Piggy bank

AT&T’s Killer Deals On Prepaid Plans

AT&T tweaked its prepaid plans a little while back. I think some of the current offerings are awfully good for people who want a balance between cost and performance.

AT&T’s prepaid plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data is a particularly good option. This plan has enough data for most people, and as best as I can tell comes with the same level of priority during network congestion as most of AT&T’s postpaid plans. The plan has a base price of $50 per month, but there are several ways it can be purchased at a significant discount.

  • $40 per month on a month-to-month plan with automatic payments enabled
  • $33 per month with three months paid upfront
  • $25 per month with 12 months paid upfront

The plan is a solid competitor to Mint Mobile’s popular 8GB plan. Mint’s plan is priced a bit differently. New customers or those purchasing a year of service upfront can get Mint’s plan for as low as $20 per month.[1] While Mint’s plan can be a bit cheaper, the carrier runs over T-Mobile’s network, which has a smaller coverage profile than AT&T. Mint subscribers will also have low priority data access, which could lead to slow speeds during periods of network congestion.

AT&T is also offering a pretty great deal on one of its prepaid unlimited plans. With automatic payments enabled, AT&T’s Unlimited Data Plus plan is only $50 per month. Unlike a lot of prepaid unlimited plans, subscribers on this plan will have high-priority data for the first 22GB of data use each month.

5G abstract

5G+ Brilliant Marketing From AT&T?

A while back, AT&T began calling some its 4G service 5GE. It tricked consumers into thinking they were getting 5G when they weren’t. It was bullshit.

Now, AT&T is calling its millimeter wave (mmWave) service 5G+. In some ways, the 5G+ label could confuse consumers. Verizon’s 5G service uses pretty much exclusively mmWave right now. Verizon doesn’t call its mmWave service “5G+.” To Verizon, mmWave is just “5G.”

Still, I’m not annoyed by AT&T’s 5G+ branding. Not all 5G is the same. Lower frequency, sub-6 5G, is typically way slower than mmWave 5G. Laypeople don’t realize how different sub-6 5G is from mmWave 5G. If we want consumers to understand the difference, carriers need to help make that happen. Calling sub-6 service “5G” and mmWave service “5G+” makes a clear distinction for consumers.

AT&T and Cricket Drop $15 Plans

In March, T-Mobile began offering its $15 per month Connect plan with 2GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts. AT&T and AT&T’s flanker brand, Cricket, quickly came out with similar plans for $15 per month. Both AT&T and Cricket have stopped offering the plans to new customers. It’s now come out that customers who purchased these plans will not be able to renew at the same price after 7/14/2020.

Here’s an excerpt from a text I received from Cricket the other day:

We hope the $15/2GB plan has helped you during this difficult time. Starting July 15, 2020, the plan will no longer be available. You can either select a different plan or we will move you to the $30/2GB plan when your bill cycle renews after July 14, 2020.

A credible-looking Reddit thread suggested AT&T Prepaid’s $15 plan would also become unavailable for existing customers after 7/14/2020.

Reflections

Shortly after the T-Mobile Connect plan launched, I began recommending it on Coverage Critic and on the list I maintain at MrMoneyMustache.com. My decision to recommend T-Mobile’s Connect plan rather than AT&T’s $15 plan drew some criticism on Reddit and raised questions from commenters on MrMoneyMustache. After all, AT&T’s network is more expansive than T-Mobile’s network.

I was worried AT&T’s plan wouldn’t stick around. Here’s a bit I wrote in March:

It’s not clear how long AT&T’s plan will be around. People who take advantage of AT&T’s offer today won’t necessarily get the same great deal each month for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it looks like the T-Mobile Connect plans will continue to be available to new and existing subscribers for years.

About a month ago, I saw a screenshot from a chat conversation with a Cricket customer service representative. The representative suggested that Cricket subscribers on the $15 plan would be grandfathered. I remained skeptical. I wasn’t convinced the representative’s words were authoritative. I continued not to make a strong recommendation of Cricket or AT&T’s $15 plans. Today, I feel like my skepticism was validated.

AT&T Drops 5GE Ads & Keeps 5GE Icon

For a while now, AT&T has been misleadingly labeling some of its 4G services as “5GE.”

