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Xfinity Mobile Updates: 5G, Pricing, and Prioritization

Today, Xfinity Mobile released a handful of changes.

5G Support

Xfinity Mobile now officially offers 5G powered by Verizon’s network. The carrier’s updated network webpage has a lot of content devoted to the wonders of 5G.

Pricing

The 1GB by-the-gig plan has increased from $12 per month to $15 per month. Data add-ons for by-the-gig customers have also increased in cost from $12 per GB to $15 per GB.

The 3GB by-the-gig plan for $30, the 10GB by-the-gig plan for $60, and the $45 per line unlimited plan are still available with unchanged prices.

Prioritization and video throttling

With the last generation of Xfinity Mobile plans, subscribers were typically subject to deprioritization during congestion. It looks like subscribers on the new by-the-gig plans will not be subject to deprioritization. Here’s a screenshot from my within my Xfinity online account:[1]

Screenshot suggesting Xfinity Mobile is offering better prioritization on by-the-gig plans

As far as I can tell, subscribers on Xfinity Mobile’s Unlimited plan will continue to be deprioritized during periods of congestion.

Optional opt-in

Existing subscribers are not being forced to switch over to Xfinity’s new plans. At the moment, it looks like subscribers who don’t switch over will continue to experience the old price structure while missing out on new perks like 5G access.

I’m unsure whether Xfinity Mobile will let subscribers stay grandfathered on the old plans indefinitely. It’s possible subscribers will eventually be forced to switch to new plans.

My take

As an Xfinity Mobile affiliate, I got a heads up that some changes were coming. It sounded like there would be a price increase on the 1GB plan, and I figured I wouldn’t be able to recommend Xfinity Mobile as strongly after the changes. I’m happy to say my expectation was wrong. The $3 increase in the 1GB plan isn’t too substantial, and the improved prioritization for by-the-gig customers is great.

I’m frustrated by how actively Xfinity Mobile is marketing the new 5G service without making it clear that (a) Verizon’s 5G coverage is extremely limited and (b) few consumers have devices compatible with Verizon’s 5G. That said, Xfinity Mobile’s marketing is less misleading than what we’re typically seeing from carriers offering 5G. While the new 5G access won’t have a meaningful effect on most subscribers today, it will become more important as Verizon expands its 5G coverage.

T-Mobile’s Data Maximizer Can’t Be Turned Off On Connect Plans

Some of T-Mobile’s plans come with a setting called “Data Maximizer.” While Data Maximizer is turned on, most video traffic will be throttled to about 480p quality. Data Maximizer reduces the load on T-Mobile’s network and can help subscribers with limited data allowances to conserve their data.

T-Mobile’s Connect plans supposedly have Data Maximizer turned on by default. Subscribers can also supposedly turn off the feature. On portions of T-Mobile’s website related to the Connect plans, there are disclosures like this one:[1]

Video typically streams on your T-Mobile device at DVD quality (480p) with Data Maximizer. You may disable Data Maximizer at any time.

I’ve recently been testing a Connect plan. Sure enough, a test I ran with the app Wehe confirmed that some video traffic was being throttled:

Results from video throttling tests

When I tried to turn off Data Maximizer, I ran into trouble. I first tried to disable the setting from within my T-Mobile online account. While subscribers on some of T-Mobile’s other plans can turn off Data Maximizer through an online process, that didn’t seem possible with the Connect plan.

I went ahead and called T-Mobile to see if a support agent could turn off the setting. At first, the support agent looked into it and told me Data Maximizer didn’t seem to affect Connect plans. I explained that T-Mobile’s website suggested otherwise and that my video traffic appeared to be throttled. The agent seemed to agree something strange was going on. She said she’d put in a ticket to have someone at T-Mobile look into the issue.

I don’t think it would be a big deal if Connect subscribers couldn’t turn off Data Maximizer. 480p video is, in my opinion, very watchable. Conserving data while streaming can be really beneficial on plans that don’t have large data allotments. Still, the fact that I ran into this issue surprised me. The Connect plans will probably be popular. I’m surprised some sort of quality review didn’t catch this issue before the plans were released.

Mint Mobile Extends Unlimited Data Again

Mint Mobile has extended its COVID-19-related unlimited data offer. Subscribers that joined Mint prior to April 14 can continue to receive data add-ons in 3GB increments at no charge.

