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Ting To Drop Hotspot Pricing

Ting has been offering one of the best deals for mobile hotspot service. For $25 per month, subscribers using a Franklin R850 Hotspot get 30GB of data over Sprint’s network. It looks like that deal will come to a close:1

After extending it as long as possible, Ting Mobile will be discontinuing its special hotspot pricing plan after October 14, 2020. Any customers currently using this pricing plan will receive an email informing them that they will switch to regular Ting Mobile rates from their first full billing cycle after this date.

I expect this change in policy is due to either (a) T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint or (b) DISH’s acquisition of Ting’s subscriber base.

There’s No Escaping Bad Customer Experiences

Even cellular industry insiders can’t order phones and service without trouble. Prakash Sangam, an industry analyst, shared this tweet last month:

I’ve been thinking about the tweet a lot. In the last few months, I’ve opened accounts with all three of the major networks. Two of my ordering experiences were quite bad.

I’ll run through my experiences with each network. Go ahead and skip to the second half of the post if reading about my experiences doesn’t sound interesting.

Order 1: T-Mobile

I ordered a new line of service and an iPhone SE from T-Mobile. Everything went as expected. T-Mobile was the clear winner in terms of the customer experience.

Order 2: AT&T

I tried to order service from AT&T’s website while making use of AT&T’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program. AT&T was running an online-only promotion for BYOD lines that involved a waived activation fee and a $250 visa gift card for new subscribers.

A canceled order

A day after placing my order, I got an email from AT&T explaining that the company canceled my order. Here’s an excerpt:

We couldn’t verify this order [redacted] really came from you. For your security, we canceled it. Don’t worry. If there was a hold on your card, we’ll release the funds. Let us help you reorder your item(s). Visit an AT&T store. Be sure to bring your identification.

I have no idea why AT&T outright canceled the order. It would have been more convenient if AT&T paused the order until I could verify my identity.

Attempted phone resolution

I called AT&T to see if I could resolve the issue without going into a store. The agent I spoke with encouraged me to restart the order over the phone. I was worried that ordering by phone would make me ineligible for the online-only promotions. The agent told me she could add on the promotions at the end of the ordering process. I was skeptical, but I proceeded.

The reordering process was aggravating. I had to slowly re-share all of the information I had previously sent through AT&T’s website. After over an hour on the phone, the line dropped before I finished my order. AT&T didn’t call me back.

Going in a store

After two failures, I gave up and went into an AT&T store. I was worried placing an order in a store would make me ineligible for the promotions I wanted to take advantage of.

The AT&T sales representative I met with told me that the store could waive my activation fee and match the $250 visa card promotion with a bill credit of the same size. After sitting at the AT&T store for a bit while the AT&T representative consulted his colleagues, I was informed that the store actually couldn’t match the $250 promotion. I decided to cut my losses and pulled the trigger on service anyway.

A long-running problem

AT&T’s support forum is full of people frustrated with the same issue. Worse yet, complaints about this problem with promotion eligibility have been showing up for more than two years. In that time, AT&T hasn’t done a damn thing to solve the problem.

Order 3: Verizon

Along with a new line of service, I ordered a Galaxy S20 UW and a smartwatch from Verizon. The customer experience sucked.

Trade-in fiasco

When I placed my order, I decided to trade in an iPhone 6. While Verizon typically valued an iPhone 6 trade-in at $12, Verizon was running a promotion where customers who upgraded to the S20 5G UW could get a $350 credit for an iPhone 6. Based on the terms on Verizon’s website, it wasn’t clear whether I’d be eligible for the promotion as a new customer. Here’s a screenshot of the terms:

Trade in terms for $350 credit

When I checked the value of my iPhone 6 on Verizon’s website, I was offered $200 for it. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. I ultimately assumed I was ineligible for the $350 credit but eligible for some other promotion.

During the checkout process, Verizon’s website continued to suggest I’d get a $200 credit. Once the phone was actually inspected, Verizon revised its value down to $12. Here’s a screenshot from the email I received:

Trade in adjustment email

I don’t know why Verizon wrote, “Better qualifying promotion found.” Looking at my Verizon bills, I don’t see any credits that would correspond to either a $200 or a $350 credit.1

Contacting support

I reached out to Verizon’s support to figure out what happened with my trade-in. It didn’t go well.

The agent I talked to through Verizon’s chat-based support initially agreed that something went wrong:

The agent ran into trouble trying to make adjustments:

The agent later told me that I wasn’t eligible for the bill credit since the promotion started after I submitted my trade-in:

A promotion for a $350 bill credit was running in June. My earlier screenshot was taken at that time. I don’t know why the agent suggested otherwise.

Per the advice of the original agent, I switched over to contacting Verizon’s trade-in department by phone. After a few unsuccessful hours with Verizon’s support, I cut my losses and gave up.

Wrong phone specs

The S20 5G UW I ordered arrived with different specs than Samsung initially advertised. I previously wrote a whole post dedicated to the issue.


Why the hell are customers’ experiences so bad?

I’ve described the cell phone industry as a “confusopoly.” Scott Adams coined the term and defined a confusopoly as:

A group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price.

In my recent orders, I came out several hundred dollars behind my expectations. If Verizon and AT&T had user-friendly ordering systems and less confusing policies, that wouldn’t have happened. Still, I don’t think the confusopoly concept fully explains my bad experiences.