A self-regulatory body in the advertising industry recently concluded that AT&T should stop mentioning 5GE in advertisements:

A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that AT&T Services, Inc. discontinue its ‘5G Evolution’ and ‘5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G’ claims…the NARB panel determined that both claims will mislead reasonable consumers into believing that AT&T is offering a 5G network and recommended that the claims be discontinued.

AT&T agreed to cease advertising 5GE, but the carrier will continue to show the 5GE icon on phones. As a result, AT&T has been receiving well-deserved scorn from journalists.

AT&T’s actions aren’t surprising. I don’t think the National Advertising Review Board has much power to change business practices outside of advertising. Further, AT&T has tricked some subscribers into thinking their 5GE connections are actual 5G connections. If AT&T stopped showing the 5GE icon, the carrier would have to deal with complaints from frustrated customers thinking they lost 5G access.

AT&T Matches T-Mobile’s $15 Plan

Last week, T-Mobile began offering a plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data for only $15 per month. A few days later, AT&T responded by offering its own $15 per month plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data.

Plan terms

I dug around to learn about the plan’s policies. Here are my impressions at the moment:

  • New subscribers need an AT&T prepaid SIM (costs $4.99).
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering are permitted.
  • Unused data rolls over for one month.[1]
  • Taxes and fees are not included in the $15 base price.
  • Unlimited international texting to over 100 countries is included.
  • Streaming video traffic will be throttled by default, but subscribers can turn the throttle off.
  • The plan is not eligible for AT&T’s discounts for paperless billing or automatic payments.
  • Data has a soft cap—once 2GB of regular data has been used, additional data can be used at significantly reduced speeds.

Limited time offer

AT&T has repeatedly described its new $15 plan as a promotion and a limited time offer. I don’t know when the plan will cease to be available.[2]

T-Mobile Connect vs. AT&T’s plan

AT&T’s $15 plan has a handful of substantial advantages over the $15 T-Mobile Connect plan:

  • AT&T has better nationwide coverage.
  • SIM cards are cheaper from AT&T ($5 vs. $10).
  • Only AT&T offers data rollover.
  • AT&T has a soft cap on data, while T-Mobile Connect has a hard cap.

However, it’s not clear how long AT&T’s plan will be around. People who take advantage of AT&T’s offer today won’t necessarily get the same great deal each month for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it looks like the T-Mobile Connect plans will continue to be available to new and existing subscribers for years.

AT&T’s Claim To Being America’s Best Network

AT&T has been running an ad campaign with commercials where the company claims to offer the best network.

These commercials start with a funny skit that leads to the line, “just ok is not ok.” The commercials’ narrator then says something along the lines of: “AT&T is America’s best wireless network according to America’s biggest test.”

Here’s an example:



Alternate versions of the commercial involve ok babysitters, ok sushi, ok surgeons, and more.

AT&T bases its “best network” claim on the results of Global Wireless Solutions’s (GWS) 2018 tests. The claim is at odds with the results of many other companies’ evaluations and my own view.

The meaning of the word “best” is ambiguous, but I’d guess that a survey of professionals in the wireless industry would find that most people consider RootMetrics to be the best evaluation firm in the wireless industry. Verizon fared far better than AT&T in RootMetrics’s most recent evaluation.

It’s unclear to me what AT&T is claiming when it calls GWS’s test, “America’s biggest test.” Is it the biggest test in terms of miles driven, data points collected, area covered, or something else? GWS may have the biggest test according to one metric, but it’s not unambiguously the biggest test in the nation.

AT&T Paying $60,000,000 For “Unlimited Data” Claims

AT&T has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agreed to pay out $60 million to current and past customers that may have been affected by misleading claims about unlimited data. The settlement is in response to the FTC’s 2014 accustation that AT&T failed to adequately disclose that customers on unlimited data plans could have their speeds throttled substantially. Here are a few bits from the 2014 FTC complaint:

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company failed to adequately disclose to its customers on unlimited data plans that, if they reach a certain amount of data use in a given billing cycle, AT&T reduces – or “throttles” – their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – become difficult or nearly impossible to use…AT&T’s marketing materials emphasized the ‘unlimited’ amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans…AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period. According to the complaint, the throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times…consumers in AT&T focus groups strongly objected to the idea of a throttling program and felt ‘unlimited should mean unlimited.’

