Google Fi After The T-Mobile & Sprint Merger

Google Fi brought a lot of innovations and customer-friendly features to the wireless market. I’d argue that Fi’s biggest innovations have been in network switching. Subscribers using “Designed for Fi” phones can automatically switch between coverage from T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular’s networks.

Losing Sprint

Fi’s network switching is about to become a lot less interesting. Sprint’s network will disappear. U.S. Cellular doesn’t have a nationwide network.

The darker shade in the map below shows where U.S. Cellular’s network is available:[1]

Map of licensed U.S. Cellular markets

U.S. Cellular’s network does not cover the majority of the U.S. Once Sprint’s network is gone, Google Fi will be a T-Mobile-based carrier in many places.[2]

T-Mobile’s network will get better as it integrates Sprint’s assets, so I don’t expect Fi to decrease substantially in quality. However, Fi may become a much less competitive option in comparison to other carriers. There are a lot of carriers that run over T-Mobile’s network. These carriers will also offer better performance as T-Mobile improves its network. Some carriers using T-Mobile’s network are priced much better than Fi. For example, Mint Mobile sells a plan with 8GB of data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited texts for as low as $20 per month. Fi would charge at least $70 per month for the same level of usage.[3]

I don’t mean to imply Fi will be left in the dust. The carrier offers high priority data, amazing international roaming options, and a user-friendly experience. Many low-cost, T-Mobile-based carriers don’t have those elements. Can Fi convince subscribers that Fi’s premium features justify the service’s price tag?

Will MVNOs get squeezed?

Low-cost carriers may get squeezed by T-Mobile. When Sprint goes offline, MVNOs will have fewer networks they can offer service over. The reduction in options may allow T-Mobile to increase the rates it charges carriers that use T-Mobile’s network.[4] While low-cost carriers may have no option but to raise the prices charged to consumers, Fi may be better positioned. Fi is fairly expensive. It’s unlikely T-Mobile would charge Fi so much that Google would struggle to stay in the market.

Xfinity Mobile Updates: 5G, Pricing, and Prioritization

Today, Xfinity Mobile released a handful of changes.

5G Support

Xfinity Mobile now officially offers 5G powered by Verizon’s network. The carrier’s updated network webpage has a lot of content devoted to the wonders of 5G.

Pricing

The 1GB by-the-gig plan has increased from $12 per month to $15 per month. Data add-ons for by-the-gig customers have also increased in cost from $12 per GB to $15 per GB.

The 3GB by-the-gig plan for $30, the 10GB by-the-gig plan for $60, and the $45 per line unlimited plan are still available with unchanged prices.

Prioritization and video throttling

With the last generation of Xfinity Mobile plans, subscribers were typically subject to deprioritization during congestion. It looks like subscribers on the new by-the-gig plans will not be subject to deprioritization. Here’s a screenshot from my within my Xfinity online account:[1]

Screenshot suggesting Xfinity Mobile is offering better prioritization on by-the-gig plans

As far as I can tell, subscribers on Xfinity Mobile’s Unlimited plan will continue to be deprioritized during periods of congestion.

Optional opt-in

Existing subscribers are not being forced to switch over to Xfinity’s new plans. At the moment, it looks like subscribers who don’t switch over will continue to experience the old price structure while missing out on new perks like 5G access.

I’m unsure whether Xfinity Mobile will let subscribers stay grandfathered on the old plans indefinitely. It’s possible subscribers will eventually be forced to switch to new plans.

My take

As an Xfinity Mobile affiliate, I got a heads up that some changes were coming. It sounded like there would be a price increase on the 1GB plan, and I figured I wouldn’t be able to recommend Xfinity Mobile as strongly after the changes. I’m happy to say my expectation was wrong. The $3 increase in the 1GB plan isn’t too substantial, and the improved prioritization for by-the-gig customers is great.

I’m frustrated by how actively Xfinity Mobile is marketing the new 5G service without making it clear that (a) Verizon’s 5G coverage is extremely limited and (b) few consumers have devices compatible with Verizon’s 5G. That said, Xfinity Mobile’s marketing is less misleading than what we’re typically seeing from carriers offering 5G. While the new 5G access won’t have a meaningful effect on most subscribers today, it will become more important as Verizon expands its 5G coverage.

Boost Mobile Launches Its Own $15 Plan

Earlier today, Boost Mobile, a flanker brand of Sprint, followed in the footsteps of many other wireless carriers and announced its own $15 per month plan that includes unlimited talk and text along with 2GB of data each month.

Boost made it clear that this is a short-term deal. Customers who take advantage of the promotion will see their monthly bill double after the first two months of service. Here’s a bit from today’s press release:

This limited-time offer, which also includes taxes and fees, mobile hotspot and 99% nationwide coverage with voice roaming, is available through May 12. After 60 days, the monthly plan moves to $30/month.

