Banner with a refresh symbol

Verizon Automatically Updating Customers To New Unlimited Plans

Verizon is automatically switching customers from its old unlimited plans (Start Unlimited, Play More Unlimited, Get More Unlimited, and Do More Unlimited) to the corresponding plans in the company’s revamped plan lineup. I believe the new plans are the same or better than the old plans in all respects.

Here’s a screenshot from an email Verizon sent me yesterday (I’m currently on the Get More Unlimited plan):
Screenshot from an email sent by Verizon

That first bullet point is interesting. Here’s the clarification Verizon includes in the fine print:

*Comparison based on 5G Ultra Wideband speeds to median Verizon 4G LTE speeds.

Early this week, Verizon launched 5G service in some of its recently acquired C-Band spectrum. I expect Verizon got the 10x figure by comparing typical 4G LTE speeds to C-Band 5G speeds. Verizon was already offering an even faster service, millimeter wave 5G, with some of its old plans. The way I see it, that first bullet point is a tacit admission that Verizon does not cover the overwhelming majority of its subscribers with millimeter wave 5G.

Picture representing the concept of a security breach

TracFone Security Breach

TracFone is experiencing a security incident. Some customer data was compromised, and attackers sometimes managed to port out phone numbers. TracFone put up a webpage with details about the incident:

We were recently made aware of bad actors gaining access to a limited number of customer accounts and, in some cases, fraudulently transferring, or porting out, mobile telephone numbers to other carriers. These bad actors may have had access to your name, address, PIN code, account number, secret question (but not answer) and email address to the extent you provided us with such information.

It sounds like TracFone tried to contact affected customers but may have been unable to in cases where numbers were ported out:

We may have made an attempt to contact you, but given the nature of this activity, messages to impacted mobile telephone numbers may no longer be accessible by some customers.

I’m unsure about the scope of the issue. In a brief search, I couldn’t find any direct reports from affected customers. That may suggest the breach was minor. On the other hand, the incident seems serious since it spurred TracFone to run a banner drawing attention to the incident across TracFoneWirelessInc.com:

Screenshot of a banner drawing attention to TracFone's security incident

I don’t know which TracFone brands are affected. I didn’t see a similar banner on the websites for TotalWireless or StraightTalk.


Hat tip to Dennis Bournique, who drew my attention to this story.

eSIM abstract

Visible Launches eSIM Free Trial

Verizon’s flanker brand Visible just launched an eSIM free trial program. The trial offers 15 days of Visible’s standard plan with unlimited minutes, texts, and data. At the moment, it’s only available for recent iPhones (iPhone XR/XS and newer iPhones). No payment information is needed to sign up.

Sign-up Process

The sign-up process took me about ten minutes. I scanned Visible’s QR code, got the Visible app, and followed some straightforward instructions. I had to provide an email, but I wasn’t required to jump through hoops or provide billing information.

Multiple Numbers

Visible assigns a temporary number to each eSIM. If you join Visible after the trial, you can keep the temporary number or port in an existing number.

If you’d like to use multiple numbers in tandem during the trial (e.g., you want to trial Visible but also keep running your normal number and service), it’s easy. During setup, trial users select which SIM card should be used for each of three different services:

  • Regular calls & texts
  • iMessage
  • Data

In most cases, I’d suggest people trialing Visible let their original SIM card handle calls, texts, and iMessage while Visible handles data.

A Preview Of Things To Come?

Visible’s trial highlights how eSIMs could make the market for cell service more consumer-friendly. Potential Visible subscribers often wonder whether a low-price service can really offer good performance. Some people question whether congestion will lead to lousy speeds since Visible doesn’t get high-priority data. Now that Visible has a trial, there’s no need for guesswork.

Eligibility Details

The iPhone XR/XS and more recent iPhones running iOS 14+ are eligible for the free trial. Support for eSIM devices running Android is supposedly coming soon. Here’s how Visible responds to an FAQ entry about eligibility:

Anyone who is not currently a Visible member, or someone that has not participated in the trial in the past 12 months. If you meet these criteria, then all you need is an eligible iPhone device with eSIM capability to participate.

