Power washing

Altice Mobile Rebranding To Optimum Mobile

In a press release today, Altice USA announced that Altice Mobile will rebrand as Optimum Mobile. The change is slotted to take place this Sunday, July 25.

It looks like the rebrand is part of a broader effort to consolidate Altice USA’s businesses under the Optimum name:

This transition represents the first step in the Company’s plan to align its brands under one national Optimum brand, representing a commitment to delivering a consistent and reliable connectivity experience to all customers.

While I’ve been critical of some of the marketing behind Altice Mobile, I expect Alice/Optimum Mobile’s subscriber base will continue to see significant growth.

5G Phone Idea

20% Of Verizon Customers Have 5G Devices

Today, Verizon shared a press release highlighting strong revenue numbers and a significant number of added lines in the second quarter of 2021. For me, the most interesting part of the press release was this line:

Consumer ended second-quarter 2021 with approximately 20 percent of wireless phone customers having 5G-capable devices.
I’d been wondering how much penetration 5G had in the U.S. market. Verizon is something of a premium carrier, so it probably has a higher proportion of customers on 5G-capable phones than the wider market. Based on Verizon’s statement, I’d guess at least 10% of U.S. consumers, probably closer to 15%, are now using 5G-capable phones.

Hands shaking

Dish And AT&T Announce Network Services Agreement

Today, AT&T and Dish announced that they are entering into a Network Services Agreement (NSA).1 Here’s the key bit from Dish’s press release:

[DISH announced a] Network Services Agreement (NSA) with AT&T, making AT&T the primary network services partner for DISH MVNO customers. Through this agreement, DISH will provide current and future customers of its retail wireless brands, including Boost Mobile, Ting Mobile and Republic Wireless, access to best-in-class coverage and connectivity on AT&T’s wireless network, in addition to the new DISH 5G network.

SEC Filing Insights

An SEC filing provides more insights than Dish’s press release. The deal between AT&T and Dish involves a minimum payment of five billion dollars over ten years.

DISH has agreed to pay AT&T at least $5 billion over the course of the ten-year term of the NSA, subject to certain terms and conditions.

People are already suggesting that Dish got a bargain by striking this deal for only five billion. They may be misunderstanding the arrangement. I expect the amount Dish pays to AT&T will depend on how heavily Dish relies on AT&T’s network. While five billion dollars is a minimum Dish, I think it’s likely Dish will end up paying more.2

Network Access

Dish has committed to activating a certain portion of its subscribers on AT&T’s network, but the SEC filing suggests Dish is permitted to activate some subscribers on other networks:

Under the NSA, AT&T becomes the primary network services provider for DISH, as DISH has committed to activate on AT&T’s network at least a minimum percentage of certain of its MVNO subscribers in the U.S. who receive services through a third-party network and to cause no less than a specified percentage of certain of its domestic roaming data usage for DISH’s MNO subscribers to be on AT&T.

Roaming

It looks like most of AT&T’s roaming agreements may be extended to Dish (emphasis mine):

AT&T will provide DISH with…services in all U.S. geographic areas…where AT&T or any AT&T affiliate has the right to use another wireless service provider’s network and is authorized to extend such right to DISH.
I’m unsure how often AT&T is prohibited from extending its roaming agreements to other parties. Further, it’s possible Dish won’t take advantage of some of AT&T’s roaming arrangements due to cost considerations.3

Prioritization

The SEC filing briefly touches on prioritization:

Under the NSA, AT&T will provide DISH postpaid and prepaid customers with similar quality of service as compared to certain AT&T postpaid and prepaid customers.
While the phrasing is vague, I expect it indicates Dish subscribers will have a QCI of 8 for regular data use on AT&T’s LTE network. That’s the same QCI for regular data received by the large majority of consumers on AT&T-branded plans.

Spectrum Use

Dish has extensive spectrum holdings that AT&T may take advantage of:

The NSA also provides an avenue for AT&T to deploy portions of DISH’s spectrum to support DISH customers on the AT&T network, by allowing AT&T the right, but not the obligation, to request to use portions of DISH’s spectrum.

Other Brands

The filing makes it clear that access to AT&T’s network is available for both existing and future brands under Dish (emphasis mine):

[The agreement provides] customers of Boost, Ting and Republic Wireless and all future DISH brands coverage on AT&T’s network.

Speculation

My hunch is that this deal is good news for both AT&T and Dish. For a while, I’ve heard people express skepticism about whether Dish actually intends to build its own network. I’m finding the skepticism less plausible as time goes on. With the backing of AT&T, Dish can focus on building out a 5G network in dense areas while offloading to AT&T for more extensive coverage.

The new agreement is probably bad news for T-Mobile. The company’s stock closed today a bit over 3% down from its opening price.4

Up arrows

AT&T Unlimited Elite Plan Gets Upgrades

Today, AT&T published a press release announcing upgrades for the Unlimited Elite plan, the most premium plan AT&T offers normal consumers.