Mint first said this offer would be available from mid-March through mid-April, but ended up extending the offer through mid-May. The company has now extended the offer for another month.

Image showing that Mint's unlimited data offer has been extended

I don’t know if we’ll see further extensions of the offer. More information can be found on Mint’s website.

Mint Mobile’s iPhone SE Promotion

Mint Mobile is running a promotion on the iPhone SE. For $720, customers can get an iPhone SE and two years of cell phone service on Mint’s 3GB per month plan. Customers who want more data can pay an extra $120 for 8GB of data or an extra $240 for 12GB of data.

Customers have the choice of either paying outright or paying 12-24 monthly installments through Mint’s partner Affirm. If a customer’s credit is good enough, they may not have to pay Affirm any interest. On a 24 month plan with zero interest, a customer would pay about $30 per month for the iPhone SE and Mint’s 3GB plan.

I recommend avoiding paying for phones on installment plans, and this latest promotion isn’t an exception. That said, there is something unusual worth pointing out here. Typically, I think Mint only lets customers finance phones through Affirm. With this promotion, customers can effectively finance both their phones and their service with Affirm.

The iPhone SE is usually priced at about $400. Mint’s promotional bundle has a base price of $720. Two years of Mint’s 3GB plan would typically cost $360. You can think of the promotion as discounting the iPhone SE’s price by $40 (from $400 to $360).

While I’m a big fan of Mint, I don’t think this promotion is a great deal. In most situations, I don’t think a savings of $40 justifies locking yourself into a long-term arrangement with a wireless carrier.

If you take advantage of Mint’s promotion, you’ll be charged a $32.50 recovery fee during checkout. This fee isn’t for the iPhone SE. It’s consistent with the recovery fee Mint usually charges on wireless plans.[1]

Link Roundup – 4/17/2020

  • The California Public Utilities Commission gave its after-the-fact thumbs-up to the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. Steve Blum offers some good commentary.
  • Joe Paonessa explains the plans for Boost Mobile to begin integrating with T-Mobile’s network. The merger between Sprint and T-Mobile may ultimately lead to a better coverage experience for Boost’s subscribers.
  • Mike Dano discusses negotiations between T-Mobile and Shentel, a company with about a million wireless subscribers.
  • Theories about COVID-19 being caused by 5G have been making their way around. Karl Bode comments in the well-titled article 5G Isn’t Interesting Enough To Warrant These Stupid Conspiracy Theories.

Mint Mobile Makes COVID-19 Data Add-Ons Easier

In response to COVID-19, Mint Mobile began offering unlimited data at no charge to all its customers. Initially, subscribers who ran out of their regularly allotted data had to purchase 3GB data add-ons that would later be refunded.

Mint has now streamlined the process. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Reddit post by Rizwan Kassim, a co-founder of Mint Mobile:

We heard your feedback, and once we made the decision to extend the program – we rebuilt it in a way with an experience that’s more .. well, Minty. On Apr 15, whenever you purchase the data-bolton, if you qualify, the dollar cost will be $0. No credit card charge, no wallet pull. Easy. You’ll need the latest build of the app.

I thought Mint might have intentionally put a bit of friction in the data add-on process to deter abuse and waste. It looks like there’s a better explanation:

The idea was hatched, planned, got financial and brand approval, configured, launched and messaged the unlimited bolt-on offer in 36 hours, over a weekend by an entirely WFH staff. No joke. The fastest method was not to use our billing system, but to tack on a series of jobs that ran post-charge to refund the balances.

Mint has added some sensible eligibility terms for the free data add-ons:

  • Only subscribers who were customers before April 14 are eligible for free data add-ons
  • Subscribers that downgrade their plans lose their eligibility for free data add-ons

Black Wireless & Mango Mobile Fail To Deliver

Earlier this year, two brands owned by the operator Red Pocket, Black Wireless and Mango Mobile, began offering what looked like a great deal…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.

That’s how I opened a retrospective post about a seemingly too-good-to-be-true plan that Black Wireless and Mango Mobile were offering. In the post, I explained why I found the carriers’ promotional deal 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.

I ended my post by suggesting that I may have been too skeptical:

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.