Here’s an excerpt from the FTC’s press release from today (emphasis mine):

As part of the settlement, AT&T is prohibited from making any representation about the speed or amount of its mobile data, including that it is “unlimited,” without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data. The disclosures need to be prominent, not buried in fine print or hidden behind hyperlinks. For example, if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T may slow speeds after consumers reach a certain data cap, AT&T must prominently and clearly disclose those restrictions.

I’m glad to see the FTC cracking down on misleading practices. Bogus “unlimited” plans seem to be much more common today than they were in 2014.

2,000,000 AT&T Phones Were Unlocked Illegally

It recently came out that around 2,000,000 AT&T phones were unlocked by hackers that bribed AT&T employees. Muhammad Fahd and co-conspirators allegedly bribed a handful of AT&T employees to make the unlocks possible.

As I understand it, around 2012 lists of IMEI numbers were provided to bribed employees so that devices could be fraudulently unlocked. Eventually, the crimes became more involved. Bribed employees installed malware on AT&T systems and fraudulent wireless access points in AT&T facilities.

It’s a crazy story. Several years ago, I wondered how so many third-party services managed to offer device unlocking. I suppose this story is part of the explanation.

For more details, check out Ars Technica’s article.

Cell phone in use

AT&T Prepaid 8GB Promo Plan

Disclosure: At the time of writing, I have a financial relationship with AT&T. However, I don’t believe I receive commissions on prepaid service plans.


AT&T recently began offering its prepaid plan with 8GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts for only $300 ($25 per month) for those who are willing to purchase 360 days of service upfront. According to AT&T, this promotion is a limited time offer that’s set to end on October 21, 2019.

If you’re willing to purchase nearly a year of service all at once, this is an awfully good deal for a large data allotment on AT&T’s network. My own experience with AT&T’s prepaid service when I trialed it a few months ago was positive.

The $300 base price may not be the final price of 360 days of service. If you need to order a SIM card, that comes with an additional charge. When I went through the checkout process and indicated that I needed a SIM card shipped to Boulder, CO, my final price came to $305.43:

  • $300 for service
  • $4.99 for a SIM card
  • $0.44 in sales tax

In the grand scheme of things, the final price was awfully close to the base price. With a lot of carriers, I’d expect to see more extensive taxes and fees beyond the base price of service.

Additional details about the AT&T plan:

  • Mobile hotspot access is included. Hotspot use draws from regular data allowances.
  • Rollover data is included (only one month of unused data will rollover).
  • AT&T’s Sponsored Data deal is offered. Certain types of data use won’t count against monthly data allotments.

Comparison with Mint Mobile’s pricing

At $25 per month, a year of AT&T prepaid service with 8GB of data is competitive with the cost of a year of Mint Mobile’s 8GB service. Mint Mobile currently charges $20 per month on annual 8GB plans. Taking advantage of a current promotion, customers can get six months of Mint Mobile service for only $60.

While Mint Mobile continues to offer a lower monthly price, it may make sense for many people to spend a few extra dollars each month to access AT&T’s network. At the national level, AT&T’s network offers more extensive coverage than Mint Mobile’s service over T-Mobile’s network.

Lies, Damned Lies, and AT&T’s 5GE

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.Benjamin Disraeli*

Fortunately, the sentiment behind this quote isn’t always accurate. Sometimes statistics can reveal lies. AT&T has recently taken a lot of heat for misleadingly branding advanced 4G networks as “5GE.” Ian Fogg at Opensignal published a post where he draws on Opensignal’s data to assess how AT&T’s 5GE-enabled phones perform compared to similar phones on other carriers. The results:[1]

In response to AT&T’s misleading branding, Verizon launched a video advertisement showing a head-to-head speed comparison between Verizon’s network and AT&T’s 5GE network.

In that video, Verizon’s 4G LTE network comes out with a download speed near 120Mbps while AT&T’s 5GE network came out around 40Mbps. That, of course, seems funny given the Opensignal data suggesting the networks deliver similar speeds on average.

A portion of the Verizon video—not long enough to show the final results—showed up in a Twitter ad. That ad led to a Twitter exchange between myself; Light Reading’s editorial director, Mike Dano; and Verizon’s PR manager, Steven Van Dinter. Dinter explained that Verizon chose to film in a public spot where AT&T’s 5GE symbol was very strong. I take Dinter’s word that there wasn’t foul play or blatant manipulation, but it is funny to see Verizon fighting misleading branding from AT&T with a misleading ad of its own.