Old cell phones

T-Mobile Offering Free 5G Phones

Today, T-Mobile announced that it’ll offer customers the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G more-or-less for free.

The A32 has a regular price of $282 and is substantially less fancy than most of the 5G phones on the market. Still, from the bit I’ve heard about it, the A32 seems like a solid entry-level device.

Both new and existing customers can take advantage of the promotion by trading in a phone. Any working phone is sufficient as a trade-in:

This offer applies to new and existing customers, and ANY old phone in working condition — flip phone, Sidekick, whatever that suitcase phone was called. T-Mobile will take it.

Detailed Terms

The deal will be available starting April 18. Customers that take advantage of the promotion will get monthly bill credits for 24 months that effectively cancel out the usual $11.75 per month customers would have to pay for the A32 on an installment plan. Tax on the usual $282 price is due at the time of purchase.

Customers that cancel service before receiving all the monthly credits will be responsible for the unpaid portion of the A32’s cost.

5G Marketing

While T-Mobile’s network is worse than AT&T and Verizon’s networks in many respects, T-Mobile is the clear leader in 5G. T-Mobile has the most 5G coverage and arguably leads in 5G speeds. The company’s decision to offer free 5G phones looks like part of a larger goal of building hype around T-Mobile’s 5G dominance.

Representation of a bait-and-switch

Post Redacted

4/1/2021 Update: I’m backpedaling from this post. While I’m still unsure what’s going on, T-Mobile likely is grandfathering subscribers into its hotspot plan, contrary to what a customer reported a T-Mobile rep said. From the start, I shouldn’t have taken what the rep said (or allegedly said) as gospel.

5G representation

Tello’s 5G Isn’t Working With iPhones

Tello is trying to draw attention to its 5G service. Here are a few bits of content fresh from the carrier’s website:


Screenshot of a headline about 5G



5G content screenshot


5G was the main topic of one of Tello’s blog posts earlier this month. Here’s what Tello had to say about phone compatibility:

To benefit from this new smarter and faster technology, you’ll have to have a phone that’s capable of doing all that. If you’d like to bring your 5G-capable device to Tello Mobile, just make sure it’s unlocked and GSM compatible.

In all of Tello’s materials about 5G, I haven’t seen a mention of a key fact: Tello does not support 5G on iPhones.

This isn’t a small oversight. I’d guess that half of the 5G-compatible phones in the U.S. right now are devices in the iPhone 12 line.

Internal Confusion

It seems not everyone working for Tello is even aware that the carrier doesn’t support 5G on iPhones. This blog comment comes from a Tello representative:



I reached out to Tello’s support asking if the company supports 5G on both iOS and Android devices. Here’s the response I got:

Yes, as long as you have a 5G capable device and 5G coverage in your area, you can use 5G with Tello.

It’s not true. It seems Tello doesn’t have a carrier bundle with Apple. Until that’s figured out, 5G and some other features may remain unavailable for Tello subscribers.

If Tello’s going to make a big deal about its 5G service, the company should make it clear that it does not support the most popular 5G phone.


Thanks to Stetson Doggett who let me know about the issues with 5G on Tello.

pinocchio shadow

“Un-Carrier” T-Mobile Doubles Down On Bullshit

Last week, a Verizon Twitter account suggested that some users may want to turn off 5G to preserve battery life. T-Mobile jumped on the opportunity to make fun of its competitor’s advice in a series of tweets.

On Thursday, I shared a blog post pointing out that T-Mobile’s website made the same suggestion. Here’s a snap from an archived version of a T-Mobile support page for the S20 Ultra 5G:1

Screenshot showing T-Mobile suggesting to turn off 5G to save battery life

After my post came out, PCMag and The Verge picked up on the story. T-Mobile then edited a whole bunch of pages to remove advice about switching down to 2G. Here’s what the page for the S20 Ultra 5G looks like now:

Support page screenshot that no longer includes a suggestion to turn off 5G

The suggestion to turn off 5G has been replaced with “Turn on Airplane Mode if traveling to an area without mobile signal or Wi-Fi.”

Un-Carrier?

T-Mobile has tried to brand itself as the un-carrier. T-Mobile wants people to believe it’s a company that offers a more honest and consumer-friendly phone service than competitors offer.

T-Mobile’s handling of this situation doesn’t match the un-carrier ethos. A high-integrity company that cares about making a marketplace better for consumers would have owned up to its mistake. T-Mobile could have issued a mea culpa. Short of that, T-Mobile could have silently walked away from the situation. Instead, T-Mobile took a low-integrity path and tried to bury the evidence of its hypocrisy.

battery life representation

Transparency & Hypocrisy

On Sunday, the following tweet was shared by the Twitter account for Verizon’s customer support:

Verizon 5G battery life tweet

Customers that follow this advice will effectively be turning off 5G service. People on Twitter were quick to dunk on Verizon for running a marketing campaign about the benefits of 5G while simultaneously suggesting that some subscribers might want to turn off 5G service.

