Blog

Reflecting On Ting

Ting had a phenomenal reputation for its customer support. Given that lackluster support is par for the course in the cellular industry, it’s particularly impressive that Ting managed to buck the trend while offering a low-cost service.

Earlier this month, DISH acquired Ting’s subscriber base. DISH’s customer support has a lousy reputation. I’m worried that a lot of what made Ting special will disappear as subscribers gradually become integrated with DISH.

While I’m sad to see Ting changing, the recent moves were reasonable for Tucows, Ting’s parent company. Here’s a screenshot I took showing the change in Tucows’ share price in the handful of hours after the news about the acquisition of Ting’s subscribers went public:

Tucows' stock rose over 16%

Changes for Ting subscribers

I’ve found Elliot Noss, Tucows’ CEO, and many of Ting’s employees to be unusually straight talkers. While understandable, it was a bit disappointing that some of the usual candor was missing in statements and discussions related to the acquisition. Still, light was shed on important factors that could affect Ting subscribers going forward. The excerpts below come from Elliot Noss’ Reddit post.

Pricing

For those following, DISH is now becoming a fourth competitor in mobile with T-Mobile taking over Sprint. We are going to help them grow their business and try and make tens of millions of customers as happy and satisfied as you all have been. And for you, soon, DISH will be offering much improved pricing.

I have no reason to doubt that prices will come down. Ting did a great job pushing forward pay-for-what-you-use pricing, but Ting’s data charges haven’t been competitive with the rest of the market for several years. While I expect data prices will come down, I don’t know if DISH will let Ting’s customer base stick with pay-for-what-you-use pricing indefinitely.

Customer support

Our customer service people will still be the ones answering your calls, etc. for the first while and before they are not we intend to help DISH be able to provide service that has you just as happy.

In my view, Ting managed to offer far better support than any of the major carriers offer their own, postpaid customers. I seriously doubt DISH’s customer support will offer the same quality that Ting’s support agents offer.

Cutting Through Bullshit Around 5G Latency

There’s a lot of unrealistic hype going around about 5G. Most of the hype focuses on the blazing-fast speeds 5G can offer.

Today, T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, made a big deal about 5G latency rather than 5G speed:1

Latency measures the time delay involved in data transfer. It’s common for 4G connections to have a latency of about one-twentieth of a second (50 milliseconds). Some 5G technologies may be able to push latency far lower.

The video Sievert shared is allegedly a demonstration of latency under different technologies. It’s not remotely fair. The phone supposedly demonstrating a 4G LTE connection is about five seconds behind the real world. Latency isn’t anywhere near that bad with 4G. If it was that bad, normal voice conversations and video chats using 4G wouldn’t be possible.

Ting’s Subscriber Base Acquired by DISH

News came out today that most of Ting’s assets, including Ting’s mobile customers, have been acquired by DISH:1

Effective August 1, 2020, most Ting Mobile customers across the U.S. became customers of DISH. These customers will continue to use their current phones and will enjoy the same rates and excellent customer experience. As with DISH’s recently acquired Boost customers, these Ting Mobile customers will have access to the new T-Mobile network.

Tucows, Ting’s original parent company, will retain ownership of Ting’s technology stack. Tucows plans to offer Mobile Service Enabler (MSE) solutions to help wireless carriers run their businesses. Here’s a bit of information I received from Tucows’ PR team:

Now, as a Mobile Services Enabler (MSE), Tucows is opening up its mobile platform and the foundation on which the MVNO Ting Mobile was built. The same platform that helped Ting Mobile create some of the happiest mobile customers and top Consumer Reports lists year over year. DISH is becoming Tucows’ first MSE customer—starting with Ting Mobile, and adding Boost Mobile’s estimated 9 million customers in the 2nd half of 2021.

The Verizon Network

So far, I haven’t seen Ting directly address the plans for the carrier’s Verizon-based service. An email from Ting’s PR team said there would be “no data migration, service interruption or billing changes.”

I expect customers on Ting’s Verizon-based service will not be forced to migrate immediately. I’m not sure what will happen in the long term.

Cricket Wireless Store

Cricket Wireless Updates Plans

Yesterday, Cricket Wireless updated two of its phone plans.

The Core Unlimited plan (Cricket’s most basic unlimited plan) used to throttle data speeds to maximum of of 3Mbps. Cricket has bumped that up to 8Mbps. The plan’s price is unchanged.

Cricket also updated its plan that cost $40 for a single line. The plan used to include 5GB of data per month. Cricket has doubled that allotment to 10GB per month.

I expect that customers already on these plans will be automatically updated to the new plan structures, but I haven’t confirmed that with Cricket.

My take

I’m a fan of the recent changes. In the past, Cricket didn’t price its non-unlimited plans all that competitively. Doubling the data allotment on the $40 plan is a good step in the right direction.

In a review of Cricket that I published about a month ago, I wrote the following:

For most users, Cricket’s throttling won’t cause much trouble. Subscribers should still have an easy time browsing the web, streaming music, and streaming standard-definition video. Downloading apps and other large files may be a bit frustrating with Cricket’s throttled plans.

With the shift from a 3Mbps throttle to an 8Mbps throttle on the Unlimited Core plan, I feel more confident about my perspective on Cricket’s throttling.

Rethinking “Nationwide”

T-Mobile and AT&T started describing their 5G networks as nationwide once the networks covered over 200 million people. I’ve seen multiple people suggest that this is related to FCC rules. Allegedly, the FCC only allows networks to be described as nationwide when they cover over 200 million people. I’ve searched around, and I can’t find any FCC documents mentioning such a guideline.

