Data Outage Affecting Some Mint Mobile Subscribers

A data outage has been affecting some Mint Mobile subscribers throughout the day. One of Mint’s co-founders, Rizwan Kassim, posted about the issue on Reddit:

An upstream error seems to have caused data provisioning errors for a number of subscribers.

It’s being worked, they don’t have a root cause yet, but I know this has been escalated. Down Detector showing issues on our carrier as well; not sure if it’s related or not.

I strongly think, but do not know, that this has nothing to do with the iOS 14 upgrade many of you installed today.

Based on reports I’ve read from Mint subscribers, the issue appears widespread geographically. I don’t know what proportion of Mint’s subscriber base is affected.

Kassim’s Reddit post suggests the issue may also be affecting T-Mobile. While Downdetector shows a slightly unusual level of issues associated with T-Mobile, I don’t think Downdetector’s data is consistent with a large-scale problem for T-Mobile subscribers.

I did a bit of my own digging for T-Mobile subscribers’ complaints about the networks’ performance today. I didn’t run into anything out of the ordinary.

Mint Mobile’s Unlimited Plan Has Limits

Today, Mint Mobile launched an “unlimited” plan. Mint has officially joined the ranks of carriers like Google Fi, Altice, Total Wireless, Wing, Tello. What do all these carriers have in common? Each offers an allegedly “unlimited” plan that strictly limits how much data subscribers can use.

The rest of this post is a rant. To be clear, I think Mint’s new plan is great. I just hate seeing the cellular industry move towards a scenario where every carrier has to offer plans that are misleadingly labeled “unlimited” in order to remain competitive. If you’re looking for a level-headed overview of Mint’s new plan, see my previous post. If you’re looking for cynicism and entertainment, keep reading.

Limits

Mint’s unlimited plan has three major restrictions:

  • Subscribers can only use 35GB of full-speed data each month. After 35GB of data use, Mint throttles data to sluggish speeds.
  • Mint limits mobile hotspot use to 5GB per month.
  • Mint throttles video streaming to a maximum of 480p.

How slow are speeds after 35GB?

Mint screwed up its communications about the throttling it imposes after 35GB of data use. Pre-launch information I received said subscribers would be throttled to 128Kbps. The only specific speed I’ve found mentioned on Mint’s updated website is 64Kbps:

Mint Mobile’s ‘Unlimited Data’ plan comes with 35GB of high-speed data, which is slowed to 64 kbps thereafter and reset at the next billing cycle.

I expect Mint will clarify its policies by the end of the day. For the rest of this post, I’ll give Mint the benefit of the doubt and say the throttle is 128Kbps. In some sense, it doesn’t matter if the throttle is 128Kbps or 64Kbps. The internet will be almost unusable at either speed.

Objections

But Chris! Mint lets you use unlimited data at 128Kbps! Sure, 128Kbps is slow as hell, but the plan is still unlimited!

No. At 128Kbps, a lot of things won’t work. Video won’t stream. Some web pages won’t load at all.

More importantly, a rate limit can’t coexist with unlimited data. If a full 128 kilobits is transferred every second for an entire month, only 41GB of data is used.1 There’s an absolute cap on Mint’s unlimited plan on data use of about 76GB (35GB + 41GB). Realistically, almost no subscribers will get much past 35GB of use in a month, since the internet will be so frustrating to use after the 35GB of full-speed data runs out.

But Chris! 35GB is practically unlimited! Almost everyone uses way less data than that!
Agreed! If you’re excited about the plan, this post probably shouldn’t dissuade you.

I don’t even fault Mint for calling the new plan “unlimited.” I’m impressed Mint managed to hold out so long while its competitors offered unlimited-but-not-really-unlimited plans.

My point is that consumers would be better off in the long run if carriers weren’t incentivized to mislabel plans.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in Mint’s new plan, go for it. It’s an awesome deal for $30 per month. Just realize it’s a 35GB plan.

Mint Mobile Launches An Unlimited Plan

Mint Mobile launched an unlimited plan this morning. It’s available for as little as $30 per month.

Plan terms

Like many unlimited plans offered by mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), the plan isn’t actually “unlimited” in the mainstream sense of the word:

  • Subscribers can use 35GB of regular, full-speed data each month. After 35GB of data use, Mint throttles speeds to a sluggish 128Kbps.1
  • Mint caps mobile hotspot use at 5GB per month.