By canceling my online order, AT&T made me ineligible for its gift card promotion. There’s a sense in which that saved AT&T a few hundred bucks. On the other hand, I don’t think AT&T intentionally screwed me. New customers are worth a lot to AT&T. Each time AT&T cancels an online order, there’s a chance that they’ll entirely lose a customer. Many people won’t bother coming into a store after a canceled order.

I’m left scratching my head. In most industries where new customers are valuable, a lot of effort goes into making customer experiences positive. What’s going on in the cellular industry?

T-Mobile To Offer A Cheap 5G Phone – REVVL 5G

T-Mobile just announced that it will soon offer the REVVL 5G for a regular price of $400. Eligible customers can get the phone for a discounted price of $200.

I believe the REVVL 5G will be the cheapest 5G phone available in the U.S. when it launches on September 4. T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s flanker brand, Metro, will both stock the device.

REVVL 5G details

The REVVL 5G is essentially a rebranded and slightly altered version of the TCL 10 5G, a phone that received some solid reviews.1 The REVVL 5G will have a Snapdragon 765 processor and compatibility with the following bands:

LTE:

  • B2
  • B4
  • B25
  • B26
  • B41
  • B66

5G:

  • n2
  • n25
  • n66
  • n71

Notably, the REVVL 5G will not be compatible with the frequencies used for millimeter wave 5G.

Promotion eligibility

While the regular price of the REVVL 5G is $400 (or $16.67 per month for 24 months), eligible customers can effectively get the device for $200. Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release:

New and existing T-Mobile customers — including T-Mobile for Business customers up to 12 lines — can get REVVL 4 and REVVL 4+ for FREE or the REVVL 5G for just $200 after 24 bill credits when they switch or add a line.

My take

I’m glad to see a cheaper 5G phone hitting the market. I don’t think consumers need to rush out and buy the device in mass, though. We’ll see more budget-friendly devices arriving on the market over the next few years. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see a low-price device compatible with both sub-6 5G and millimeter wave 5G.

DISH, MATRIXX, and Dynamic Pricing

DISH and MATRIXX Software just came out with a press release titled: “DISH selects MATRIXX Software for dynamic pricing and monetization of its 5G network”.

I’m a huge advocate of variable-rate pricing. Varying data charges based on how congested cellular networks are would bring huge efficiency gains.

While the press release seems promising, it’s full of corporate jargon and light on substance. Here’s the key bit from the press release:

MATRIXX’s API-first architecture is proven to deploy quickly and cost-effectively. Combined with DISH’s AI strategy, it will determine network availability and utilization, dynamically changing prices throughout the day. MATRIXX’s cloud native, continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline then automates pricing updates.

Verizon Updating Unlimited Plans

Yesterday, Verizon announced a set of updates to its postpaid unlimited plans. The new plans are slotted to release on August 20th. All plans will keep their current names and monthly prices. Existing Verizon customers will have the option to switch to the new plan structures or stick with the old structures.

Changes

All of Verizon’s next generation of postpaid unlimited plans will allow 720p video streaming. While details are vague so far, it looks like customers will have to enable 720p streaming in their plan settings. I expect streaming will default to 480p by default.

Verizon has also changed its approach to Premium Data. Going forward, all plans other than the Start Unlimited plan will offer 50GB per month of Premium Data.

Plan by plan changes

Start Unlimited

Positive:

  • Video streaming up to 720p (must opt in, previously 480p)

Negative:

  • Disney+ now included for 6 months (previously 12 months)

Play More Unlimited

Positive:

  • +25GB Premium Data (now 50GB)
  • Disney+ included indefinitely
  • Hulu and ESPN+ access added

Negative:

  • 720p video streaming now requires opting in
  • Apple Music now only included for 6 months (was indefinite)

Do More Unlimited

Positive:

  • Video streaming up to 720p (must opt in, previously 480p)
  • Smartwatches and HumX now eligible for 50% connected device discount
  • +100 GB Verizon Cloud storage (now 600GB total)

Negative:

  • Disney+ now included for 6 months (previously 12 months)

Get More Unlimited

Positive:

  • Hulu and ESPN+ access added
  • Smartwatches and HumX now eligible for 50% connected device discount
  • +100 GB Verizon Cloud storage (now 600GB total)

Negative:

  • -25GB Premium Data (now 50GB, previously 75GB)
  • 720p video streaming now requires opting in

Rumors About A Potential Consumer Cellular Sale

Earlier this week, Mike Dano of Light Reading reported on rumors about Consumer Cellular:

Consumer Cellular – one of the nation’s largest MVNOs – is in discussions with other companies for a potential sale, according to two people familiar with the issue. The discussions appear to be in the early stages, and may not result in a transaction.

An acquisition of Consumer Cellular’s roughly four million subscribers would be big news. The new rumors combined with Ting’s sale of its subscriber base earlier this month raise the possibility that MVNOs are feeling squeezed.

As Sprint folds into T-Mobile, network operators may be increasing what they charge MVNOs for network access. MVNOs may also worry their offerings will become less competitive as DISH enters the marketplace. The CEO of Ting’s parent company, Elliot Noss, suggested something along those lines:

For many quarters now, I have discussed the outlook for Ting Mobile within the context of how DISH enters the market and what that would mean for the industry competitively. I absolutely believe that they will be very aggressive with pricing, which has two implications for our announcement. First, it would make remaining as a retail MVNO that much more difficult. Second, it will make their entry into the market that much more successful. The net result is that DISH is well positioned to disrupt the US mobile market.

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.