Full List Of Eligible Devices

  • iPhone SE (second generation)
  • iPhone 13
  • iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max
  • iPhone 13 mini
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
Verizon store

Verizon’s Updates: New Plans & C Band

Verizon officially launched the new plans I discussed on Monday. For the most part, the plans are structured as expected. However, the Get More and Do More plans will continue to include a 50% discount on plans for connected devices (e.g., watches, hotspots, tablets).

C Band Launch

Yesterday, Verizon planned to launch service using its recently acquired C-band spectrum. However, Verizon is now delaying for two weeks due to complaints from the Federal Aviation Administration. The complaints stem from the possibility that cellular service in the C band could interfere with airplanes’ radio altimeters.

The dispute has been covered in other places (e.g., The NYT), so I won’t rehash the story myself. I’m not an RF engineer, and I know nothing about radio altimeters. Perhaps that should convince me to keep my mouth shut. But it’s hard for me to watch the ongoing disagreements without suspecting the aviation industry is making arguments in extremely bad faith.

A pipe leaking

Verizon’s New Plans Leak Early

Verizon has been making a big fuss about an announcement scheduled for 1pm ET tomorrow. Among other things, Verizon is expected to announce a revamp to some of its most popular plans.

Right now, Verizon has four postpaid, unlimited plans for the mass market:

  • Start Unlimited
  • Play More Unlimited
  • Do More Unlimited
  • Get More Unlimited

An authentic-looking picture appeared on Reddit and included details about the revamped plans. While I can’t be certain, it looks like the revamped plans will keep their old prices, have “5G” added to their names, and have “unlimited” dropped from their names. That’ll leave us with:

  • 5G Start
  • 5G Play More
  • 5G Do More
  • 5G Get More

For the most part, the changes to the plans look minor. As I see it, here are the most noteworthy changes:

  • Hotspot data increases from 15GB to 25GB on the Play More & Do More plans
  • Hotspot data on the Get More plan increases from 30GB to 50GB
  • (Possibly) Get More & Do More plans lose a discount on connected device plans
  • Get More & Do More subscribers get one free TravelPass each month1
  • Added 50% discount on Verizon Home Internet with all plans expect 5G Start
  • Premium data with the Get More plan turns unlimited (currently 50GB)

Verizon seems to be following T-Mobile’s lead with that last change. In my view, it’s a bad development for most Verizon subscribers. Here’s what I wrote when T-Mobile dropped premium data restrictions on its top-tier plan (Magenta MAX):2

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.

The same can be said for Verizon and the 5G Get More plan.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with managing networks via things like premium data allotments. Consumers need transparency about network congestion. Dropping premium data limits just passes the buck.


Again, everything is uncertain at this point. I plan to write another post after tomorrow’s announcement.

Hat tip to Josh of PA TECH who drew my attention to the Reddit post.

Gavel

NARB Ruling On Mint’s “Unlimited” Plan

It’s almost old news at this point, but last month a self-regulatory body for the advertising industry came out with a ruling against Mint Mobile’s marketing around its “unlimited” plans:

The National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs, has recommended that Mint Mobile LLC discontinue the use of “UNLIMITED” and “UNLTD” headlines in its advertising or modify them to clearly communicate that its plan does not offer unlimited high-speed data.

Mint’s allegedly “unlimited” plan caps subscribers at 35GB of regular-speed data each month. Subscribers that exceed the 35GB threshold can continue to use data, but they’re throttled to speeds of 128kbps. As I’ve written about before, 128kbps is a sluggish speed that can’t support a lot of common activities.

The recent ruling is unsurprising. The same self-regulatory body ruled against Boost Mobile for a nearly equivalent offense in early 2021. That said, there are two aspects of this story worth highlighting:

  1. AT&T initiated the complaint against Mint. Plenty of carriers offer unlimited plans with similar throttling policies, but it looks like AT&T saw Mint as a particularly threatening competitor.
  2. While Mint has committed to changing its advertisements, I haven’t seen any indication that the carrier will stop calling its 35GB plan an “unlimited” plan. The National Advertising Review Board and the associated National Advertising Division are toothless in some areas of consumer protection.
Abstract image representing the idea of circumventing or finding a loophole

Dish’s Legal Obligations & Ting’s Acquisition

In the leadup to the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, Dish acquired Sprint’s prepaid subscribers and made a number of commitments to regulators. Among other obligations, Dish agreed to offer nationwide, postpaid service:1

DISH must offer nationwide postpaid retail mobile wireless service to American consumers within one year of the closing of the sale of the Prepaid Assets.