I’ll save my complaints about Mint misusing the word “unlimited” for a second post. 35GB of data and 5GB of mobile hotspot access will be sufficient for the vast majority of people.2

Like Mint’s old plans, the new plan includes unlimited minutes and texts. Calling to Canada and Mexico is also included at no charge.

Subscribers with 5G-capable devices will get access to 5G coverage from T-Mobile’s network. While T-Mobile’s 5G network is lackluster in terms of speeds, it leads the nation in 5G availability. You can check coverage at your location with Mint’s interactive map.

Pricing

With the new unlimited plan, Mint is continuing to price service based on how many months of service customers pay for upfront.

  • $30 per month – 12 months of service
  • $35 per month – 6 months of service
  • $40 per month – 3 months of service

The unlimited plan is eligible for the same introductory offer that Mint offers on its other plans. New customers can purchase three months of service at the rate Mint usually reserves for customers that purchase 12 months of service. I.e., three months of service on the unlimited plan costs $90 ($30 per month).

Reflections

Competitiveness

I’m glad to see Mint offering a plan for heavy data users with such a low price point. I expect the plan will be popular, especially among people who only need one or two lines of service. The new Mint plan should be competitive with other low-cost unlimited plans offered by carriers like Visible and Cricket. While I don’t think Mint’s new plan will make T-Mobile’s Essentials plan irrelevant, I’m ready to argue Mint’s plan is almost strictly the better option.

Pricing strategy

Interestingly, Mint has narrowed the distance between pricing tiers with the new plan. Mint’s 8GB plan costs $20 per month for customers that purchase a year of service upfront. The plan is 75% more expensive ($35 per month) for customers that purchase 3 months of service.3 Mint’s unlimited plan is only 33% more expensive for customers that opt for 3 months of service.4

In the past, I’ve wondered whether Mint’s pricing structure made volume discounts too aggressive. The large difference between monthly rates on three-month terms and twelve-month terms may have made the carrier unappealing to budget-sensitive consumers that could have been a good fit for Mint. Is it possible we’ll soon see Mint narrow the gap between pricing tiers on its old plans?

Mint’s new approach to pricing has a funny consequence. In some situations, Mint’s 12GB plan is now $5 per month more expensive than the 35GB (unlimited) plan.5

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.

Mint Mobile Extends Unlimited Data Again

Mint Mobile has extended its COVID-19-related unlimited data offer. Subscribers that joined Mint prior to April 14 can continue to receive data add-ons in 3GB increments at no charge.

Mint first said this offer would be available from mid-March through mid-April, but ended up extending the offer through mid-May. The company has now extended the offer for another month.

Image showing that Mint's unlimited data offer has been extended

I don’t know if we’ll see further extensions of the offer. More information can be found on Mint’s website.

Mint Mobile’s iPhone SE Promotion

Mint Mobile is running a promotion on the iPhone SE. For $720, customers can get an iPhone SE and two years of cell phone service on Mint’s 3GB per month plan. Customers who want more data can pay an extra $120 for 8GB of data or an extra $240 for 12GB of data.

Customers have the choice of either paying outright or paying 12-24 monthly installments through Mint’s partner Affirm. If a customer’s credit is good enough, they may not have to pay Affirm any interest. On a 24 month plan with zero interest, a customer would pay about $30 per month for the iPhone SE and Mint’s 3GB plan.

I recommend avoiding paying for phones on installment plans, and this latest promotion isn’t an exception. That said, there is something unusual worth pointing out here. Typically, I think Mint only lets customers finance phones through Affirm. With this promotion, customers can effectively finance both their phones and their service with Affirm.

The iPhone SE is usually priced at about $400. Mint’s promotional bundle has a base price of $720. Two years of Mint’s 3GB plan would typically cost $360. You can think of the promotion as discounting the iPhone SE’s price by $40 (from $400 to $360).

While I’m a big fan of Mint, I don’t think this promotion is a great deal. In most situations, I don’t think a savings of $40 justifies locking yourself into a long-term arrangement with a wireless carrier.

If you take advantage of Mint’s promotion, you’ll be charged a $32.50 recovery fee during checkout. This fee isn’t for the iPhone SE. It’s consistent with the recovery fee Mint usually charges on wireless plans.1

Mint Mobile Makes COVID-19 Data Add-Ons Easier

In response to COVID-19, Mint Mobile began offering unlimited data at no charge to all its customers. Initially, subscribers who ran out of their regularly allotted data had to purchase 3GB data add-ons that would later be refunded.