Three major changes are taking effect:

  • Subscribers using over 100GB of data in a month will no longer be deprioritized.
  • The mobile hotspot data allotment will increase from 30GB to 40GB.
  • Video can now stream in resolutions up to 4k.

I’m unsure what’s going on with video resolution. As I noted in my Unlimited Elite Review, AT&T used to throttle video to about 480p by default. However, Unlimited Elite subscribers could opt out of throttling in their account settings. It could be that AT&T will no longer require subscribers on the Elite plan to opt out of video throttling. Alternatively, it might be that there used to be a secondary limit (1080p?) that affected customers who opted out of the standard, 480p throttle.

Don’t Buy The Hype

With these latest upgrades, it looks like AT&T is trying to match what T-Mobile did a few months ago when it dropped the deprioritization threshold on its most premium, consumer-grade plan. Here’s a bit I wrote at the time:

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. In my view, it’s a bad tradeoff.

When T-Mobile made its announcement, industry journalists praised the company. I expect we’re going to see something similar following AT&T’s announcement. Don’t buy the hype. Network capacity is a limited resource. It doesn’t come from nowhere. If you give some subscribers more, other subscribers get less.

SIM Swapping Issues At Mint Mobile

Yesterday, Mint Mobile’s co-founder, Rizwan Kassim, posted to Reddit acknowledging recent security issues. Here’s the key excerpt:

We’ve been reading your inquiries around the recent security concerns. Despite deeply wanting to respond to your questions, we haven’t been able to due to some pretty rigid compliance regulations around what we can share publicly, especially while we engage with law enforcement.

So what happened? We can’t share much, but in short, Mint Mobile was the victim of a social engineering incident last month that impacted a small number of subscribers. We have been in contact with impacted subscribers and quickly restored their services. We also continue to investigate this incident.

The post is sparse on details, and I don’t entirely accept Mint’s claims about being unable to share further information. However, Mint deserves credit for making the post and pinning it to the top of the r/MintMobile subreddit.

As best as I can tell, something happened almost a month ago that led to Mint subscribers becoming victims of SIM swap attacks. At least two reports surfaced to Reddit. I’m suspicious a significantly larger number of customers were affected, and I’ve asked Mint to clarify.

About a month ago, Mint also had an incident where a large number of subscribers received unexpected password reset notifications. I think that incident was unrelated to the recent SIM swapping, but I’m not sure.

Mint’s Ticking Time Bomb

Mint walked into its latest security troubles. I wrote the bit below over a year ago:

A Reddit user suggests Mint Mobile’s policies may leave subscribers vulnerable to SIM-swap attacks. I haven’t dug into it, but it looks like a real issue.

While searching through old Reddit posts this morning, I realized Mint subscribers were regularly talking about this security issue for at least two years. Lots of Reddit posters have asked Mint to implement two-factor authentication or secure PINs for porting numbers. Here’s one notable example from six months ago:

Mint does NOT have pins to protect against SIM swap attacks, sadly. It’s really their only defect, and it’s a massive one.

Mint really, really, really needs to add the ability to have a user-set PIN (that they store in their system as a hash, so no one inside can ever see the PIN plaintext, just confirm that you have the right one)…It is totally mystifying to me and other security professionals why r/rizwank [Rizwan Kassim, Mint co-founder] is setting himself and the otherwise-great company he created up for massively bad publicity and legal expenses when his users get hacked en masse by eastern european mafiosos. As Mint grows this is inevitable as long as Mint refuses to implement PINs.

For quite a while, Mint has claimed to be interested in adding security features. The latest issues may lead the company to prioritize actually releasing something.

Car side-view mirror looking back on a highway

Mint’s 25 Years For $2,500 Promo In Retrospect

Yesterday, Mint Mobile ran a one-day promotion offering 25 years of service for an upfront payment of $2,500. In my previous blog post, I argued it wasn’t a good deal. I stand by that. However, part of my post didn’t hold up well:

I won’t be surprised if people who buy the 25-year plan eventually get bought out early. I also won’t be surprised if no one buys the plan and we never figure out what might have happened.
I missed the mark. Here’s a tweet from this morning:

I don’t think Mint’s finance guys are actually mad at Ryan Reynolds. If they are mad, Mint might want to find new finance guys.

When I wrote my blog post yesterday, I hadn’t seen a disclosure Mint made acknowledging that the allegedly 25-year plans might involve early terminations and buyouts:

Pricing, terms, and conditions (including all Terms & Conditions listed here) are subject to change and may be modified or terminated at any time without notice, unlike Bobby’s other deal. Mint Mobile reserves the right to buy back The Bobby Bonilla Plan under certain conditions. But we’re mostly just impressed that you’re interested, honestly.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Power button

Boom Mobile Drops AT&T (For Now)

As pointed out by Reddit user u/Ethrem, the MVNO Boom Mobile is no longer offering service over AT&T’s network. Another Reddit user, u/cllatgmail, shared part of a conversation with a Boom support agent:

[AT&T] hopefully temporarily, maybe permanently, removed the renewal of data from our plans which does not allow us to activate or renew customers plans. Due to this we are not allowing customers to renew on the yearly plan, so they would have to move to month-to-month. If the data ends up getting cut off before your yearly plan ends, we plan on refunding the remaining months.

