AT&T’s “Free” iPhone 12 Offer

AT&T will be offering the iPhone 12 for pre-order starting on October 16. The phone will be available for regular ordering online and in stores on October 23. AT&T is running a big promotion that can make the phone kinda-sorta free for both existing customers and new customers.

Customers that buy the iPhone 12 on a 30-month installment plan and trade-in a phone AT&T values at $95 or more are eligible for 30 monthly bill credits that effectively cancel out the cost of installments. Customers that cancel service before the 30 installments are complete will be responsible for paying off the remaining cost of the iPhone 12.

Customers wanting to take advantage of the promotion must meet two more conditions:

  • Customers must be “well-qualified” according to AT&T’s criteria.
  • Customers must subscribe to one of AT&T’s postpaid, unlimited plans.

Is it really free?

While the promotion is a great deal, there are two senses in which the iPhone 12 won’t truly be free. Customers that take advantage of the promotion will still need to pay a $30 activation fee. Further, the eligible trade-in devices are limited.

While $95 doesn’t sound like a lot relative to the iPhone 12’s purchase price of $800, only fairly recent phones make the cut. AT&T values the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8 at less than $95, so those devices won’t work for the promotion. The iPhone 8 and Galaxy S9 are among the oldest phones that are eligible. You can see how AT&T values different trade-in phones here.

AT&T Store

AT&T Introduces Mix-And-Match Program

Earlier this week, AT&T launched Unlimited Your Way. Customers on multi-line plans can now mix and match between AT&T’s primary plans. For example, a family with three lines can put one phone on AT&T’s Unlimited Starter plan, another phone on the Unlimited Extra plan, and a final phone on the Unlimited Elite plan. Before the program launched, AT&T required all lines on a multi-line account to use the same plan.

Pricing

It doesn’t look like AT&T has changed prices for accounts with 4 or fewer lines. AT&T has added a 5-line price to its website.1 The table below shows AT&T’s per-line pricing before taxes and fees and after a discount for enrolling in paperless billing and automatic payments.

LinesUnlimited EliteUnlimited ExtraUnlimited Starter
1$85$75$65
2$75$65$60
3$60$50$45
4$50$40$35
5$45$35$30

Reflections

Verizon has allowed customers to mix and match between its primary plans for years now. I’m glad to see AT&T copying Verizon’s policy. Since prices aren’t changing, I think the new program will be good for consumers.

AT&T Wins in GWS’s New Report – Reservations Remain

Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) released its latest report ranking the performance of cellular networks in the U.S. AT&T again took the top spot in GWS’s rankings.

I previously wrote about my reservations around the methodology GWS used in 2019. My reservations stand nearly unchanged. GWS continues to assess about 500 markets rather than the U.S. at large. I think this makes GWS biased against Verizon, the network that indisputably leads in coverage.

In its latest report, GWS boasts about having the largest and most comprehensive assessment of cellular networks. The claims seem to be based on the large number of data points GWS collects. In my view, the extra data points don’t make up for the fact that GWS’s underlying methodology isn’t as good as RootMetrics’ methodology.

Network operators pay evaluators to license their awards. Is GWS using a funky methodology because the company stands to earn more from declaring AT&T the best network than it would earn from declaring Verizon the best network?

Rethinking “Nationwide”

T-Mobile and AT&T started describing their 5G networks as nationwide once the networks covered over 200 million people. I’ve seen multiple people suggest that this is related to FCC rules. Allegedly, the FCC only allows networks to be described as nationwide when they cover over 200 million people. I’ve searched around, and I can’t find any FCC documents mentioning such a guideline.

As far as I can tell, the 200 million number comes from the National Advertising Division (NAD), a self-regulatory body for the advertising industry.1 Here’s an excerpt from a 2014 NAD publication:

NAD noted in its decision that it has applied a consistent standard for ‘coast to coast’ service for the past 10 years. In general, a wireless network can claim to be nationwide or coast to coast if the provider offers service in diverse regions of the country and the network covers at least 200 million people.

200 million people would make up about 60% of the U.S. population.2 I don’t think a network covering 60% of the U.S. population is nationwide in the common-sense meaning of the word. If networks with such lackluster coverage are advertised as nationwide, consumers will be misled.

The NAD should update its approach. The exact meaning of nationwide isn’t clear cut, but I think even a loose standard should be something like this:

Nationwide network: A network that covers at least 85% of the U.S. population and offers service in some parts of every state.

The NAD should probably frame its standard in terms of a percentage of the U.S. population covered (rather than a raw number of people covered). In 2004, 200 million people would have been almost 70% of the U.S. population.3 The NAD’s standard made more sense then. As the country’s population has grown, the NAD’s standard has become weaker.

AT&T’s 5G Coverage Now “Nationwide”

This morning, AT&T announced that its 5G network is now nationwide. By “nationwide,” I believe AT&T means that the service is estimated to cover over 200 million Americans. There are still plenty of parts of the country that are not covered by AT&T’s 5G service.

AT&T shared a few other noteworthy items in its announcement:

  • AT&T will add 5G support to the Unlimited Starter plan (the carriers’ most basic postpaid unlimited plan) at no extra charge on August 7.
  • Business customers on the Unlimited Web-Only plan will also get 5G support starting on August 7.
  • Cricket Wireless will begin offering 5G service on August 21.

On all of these plans, 5G service will only be available for subscribers with 5G-compatible devices.

5G Coming To Cricket Wireless

Today, AT&T came out with a press release stating that 5G service will be coming to Cricket Wireless. Here’s the relevant bit:

On Aug. 21, Cricket Wireless customers will be able to activate 5G service on the Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G. More details soon!

As far as I can tell, Cricket has not yet updated its own web pages about 5G.

I expect Cricket subscribers will be able to access both AT&T’s sub-6 5G and AT&T’s ultra-fast millimeter wave 5G. While the S20+ will initially be the only 5G phone offered by Cricket, we should soon see the carrier offering more 5G-compatible devices. It may also be possible for Cricket customers to bring their own unlocked 5G phones to the service.

AT&T Prepaid Adds 6 Month Option To Its 8GB Plan

In one of my recent posts, I discussed the awesome deals AT&T is offering on its prepaid plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data each month. At the time I wrote the post, AT&T offered the plan with three different price structures:

  • Month-to-month payments ($40 per month)1
  • Three months purchased upfront ($33 per month or $180 total)
  • One year purchased upfront ($25 per month or $300 total)

Now, AT&T has added another option. Customers that purchase six months of service upfront can get the 8GB plan for $30 per month.

Before AT&T added the six-month option, I was comparing AT&T’s plan to Mint Mobile’s 8GB plan. The plans look even more similar now that both carriers offer 3, 6, and 12-month payments options.

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.