Hypocrisy

By Monday, a bunch of tech journalists had picked up the story. While Verizon deleted its tweet, many competing carriers posted screenshots or linked to news stories about Verizon’s gaffe:

Gizmodo ended its coverage of Verizon’s tweet with this line:

See Verizon, transparency isn’t that hard.

What’s going on? Verizon was being transparent. Verizon’s tweet had accurate and potentially useful information.

No one paying close attention to the cellular industry would be surprised that turning off 5G could preserve battery life. While a lot of hype about 5G has highlighted potential power savings, we’ve known that today’s 5G phones aren’t delivering on that potential. Here’s an excerpt from Samsung’s website:

At this time, the 5G networks are only used for data connections, and are not yet capable of carrying phone calls and messages. Your phone will need to maintain a connection to the 3G or LTE network in addition to the 5G network so that phone calls, text messages, and data will be delivered consistently.

Because your phone is connected to multiple networks simultaneously, the battery will drain faster than one would typically expect, and the phone may get warmer than when solely on 3G or LTE.

As the 5G networks grow in capacity and capability, they will be able to handle more of your phone’s functions with less battery drain.

While T-Mobile’s official Twitter account and multiple T-Mobile executives joined the internet pile on against Verizon, T-Mobile made similar suggestions on its own website:

T-Mobile tips for saving battery life

Reflections

Verizon’s customer support was doing something helpful when it let subscribers know about the potential downsides of 5G. I want to encourage rather than discourage that kind of information sharing.

I’m not exactly sure how journalists should strike a balance between calling out bullshit and disincentivizing information sharing. After watching this story play out, I’m inclined to be more thoughtful about the second-order effects of some of my critical takes.

Trophy

Does T-Mobile Have The Best 5G?

T-Mobile has started bragging about having the best 5G speeds in Opensignal’s latest report. Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release from T-Mobile:

New independent data from Opensignal, based on real world customer usage from millions of device measurements, shows T-Mobile customers now get the fastest 5G download speeds, fastest 5G upload speeds AND a 5G signal more often than anyone else.

I’ve been critical of selection bias issues inherent in Opensignal’s methodology. I continue to think there are serious selection bias issues with Opensignal’s latest 5G metrics. Still, I don’t think my qualms are significant enough to dismiss T-Mobile’s apparent lead in 5G speeds and 5G coverage. T-Mobile is killing it. Here’s another bit from today’s press release:

With the first and largest nationwide 5G network, T-Mobile’s Extended Range 5G covers more than 280 million people across nearly 1.6 million square miles – offering 2.5x more geographic coverage than AT&T and nearly 4x more than Verizon. With Sprint now part of T-Mobile, the Un-carrier is widening its lead, using dedicated spectrum to bring customers with capable devices download speeds of around 300 Mbps and peak speeds up to 1 Gbps. The Un-carrier’s Ultra Capacity 5G already reaches more than 1,000 cities and towns and covers 106 million people.

Early in its 5G rollout, T-Mobile relied on low-frequency spectrum around 600MHz. While this spectrum was great for coverage, it had lousy speed potential. In 2020, T-Mobile put a lot of effort into bragging about how it led the nation in 5G coverage. While the bragging was technically accurate, the whole thing was bullshit in practical terms. 5G delivered with T-Mobile’s low-frequency spectrum was often slower than a typical 4G connection.

Recently, T-Mobile started rolling out large-scale 5G deployments using mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G now covers about a third of Americans. Mid-band 5G actually delivers speeds that are substantially better than consumers are used to with 4G.

Verizon is still crushing the competition in terms of coverage with ultra-fast, millimeter wave 5G. However, Verizon’s achievements with millimeter wave don’t have much value for consumers yet. Even Verizon’s millimeter wave coverage is lackluster, and practical applications for ultra-fast cellular speeds are rare.

While I think T-Mobile legitimately holds the top spot for 5G coverage and average 5G speeds, I also think Verizon will overtake T-Mobile as 5G rollouts reach more mature stages. In my view, the interesting thing to watch will be whether T-Mobile or AT&T ends up with the second-place spot in the 5G competition.1 T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings and financial position may give the network a significant edge over AT&T.

Verizon Prepaid’s New Ultra Wideband Plan

For a while now, Verizon has offered a prepaid plan with unlimited minutes, texts, and data. Yesterday, Verizon Prepaid launched a second and more expensive unlimited plan. While the old plan had a base price of $65 per month, the new plan has a base price of $75 per month. Both plans are eligible for loyalty discounts and a discount for automatic payments. Together, discounts can decrease the monthly cost of either plan by up to $15 per month.