We now have several carriers offering a $15 per month plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data:

  • T-Mobile
  • Metro
  • AT&T
  • Cricket
  • Boost Mobile

In my opinion, the Boost Mobile offer is the least attractive among these plans since it combines both Sprint’s lackluster coverage and a promotional price that only applies for two months.[1]

TracFone Botching eBay Orders

Earlier this month, I posted about a plan TracFone was offering through its eBay store. For a single payment of $40, customers could get one year of service with 3GB of data, 1200 minutes, and 1200 texts. TracFone was offering coverage over a customer’s choice of either AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile’s network. I thought this was an incredible deal for a low-use phone plan, so I decided to place an order.

Multiple listings

TracFone had a few different listings with the $40 per month plan. In one version of the listing, customers could select the network of their choice from a drop-down menu:

In another version of the listing, TracFone was offering customers a product that included three SIM cards (one for each of the available networks). Customers who purchased from this listing could use the SIM card for their preferred network and discard the two unused SIMs.[1]

Receiving the wrong item

I wasn’t confident which network I wanted to use during my trial, so I ordered from the three-SIM version of the listing. A few days later, I received my order in the mail, but it only included an AT&T-compatible SIM card.

When I looked back at the eBay listing, it suggested the product only included an AT&T-compatible SIM. This left me confused. I wondered whether the listing had changed or if I’d just made a mistake. TracFone’s customer support on eBay assured me the listing hadn’t changed (emphasis mine):

We have read your e-mail today, March 20, 2020 at 3:25 PM EST. This is in regard to your TracFone Prepaid Wireless Smartphone Plan+SIM-1200 Min, 1200 Txt, 3GB Data.

Please be informed that nothing has changed, but we have added several listings of the same item with different options.

However, the listing had changed. Here’s a screenshot from the listing’s revision history:

Looking back at an archived version of the listing, it’s clear TracFone quietly changed what it was offering. Here’s a product image from the time I placed my order:

Here’s an image from the listing today:

Other reports of issues

Around the time I received my SIM card, I learned other customers who purchased the $40 plan were experiencing issues. A Reddit thread and a discussion on HowardForums detailed the problems. Some people experienced the same issue I had. Other people received SIM cards that didn’t have any airtime or data attached to them.

Those who tried to work out issues with TracFone’s customer support often had a hard time. TracFone’s regular support agents aren’t used to dealing with purchases made through eBay. As I experienced, TracFone’s support on eBay isn’t necessarily all that helpful.

That said, people who tried to get a refund right away (rather than sort out issues with TracFone’s support) probably had an alright experience. eBay is generally buyer-friendly. I doubt many refund requests were denied.

eBay feedback

TracFone’s feedback on eBay shows that issues were widespread. While the $40 plan makes up a minority of TracFone’s sales on eBay, almost all of TracFone’s recent, negative feedback is related to the plan.

TracFone's recent, negative feedback scores

I can’t recommend the plan

I gave my AT&T-compatible SIM a try. Fortunately, it had airtime and data attached as it was supposed to. Service was fine in my brief testing. Still, I can’t strongly recommend the plan. And I wanted to. A year of service for about $3 per month is an amazing deal. The combination of mistakes in fulfilling errors and a lack of customer support agents that can solve issues is a deal-breaker.

Twigby Launches Smart Value Plans

The MVNO Twigby just launched a handful of what it calls “Smart Value Plans.” These plans are an alternative to plans using Twigby’s build-your-own-plan structure.

Each of the new plans comes with unlimited minutes and texts. The plans differ in their data allotments. Twigby has a 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB Smart Value Plan. The new plans cost a bit less than an equivalent plan would cost under Twigby’s old build-your-own-plan structure.

Monthly DataNew PriceOld PriceSavings
3GB$20$2829%
5GB$25$3324%
10GB$35$4319%

For the first six months of service, Twigby offers customers 25% off the prices above.

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.

Verizon Launches New Flanker Brand: Yahoo Mobile

Today, Verizon launched a new flanker brand, Yahoo Mobile. The new carrier is extremely similar to another Verizon flanker brand, Visible. You could argue that Yahoo Mobile is closer to a reseller of Visible’s plans than a distinct carrier. Both Visible and Yahoo Mobile have extremely similar websites, policies, and plans. Yahoo Mobile explicitly mentions Visible in FAQ entries, and Yahoo Mobile’s terms of service make the relationship clear:[1]

Yahoo Mobile wireless service is provided by Visible Service LLC (“Visible”). Your use of the wireless service is governed by the Yahoo Mobile Terms and Conditions which you are entering into with Visible, as well as the Yahoo Mobile Privacy Policy.

Advantages of Yahoo Mobile

In most respects, Yahoo Mobile looks nearly identical to Visible. So far, I see two little advantages the service has over Visible:

  • The base price of Yahoo Mobile is a penny cheaper each month ($39.99 vs. $40.00).
  • Yahoo Mobile comes with access to Yahoo Mail Pro at no extra charge.

Advantages of Visible

The advantages Yahoo Mobile has over Visible will be almost meaningless for most people. On the other hand, Visible’s offerings are better than Yahoo Mobile’s in a few substantive ways:

  • Visible discounts the first month of service to only $25.
  • Visible’s Party Pay system allows subscribers’ ongoing monthly rates to drop as low as $25.
  • Visible has a swap program that allows new customers to trade in junky, old Android phones for decent, new phones at no charge.