New developments

It turns out my skepticism was warranted. Subscribers that took advantage of the deal are having their plans canceled. Here’s the start of a message Black Wireless sent subscribers on the plan:[1]

Hello, this is Black Wireless. Unfortunately, we have forfeited our contract with our vendor for T-Mobile services due to business reasons. Your service will stop by April the 10th, thus we contacted you to see whether you wish to continue the service with us and in this case we will add a web credit on your online Black Wireless account so you can use the credit to purchase a new plan with a SIM.

“Due to business reasons” is an awfully vague explanation.[2] While I’m not certain what happened, I’m suspicious Black Wireless and Mango Mobile were improperly reselling T-Mobile business lines to non-business consumers.[3]

Damage Control

A Reddit poster associated with Black Wireless commented in a thread about the new developments.

We apologize for any inconvenience…We are providing several options for the customers affected, which include switching to our legacy Black Wireless plans and/or refunds for the balance of the time (remaining months) after the period ending April 10th. Black Wireless has been in the telecom business since 1997 and the wireless business since 2011 and we are here to assist you to make this as seamless as possible. Black Wireless is based out of New York. Thank you for your time and be safe during this trying time.

It was good to see Black Wireless joining the conversation, but the comment frustrated me. A bunch of statements in the comment are misleading or only half true.

The people who eventually created Black Wireless existed in 1997, but Black Wireless did not exist yet. Further, Red Pocket took the reigns of Black Wireless in the last several years. While Black Wireless may technically be based out of New York, I feel like the commenter was trying to mislead people about how closely the company is tied to the U.S. I’m pretty sure the company Red Pocket offloads most of its operations to is based out of Chennai.[4]

In a second comment, the individual associated with Black Wireless gave some level-headed insights:

We did not lose any contract, but merely the plan we had with the underlying carrier due to unforeseen circumstances. We could only do our best at this point to assist our customers in order to make sure they get the service they require or if desired a refund. In this MVNO environment you must understand there are certain criteria we must adhere to and terms we cannot state in order to stay within our business requirements and guidelines with the underlying carrier and contracts/agreements.

If we take the comment at face value, it contradicts what Black Wireless told subscribers via text message: “Unfortunately, we have forfeited our contract with our vendor for T-Mobile services due to business reasons.”

While I’ve found the handling of the whole situation unprofessional, it looks like the companies involved are taking the right steps to offer refunds to affected customers.

Boost Mobile Launches Its Own $15 Plan

Earlier today, Boost Mobile, a flanker brand of Sprint, followed in the footsteps of many other wireless carriers and announced its own $15 per month plan that includes unlimited talk and text along with 2GB of data each month.

Boost made it clear that this is a short-term deal. Customers who take advantage of the promotion will see their monthly bill double after the first two months of service. Here’s a bit from today’s press release:

This limited-time offer, which also includes taxes and fees, mobile hotspot and 99% nationwide coverage with voice roaming, is available through May 12. After 60 days, the monthly plan moves to $30/month.

We now have several carriers offering a $15 per month plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data:

  • T-Mobile
  • Metro
  • AT&T
  • Cricket
  • Boost Mobile

In my opinion, the Boost Mobile offer is the least attractive among these plans since it combines both Sprint’s lackluster coverage and a promotional price that only applies for two months.[1]

Mint Extends Unlimited Data Through 5/14/20

Last month, I wrote about Mint Mobile offering its subscribers unlimited data at no extra charge from 3/14/2020 through 4/14/2020. I just got an email from Mint explaining that the carrier has extended the unlimited data through 5/14/2020.

Mint’s policies around the free data remain the same. Subscribers that use up all of their regular, allotted data can add more data in 3GB increments. Mint will initially charge for these 3GB data add-ons, but subscribers will be refunded within a day. To be eligible for additional data add-ons, a subsciber must have already used 95% of his or her last data add-on.

T-Mobile & Sprint Merger Officially Closes

To no one’s surprise, the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint finally closed this morning.[1]

With the closure of the merger, John Legere is stepping down from his position as T-Mobile’s CEO. Legere will be replaced by Michael Sievert, who was until now the COO of T-Mobile.

I continue to think the merger is going to be bad for consumers over the long term. However, we should see some things that are good for consumers in the short term, like the recently released T-Mobile Connect plans.