Verizon’s new plan includes two features that aren’t included with the old unlimited plan:

  • 10GB per month of regular mobile hotspot data
  • 5G Ultra Wideband access

Ultra Wideband 5G

Verizon splits its 5G service into two buckets: 5G Nationwide and 5G Ultra Wideband. 5G Nationwide is Verizon’s widely available 5G service. While the 5G Nationwide coverage profile is solid, the speeds 5G Nationwide delivers are not especially impressive. 5G Ultra Wideband is outrageously fast, but the service has extremely limited availability.

All of Verizon’s prepaid plans give subscribers with compatible devices access to Verizon’s 5G Nationwide service. The new prepaid plan is the only one that offers 5G Ultra Wideband service. Given 5G Ultra Wideband’s terrible coverage, not many people will benefit from the added feature. I suppose the tiny minority of people that live or work where 5G Ultra Wideband is available might have a rationale for paying extra to get Verizon’s latest plan.

Hotspot access

Verizon’s cheaper prepaid unlimited plan does not include mobile hotspot access by default. However, subscribers can add a 10GB per month hotspot allotment for an extra $5 each month. Subscribers on Verizon’s new unlimited plan will get a 10GB hotspot allotment at no extra charge. Additionally, subscribers on the new plan can use an unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data when connected to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network.

Is the new plan worth it?

For most people, it will be hard to justify the extra $10 per month that Verizon’s new plan costs relative to Verizon Prepaid’s old unlimited plan. If you need hotspot access, I’d recommend just using the old plan with a $65 base price and adding the $5 per month hotspot feature.

In the off chance you happen to spend a lot of time covered by Verizon’s Ultra Wideband service, the more expensive plan might be justifiable. However, the choice still might not be a no-brainer. While Ultra Wideband delivers impressive speeds, it’s rare for consumers to see many real-world benefits from the added speeds. 4G LTE and 5G Nationwide deliver speeds that are sufficient for most people.

Verizon store

Verizon Continues 5G Expansion

Earlier this week, Verizon announced a few planned expansions of its 5G services.

5G Home Internet

Starting January 14, Verizon’s 5G Home Internet will be available in parts of five more cities:

  • Anaheim, CA
  • Arlington, TX
  • Miami, FL
  • San Francisco, CA
  • St. Louis, MO

The service will be available in Phoenix, AZ starting January 28th.

Ultra Wideband 5G

Later this month, Verizon plans to bring Ultra Wideband 5G to parts of three more cities:

  • Colorado Springs, CO
  • Columbia, SC
  • Knoxville, TN

By my count, that will bring the total number of cities will Ultra Wideband coverage to 64.

City

5G Is For The Future

I’ve written regularly about 5G being overhyped. The performance improvements 5G technologies offer don’t have much practical value. Not yet anyway. 4G connections are easily sufficient for most things normal people want to do on their phones.

While I think T-Mobile executives have been particularly guilty of overhyping 5G on Twitter, I’m seeing some common ground with Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s President of Technology. The other day, Ray approvingly tweeted about someone suggesting 5G is for the future:


Neville Ray tweet


In 2004, the year the iconic Motorola RAZR V3 was released, it would have been hard to imagine the purpose of a 50Mbps cellular connection. The idea of watching videos on a phone probably felt a bit silly. Fortunately, innovation moved ahead anyway.

Even though I make a fuss about the incessant BS and marketing gimmicks around 5G, I’m sure we’ll eventually find great use cases for the technology. Maybe in five or ten years, it’ll be extremely common for people on laptops to access the internet with low-cost, high-performance cellular connections. Perhaps 5G will enable a huge expansion in the Internet of Things. Honestly, I’m not sure what will happen. I’m excited to see what people come up with.

Verizon building

No Throttling Of Verizon’s Ultra Wideband Mobile Hotspot

Verizon’s premium unlimited plans (Play More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited, and Get More Unlimited) come with 15-30GB monthly allotments of mobile hotspot data. The 15-30GB hotspot allowances only apply when using hotspot data through Verizon’s 4G LTE or 5G Nationwide service.

In July, I shared a post about Verizon’s rarely discussed policies for hotspot use with the network’s 5G Ultra Wideband service. At the time, subscribers on Verizon’s premium plans were allotted 50GB of full-speed, Ultra Wideband hotspot use each month. Verizon suggested it would throttle hotspot speeds to 3Mbps for subscribers that burned through their data allotments. Here’s a screenshot I pulled from Verizon’s website in July:

Screenshot of Verizon account interface showing a 5G hotspot allotment

I no longer see that usage graphic in my Verizon dashboard. Instead, I see graphics like these:

Verizon data usage graphs

As best as I can tell, Verizon no longer throttles heavy users of Ultra Wideband hotspot data. Reddit user albert1735 recently provided some corroboration. Yesterday, the user shared a video showing speed tests pulling several hundred megabits per second after over 70GB of hotspot use in a single month.

While there aren’t data caps or throttles for Ultra Wideband mobile hotspots at this time, I expect they’ll come back once Verizon’s 5G deployment is further along.