Mint has now streamlined the process. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Reddit post by Rizwan Kassim, a co-founder of Mint Mobile:

We heard your feedback, and once we made the decision to extend the program – we rebuilt it in a way with an experience that’s more .. well, Minty. On Apr 15, whenever you purchase the data-bolton, if you qualify, the dollar cost will be $0. No credit card charge, no wallet pull. Easy. You’ll need the latest build of the app.

I thought Mint might have intentionally put a bit of friction in the data add-on process to deter abuse and waste. It looks like there’s a better explanation:

The idea was hatched, planned, got financial and brand approval, configured, launched and messaged the unlimited bolt-on offer in 36 hours, over a weekend by an entirely WFH staff. No joke. The fastest method was not to use our billing system, but to tack on a series of jobs that ran post-charge to refund the balances.

Mint has added some sensible eligibility terms for the free data add-ons:

  • Only subscribers who were customers before April 14 are eligible for free data add-ons
  • Subscribers that downgrade their plans lose their eligibility for free data add-ons

Mint Extends Unlimited Data Through 5/14/20

Last month, I wrote about Mint Mobile offering its subscribers unlimited data at no extra charge from 3/14/2020 through 4/14/2020. I just got an email from Mint explaining that the carrier has extended the unlimited data through 5/14/2020.

Mint’s policies around the free data remain the same. Subscribers that use up all of their regular, allotted data can add more data in 3GB increments. Mint will initially charge for these 3GB data add-ons, but subscribers will be refunded within a day. To be eligible for additional data add-ons, a subsciber must have already used 95% of his or her last data add-on.

UNREAL Mobile Duplicates Mint Mobile’s Pricing Structure

The MVNO UNREAL Mobile recently revamped the structure of its plans. Here’s a screenshot of the carrier’s new offerings:

UNREAL Mobile Plan Options

Copying Mint

If you follow the wireless industry closely, this may look familiar. UNREAL Mobile has duplicated Mint Mobile’s plans and pricing.1 The structure isn’t just similar between the companies. It’s exactly the same. Mint even offers the same special deal for new customers that purchase 3 months of service.

UNREAL runs over AT&T’s network. In many respects, AT&T has a better network than T-Mobile, Mint’s host operator. Still, I’m not ready to say UNREAL is a better option than Mint. I had a lousy experience with UNREAL’s current parent company, Red Pocket. Joe Paonessa of BestMVNO had a lackluster experience with UNREAL itself.2 That said, the new prices are excellent for service over AT&T’s network. Despite my reservations, I’m still tempted to trial UNREAL’s service.

Bogus “Unlimited” Plans

UNREAL offers extra data at vastly reduced speeds for customers that use up all of their allotted, regular data.3

In Unlimited Plans At 2G Speeds Are Bogus, I argued that it’s ridiculous to describe plans with this policy as “unlimited plans.” Mint has enough integrity not to advertise its basically identical plans as “unlimited.”

Mint Mobile Giving Unlimited Data To All Subscribers

The MVNO Mint Mobile is temporarily offering all subscribers unlimited data at no charge. Here’s an excerpt from an email I just received:

Starting on 3-15-20 through 4-14-20, Mint Mobile will be providing all current and new customers with FREE unlimited high-speed data add-ons.

Further details

Like many other carriers, Mint Mobile is making changes in its policies in response to the coronavirus. Mint’s subscribers can take advantage of Mint’s new policy by adding data to their plans in 3GB chunks. Subscribers will need to use up most of their add-on data before they’re eligible for additional add-ons:1

95% of data add-on must be used prior to adding an additional data add-on
Data add-ons can be processed from the Mint Mobile app or through Mint Mobile’s online account system. Subscribers’ credit cards will temporarily be charged for add-on data, but Mint will quickly refund the charges.

It looks like even new customers will be eligible for unlimited data.2

Reflections

I’m not sure if Mint Mobile is taking a huge financial hit to offer this policy or if Mint’s host operator, T-Mobile, is doing something unusual that makes the new policy possible.

Mint is one of my favorite budget-friendly carriers, and I’m happy to see the carrier’s latest move. If you’re thinking about switching to Mint, consider checking out my detailed review of the carrier.