Wing Is Strictly Limiting Data Use On An Unlimited Plan

I’ve written a number of posts criticizing wireless carriers that label their plans “unlimited” while imposing limits. Usually, these carriers impose weird restrictions or slow data speeds for heavy users of data. If you’re feeling charitable, you could argue that most of these plans are still, in some sense, unlimited. Most of these plans don’t have simple limits on the total amount of data subscribers can use each month.

Wing’s new policy

The mobile virtual network operator Wing, which I’ve reviewed and liked, appears to have just started imposing strict caps on unlimited plan subscribers’ data use. Earlier today, a Reddit user reported that Wing was limiting users on the carrier’s AT&T-based unlimited plan to 30GB of data use each month.[1] The Reddit user shared messages from a discussion with a Wing support agent:

I see you received the email regarding the recent changes by AT&T. You’ll have 15GB of hotspot usage and a total of 30GB of overall usage for each cycle. After 30GB overall usage on the Wing AT&T unlimited plan, your data will be turned off.

The support agent went on to explain that Wing’s newly released unlimited plan running over T-Mobile’s network would not have the same limitations:

We have a solution:
We’ve recently acquired Wing T-Mobile and the unlimited plans we offer there can best suit your unlimited data needs!

The Wing T-Mobile plans are fully unlimited with no throttles and no caps on data for both hotspot usage and cellular usage.

Current plan offerings

Wing continues to offer an unlimited plan for new customers. As far as I can tell, this plan typically runs over AT&T’s network.[2] It doesn’t look like Wing is adequately disclosing the data caps to potential customers.[3]

Added 3/10/20: Wing confirmed the existence of new data caps in emails with me and publicly on the company’s website.

Ting’s New Verizon Service: Initial Impressions

Last week, the mobile virtual network operator Ting launched a new service running over Verizon’s network. The day it launched, I went to Ting’s website to order a SIM card and begin trialing the service.

Ordering process

Initially, I ran into a bug during Ting’s checkout process that prevented me from finishing an order. I think this was a launch-day issue with Ting’s website. A few hours later, the bug seemed to be fixed, and I ordered a SIM card. I paid about $5 for the SIM, shipping, and taxes:

Ting receipt showing about $5 in total charges

Activation process

Two days after placing my order, a SIM card arrived at my door. I popped it into a Moto G7 Play and went to Ting’s website to activate service. Activation wasn’t difficult, but it felt a bit clunky. Some of the information I had to provide when ordering the SIM card needed to be re-entered during the activation stage.

Once I’d finished the process on Ting’s website, I restarted my phone. The service worked immediately.

Service quality

Coverage has been great, as I expected from Verizon’s network. I’ve run speed tests under a variety of signal strengths, and the speeds have mostly been solid:

Several speed test results from Ting's Verizon service showing decent speeds

As expected, I didn’t notice any throttling of regular data speeds. However, it looks like most video traffic is throttled to a maximum of about 4Mbps:[1]

Test results suggestive of video throttling

Possible low prioritization

I’m suspicious that Ting has low priority on Verizon’s network (despite some suggestions to the contrary).

Using the app Network Signal Guru, I found my data traffic to generally be associated with a QCI value of 9. I expect a QCI of 9 on Verizon’s network is indicative of low priority.

Network Signal Guru test result hsowing a QCI of 9 for Ting's Verizon service.

I also found low speeds in the downtown area of Boulder, Colorado despite having a strong signal:

Speed test result from Downtown Boulder, CO showed a speed of 0.1Mbps

The most plausible explanation I can come up with for the lousy speeds is a combination of congestion and low priority.[2]

In most situations, low-priority service won’t cause subscribers much trouble. My best guess is that Ting users have the same priority level as Verizon’s prepaid customers, most Xfinity Mobile customers, and customers on Verizon’s cheapest post-paid unlimited plan.[3] I reached out to Ting to see if the company could provide any additional information about prioritization. At the time of writing, I have not heard back.

Tentative view

So far, I’m a big fan of Ting’s new service: Ting offers way better coverage than it used to, Ting didn’t raise its prices, and the company continues to offer awesome customer support.

Downsides

Despite my generally positive view, I have a few quibbles about Ting’s new service:

  • I don’t think Ting adequately discloses video throttling. I don’t remember any notifications about it during the ordering process. That said, I don’t think the video throttling is a big deal. It may actually help subscribers keep their data charges low.
  • Ting’s coverage page states: “By piggybacking on America’s largest network, Ting makes sure you’re covered from coast-to-coast. Period.” This implies that subscribers will be covered by Verizon’s network. It would be more transparent for Ting to indicate that most, but not all, subscribers can access Verizon’s network. Further, Ting said this on its coverage page for a little while before the service over Verizon’s network even launched.
  • Ting doesn’t allow subscribers to choose a network directly. Instead, potential subscribers provide information about their devices and where they live and are then matched with a network. I understand why Ting uses this approach for most website visitors. Many people would end up confused and choose networks poorly if they had to choose a network on their own. Still, I wish there was an option for knowledgeable users to explicitly sign up for Verizon’s network.[4]
  • Wi-Fi calling doesn’t seem to be supported at this time.