The ability to renew on the yearly plan will be rescinded shortly.

At this time, I’m not sure if whatever caused Boom to pull its AT&T plans will also affect other MVNOs offering service over AT&T’s network.

Abstract clock

Prepay For 25 Years of Service With Mint Mobile

Mint Mobile is offering what’s possibly the goofiest one-day promotion I’ve ever seen. Customers can pay $2,500 upfront for 25 years of service. Here’s how Mint explains the deal:

At Mint Mobile, we don’t like contracts. Because most wireless customers don’t like contracts. But today, we’re making a one-time, one-day exception.

Years ago, former pro baseball player Bobby Bonilla signed one of the most famous contracts in sports history, ensuring he would be paid more than $1 million every July 1st for 25 years. So to celebrate Bobby’s big payday, we’ve partnered with him to offer the Bobby Bonilla Plan:

25 years of Mint Mobile premium wireless service for just $100 a year. That’s right, you can lock in Mint Mobile until it’s time to move to Mars.

You can find more information or order the plan on Mint’s website. As best as I can tell, the plan is real. Besides the unusual time commitment and the price tag, the plan looks identical to Mint’s usual plan with 4GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts.

An Awful Deal

25 years for $2,500 works out to roughly $8 per month, about half the usual price of Mint’s 4GB plan. It’s an awful deal though. Every $1,000 invested at 8% interest will be worth close to $5,000 after 25 years.

Perhaps more interestingly, it’s unclear if Mint can honor the plan through the full term. Companies get acquired or go out of business regularly in this industry. Mint probably won’t be around in a few decades. I won’t be surprised if people who buy the 25-year plan eventually get bought out early. I also won’t be surprised if no one buys the plan and we never figure out what might have happened.


Disclosure: Mint is offering me a big commission if I refer a customer to this plan. Seriously though, don’t buy it.

7/2/2021 Update: The promotion is now over. I shared a follow-up post here.

Dish’s Project Genesis

Dish recently launched a mysterious website, 5gMobileGenesis.com, where visitors can sign up for something called Project Genesis. Few details are available about the project. Here’s a snapshot from the homepage:

Project Genesis homepage snapshot

In an article on Light Reading, Mike Dano suggests “Project Genesis” may be a brand name for Dish’s 5G service. Dano suggests the talk of “democratizing wireless” could be intended to give Dish’s 5G a made-in-America vibe:

The site’s patriotic phrasing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Dish executives have long touted the company’s desire to primarily use American vendors for 5G (though both of Dish’s radio vendors are based in Asia).

Peter Adderton also suspects Project Genesis is about branding:

I’m not so sure Dano and Adderton have the full story. Here’s the message I saw after filling out a form on the Project Genesis website:

Message congratulating me for being a founding member of Project Genesis

Dish might be using phrases like “original founder” and “democratizing wireless” in an empty matter. But there could be more substance. Helium, which I’m sure I’ll write more about soon, is trying to create a decentralized 5G network. Could Dish be doing something similar?

Tim McDonald, a keen observer of the telecom industry, considered the possibility:

Law enforcement sirens

Trouble At Q Link

On Wednesday, investigators from multiple federal agencies raided the office of Q Link Wireless and Hello Mobile. While I’m not sure what’s going on, I’m suspicious investigators are looking into possible misuse of the government’s Lifeline program.

The program offers telecom providers subsidies to help low-income consumers pay for phone or internet service. Fraud isn’t anything new for Lifeline. The FCC recently caught Sprint misusing the program. Sprint’s misuse ultimately lead to a $200 million fine.1

CBS4 covered the raid and shared this quote from Ivan Ramirez, a member of one of the agencies involved in the investigation:

We are looking into how they provide their services…If they are to provide a service that is backed by the federal government there are certain stipulations and guidelines that must be met. If they’re not meeting those guidelines or there are some situations where anomalies pop up somewhere we’re going to come in and look.

The websites for Q Link and Hello Mobile were down when I tried to access them on Wednesday, but both websites are back online now. This latest incident only adds to my reservations about both carriers. Just a few weeks ago, I was discussing Hello Mobile and shared my two cents about the company:

I’ve just been so floored by its [Hello Mobile’s] unprofessionalism…seen an outrageous number of customer support horror stories relative to the company’s size…Hello Mobile responded horribly to what was already a pretty unimpressive security failing…the company (or someone it hired) seems to have left spam comments on my site.

A Reddit comment gives a feel for the frequency of the customer support fiascos. Ars Technica covered the security issue. One of my blog posts discusses the spam comments.


Hat tip to Joe Paonessa of BestMVNO who alerted me about this story.