As far as I can tell, the 200 million number comes from the National Advertising Division (NAD), a self-regulatory body for the advertising industry.1 Here’s an excerpt from a 2014 NAD publication:

NAD noted in its decision that it has applied a consistent standard for ‘coast to coast’ service for the past 10 years. In general, a wireless network can claim to be nationwide or coast to coast if the provider offers service in diverse regions of the country and the network covers at least 200 million people.

200 million people would make up about 60% of the U.S. population.2 I don’t think a network covering 60% of the U.S. population is nationwide in the common-sense meaning of the word. If networks with such lackluster coverage are advertised as nationwide, consumers will be misled.

The NAD should update its approach. The exact meaning of nationwide isn’t clear cut, but I think even a loose standard should be something like this:

Nationwide network: A network that covers at least 85% of the U.S. population and offers service in some parts of every state.

The NAD should probably frame its standard in terms of a percentage of the U.S. population covered (rather than a raw number of people covered). In 2004, 200 million people would have been almost 70% of the U.S. population.3 The NAD’s standard made more sense then. As the country’s population has grown, the NAD’s standard has become weaker.

AT&T’s 5G Coverage Now “Nationwide”

This morning, AT&T announced that its 5G network is now nationwide. By “nationwide,” I believe AT&T means that the service is estimated to cover over 200 million Americans. There are still plenty of parts of the country that are not covered by AT&T’s 5G service.

AT&T shared a few other noteworthy items in its announcement:

  • AT&T will add 5G support to the Unlimited Starter plan (the carriers’ most basic postpaid unlimited plan) at no extra charge on August 7.
  • Business customers on the Unlimited Web-Only plan will also get 5G support starting on August 7.
  • Cricket Wireless will begin offering 5G service on August 21.

On all of these plans, 5G service will only be available for subscribers with 5G-compatible devices.

5G Coming To Cricket Wireless

Today, AT&T came out with a press release stating that 5G service will be coming to Cricket Wireless. Here’s the relevant bit:

On Aug. 21, Cricket Wireless customers will be able to activate 5G service on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G. More details soon!

As far as I can tell, Cricket has not yet updated its own web pages about 5G.

I expect Cricket subscribers will be able to access both AT&T’s sub-6 5G and AT&T’s ultra-fast millimeter wave 5G. While the S20+ will initially be the only 5G phone offered by Cricket, we should soon see the carrier offering more 5G-compatible devices. It may also be possible for Cricket customers to bring their own unlocked 5G phones to the service.

T-Mobile’s Misleading Claims About Its Four Unlimited Lines For $100 Deal

Yesterday, T-Mobile shared a press release announcing deals the company is about to launch. Starting July 24, T-Mobile will offer four lines on its Essentials plan for $25 per line each month. The Essentials plan is the most basic of T-Mobile’s postpaid unlimited plans.

Customers making use of T-Mobile’s deal on the Essentials plan will have the option to take advantage of a second promotion on the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G:1

If you need 5G phones too, for just $5 more per line, get four lines for $30 each per month, plus taxes and fees with autopay on T-Mobile Essentials PLUS four Samsung Galaxy A71 5G included with bill credits and eligible trade-in.

Bragging

At the beginning of its press release, T-Mobile brags about how unbelievable the upcoming deal will be:

Four lines for just $25/month each, an unheard of price point for unlimited postpaid.

T-Mobile brags again a bit later:

This price point with unlimited data has not been offered for everyone in postpaid wireless in, well, ever.

And then again:

This price point for unlimited postpaid is unheard of. As in, unlimited high speed data at this price has never been offered before for everyone in postpaid wireless in the history of ever.

Despite T-Mobile’s claims, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen postpaid unlimited plans at this price point. Sprint previously offered its Unlimited Kickstart plan for $25 per line.

Note how the caveat word “postpaid” shows up in each of T-Mobile’s boasts. Prepaid brands Visible and Cricket offer four lines for $100. Other prepaid carriers have offered similar deals in the past. Unlike T-Mobile, both Visible and Cricket include taxes in the $100 list price of their four-line plans.

No high-priority data

Postpaid plans tend to have features that prepaid plans do not. Notably, postpaid service is likely to come with high-priority data during congestion. While T-Mobile’s Essentials plan is postpaid, it does not include high-priority data.

T-Mobile’s statements are a bit disingenuous. It’s strange for the company to brag about how the upcoming deal will involve postpaid service while neglecting to mention that a major feature people associate with postpaid service is missing.

Confusing Names For LG’s New Budget Phone

LG recently launched a budget-friendly phone that several carriers are offering.

Aristo 5

The picture above comes from LG’s web page for the Aristo 5. However, LG is offering phones with nearly identical aesthetics and specs under at least six different names. The name varies depending on the carrier offering the phone.

I’ve seen similar phones launched under multiple brand names before, but I think LG’s new device sets a record for the number of names.

AT&T Prepaid Adds 6 Month Option To Its 8GB Plan

In one of my recent posts, I discussed the awesome deals AT&T is offering on its prepaid plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data each month. At the time I wrote the post, AT&T offered the plan with three different price structures:

  • Month-to-month payments ($40 per month)1
  • Three months purchased upfront ($33 per month or $180 total)
  • One year purchased upfront ($25 per month or $300 total)

Now, AT&T has added another option. Customers that purchase six months of service upfront can get the 8GB plan for $30 per month.

Before AT&T added the six-month option, I was comparing AT&T’s plan to Mint Mobile’s 8GB plan. The plans look even more similar now that both carriers offer 3, 6, and 12-month payments options.