lawrence Abrams at BleepingComputer shared an article with additional information and rumors. Here’s one interesting bit:

The threat actor claims to have hacked into T-Mobile’s production, staging, and development servers two weeks ago, including an Oracle database server containing customer data…’Their entire IMEI history database going back to 2004 was stolen,’ the hacker told BleepingComputer.
Xfinity Store

Xfinity Mobile’s Visa Card Promotions

Xfinity Mobile is running a handful of big promotions. Most notably, new subscribers that switch to Xfinity Mobile within the first 30 days of signing up for Xfinity Internet are eligible for a $300 prepaid card. The promotion stacks with a second offer allowing new subscribers to get a $100 Visa card for each line they transfer in after the first line on an account.

Given Xfinity Mobile’s generally solid prices, the prepaid cards should cover several months of service for a family of heavy data users. Light data users and large families get even sweeter deals. In the most extreme case, a family of ten could get $1,200 worth of Visa cards by transferring in ten lines. (Yes, Xfinity will allow that.) Since Xfinity doesn’t charge per-line fees on its plans with shared data, these promo cards could pay for multiple years of service.

The Fine Print

Only new Xfinity Internet customers that stay with Xfinity Mobile for at least 90 days and transfer phone numbers from other carriers are eligible. Card delivery will take about four months. The $300 card offer runs until September 7. The $100 card offer is available a month longer, until October 7. Here’s the legalese from Xfinity:

$300 Card Offer:

Limited to residential customers who are both a new Xfinity Internet and new Xfinity Mobile customer. Requires activation of new Xfinity Mobile line and transfer of phone number from another carrier within 30 days of Internet installation. Must maintain the new line with an account in good standing for 90 days following line activation. Visa Prepaid Cards are issued by MetaBank®, National Association, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa® U.S.A. Inc. This card can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Prepaid card mailed to Xfinity account holder within 16-18 weeks of activation of all required services and expires in 180 days. Limit one $300 prepaid card amount per customer/account.

$100 Card Offer:

Offer ends 10/7/2021. New Xfinity Mobile customers only. To receive $100 prepaid card per line, must transfer phone number from another carrier within 30 days of line activation for each new line after the first line, and maintain, line(s) with an account in good standing for 90 days following line(s) activation. Visa Prepaid Cards are issued by MetaBank®, National Association, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa® U.S.A. Inc. This card can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Prepaid card mailed to Xfinity account holder within 16-18 weeks of activation of all required services and expires in 180 days. Limited one $100 prepaid card for second and additional lines up to a maximum $900 prepaid card amount per customer/account. Multiple cards may be issued based on total qualifying amount.

Other promotions

Xfinity Mobile is running two other promotions that partially overlap with the timelines for the Visa card offers:

  • Until August 30, new customers can get Motorola one 5G ace for free (normally $300).1
  • Until August 22, Xfinity Mobile’s offering $200 off any iPhone it sells.2

Mint Mobile Rumored To Be Considering Sale To Altice USA

An article published by the New York Posts relies on an unnamed source to suggest Mint Mobile is looking for a buyer. Mint allegedly hopes to sell for the better part of a billion dollars. Altice USA, the company behind Optimum Mobile, is rumored to be the most likely acquirer:

Mint is shopping itself and could sell for as much as $600 million to $800 million, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Altice USA, which owns cable, phone, internet, and wireless services, is said to be the lead buyer, although it’s unclear whether it will end up closing a deal.

I believe the rumor is true. I’m not sure it’s good news for Mint customers. There’s a lot to like about Mint’s business model and price structure. Things often change significantly when a carrier is acquired. However, given Mint’s solid growth, it’s possible an acquirer would be content to let Mint continue on its current path.

Actor Ryan Reynolds will make a good chunk of change if a deal goes through. The source behind the New York Post article suggests Reynolds owns 20-25% of the business.

Abstract related to the idea of data

xFi Complete, Unlimited Data, And Wacky Pricing

Many internet service providers try to rent customers combination modem/routers for $10-$20 per month. I generally advise people who are slightly tech-savvy to save money by buying their own modems and routers. Recently, I realized there’s an exception to my advice that applies to Xfinity Internet customers.

On many Xfinity plans, there’s a 1.2TB per month cap on data use.1 The options an Xfinity customer has for removing the cap depend on whether a customer is renting an xFi modem. Customers that don’t rent a modem have to pay an extra $30 per month for unlimited data. Customers that already rent an xFi modem for $14 per month can pay an extra $11 ($25 per month) for xFi Complete. With xFi Complete, customers get unlimited data by default.

Here’s a table from Xfinity’s page on Xfi Complete that describes various options:

Table showing attributes of plans with xFi Complete, xFi standard, and self-purchased equipment

While the large majority of Xfinity customers won’t exceed 1.2TB of data use, tech-savvy customers that own their own equipment likely use more data than the average customer. Oddly enough, renting a modem with xFi Complete is cheaper than buying your own equipment and upgrading to unlimited data.2