Peter Adderton, the original founder of Boost Mobile, brought Dish’s commitment up on Twitter:

Stephen Stokols, the CEO of Boost (now a Dish-owned company) pointed out that Dish met its commitment after acquiring Ting:


Technically, Stokols is right. Ting offers postpaid service, and it’s available nationwide.

I feel like Dish found a loophole. I’m guessing regulators perceived “nationwide postpaid” to be a proxy for something like “high-end service for the mass market.” Ting is a small-scale carrier that largely caters to budget-conscious consumers.

Winter abstract

Mint Expands Buy 12 Get 12 Promo

Mint Mobile has been running a promotion where customers that buy an eligible device and a year of service can get a second year of service for free. While the promotion has been live for weeks, Mint just adjusted the list of eligible devices. Most notably, devices in the iPhone 13 lineup are now eligible.

Eligible Devices:

  • iPhone 13 (full line)
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone SE (second generation)
  • Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy A12

The deal is only available for new customers. All of the 12-month plans on Mint’s website are eligible. Purchases can be made upfront or with a monthly installment plan. The promotion will run until January 7, 2022.

Abstract image

Are We Moving Beyond “Unlimited” Plans With 2G Speeds?

For a few years, it’s been common for cell carriers to label phone plans as “unlimited” while capping the amount of full-speed data subscribers can use each month. On these “unlimited” plans, subscribers that run out of full-speed data are often throttled to a maximum speed of 128kbps (sometimes called “2G speeds”).

I’ve been critical of carriers calling these plans unlimited. In a pedantic sense, it’s not true. If a service imposes throttling after a certain number of gigabytes of data use, there’s an absolute limit on the amount of data that can be used each month. More importantly, “unlimited” plans that throttle to 2G speeds don’t allow subscribers to use the internet in a roughly normal way once they run out of full-speed data. 128kbps is extremely sluggish for many activities. A lot of web pages won’t just load slowly but will time out and fail to load altogether. Video streaming, even at 240p (a low resolution), won’t work.

Fortunately, the cellular industry seems to be moving towards less aggressive throttling on unlimited plans. Here are a few example of carriers’ throttling policies for heavy users:

  • Boost: 500kbps
  • US Mobile: 1Mbps
  • Google Fi: 256kbps
  • Xfinity Mobile: 1.5Mbps download (750kbps upload)

Google Fi’s 256kbps throttle has been around for a while. It’s still too aggressive to allow for what I’d consider more-or-less normal internet surfing, but it’s still a huge improvement over the 128kbps standard. Xfinity Mobile’s 1.5Mbps cap isn’t bad at all. While downloading huge files or streaming 4K video won’t be pleasant, speeds will be passable for most things people use their phones for.

I’m pretty sure both US Mobile and Boost came out with their current throttling policies in 2021. I wonder if we’ll see more carriers move beyond 128kbps throttles in 2022.

Image representing the idea of a network

Ookla Acquires RootMetrics

Today, Ookla announced that it acquired RootMetrics. I’ve long argued that RootMetrics has the best methodology for assessing the quality of cellular networks at the national level. Further, I’ve argued that Ookla’s traditional methodology is lousy. Since Ookla primarily relies on tests initiated by users, the company’s data is subject to biases that RootMetrics’ drive tests and Opensignal’s automated tests avoid.

Effects of Consolidation

The network-evaluation industry has consolidated substantially over the last year. In September, a similar story surfaced when Comlinkdata announced that Tutela and Opensignal would join forces.

I’m curious how the consolidation will affect the messages consumers receive about the quality of networks. Here are some optimistic possibilities:

  • Now that Ookla owns RootMetrics, Ookla might be more upfront about the limitations of user-initiated tests.
  • With fewer independent companies publishing evaluations, we might see movement away from today’s situation where questionable financial incentives nearly guarantee that even lousy networks will win awards.
  • Ookla’s app is used by a lot of people. The app may end up integrating some of RootMetrics’ data that otherwise wouldn’t be available to consumers.