Hands shaking

Dish And AT&T Announce Network Services Agreement

Today, AT&T and Dish announced that they are entering into a Network Services Agreement (NSA).1 Here’s the key bit from Dish’s press release:

[DISH announced a] Network Services Agreement (NSA) with AT&T, making AT&T the primary network services partner for DISH MVNO customers. Through this agreement, DISH will provide current and future customers of its retail wireless brands, including Boost Mobile, Ting Mobile and Republic Wireless, access to best-in-class coverage and connectivity on AT&T’s wireless network, in addition to the new DISH 5G network.

SEC Filing Insights

An SEC filing provides more insights than Dish’s press release. The deal between AT&T and Dish involves a minimum payment of five billion dollars over ten years.

DISH has agreed to pay AT&T at least $5 billion over the course of the ten-year term of the NSA, subject to certain terms and conditions.

People are already suggesting that Dish got a bargain by striking this deal for only five billion. They may be misunderstanding the arrangement. I expect the amount Dish pays to AT&T will depend on how heavily Dish relies on AT&T’s network. While five billion dollars is a minimum Dish, I think it’s likely Dish will end up paying more.2

Network Access

Dish has committed to activating a certain portion of its subscribers on AT&T’s network, but the SEC filing suggests Dish is permitted to activate some subscribers on other networks:

Under the NSA, AT&T becomes the primary network services provider for DISH, as DISH has committed to activate on AT&T’s network at least a minimum percentage of certain of its MVNO subscribers in the U.S. who receive services through a third-party network and to cause no less than a specified percentage of certain of its domestic roaming data usage for DISH’s MNO subscribers to be on AT&T.

Roaming

It looks like most of AT&T’s roaming agreements may be extended to Dish (emphasis mine):

AT&T will provide DISH with…services in all U.S. geographic areas…where AT&T or any AT&T affiliate has the right to use another wireless service provider’s network and is authorized to extend such right to DISH.
I’m unsure how often AT&T is prohibited from extending its roaming agreements to other parties. Further, it’s possible Dish won’t take advantage of some of AT&T’s roaming arrangements due to cost considerations.3

Prioritization

The SEC filing briefly touches on prioritization:

Under the NSA, AT&T will provide DISH postpaid and prepaid customers with similar quality of service as compared to certain AT&T postpaid and prepaid customers.
While the phrasing is vague, I expect it indicates Dish subscribers will have a QCI of 8 for regular data use on AT&T’s LTE network. That’s the same QCI for regular data received by the large majority of consumers on AT&T-branded plans.

Spectrum Use

Dish has extensive spectrum holdings that AT&T may take advantage of:

The NSA also provides an avenue for AT&T to deploy portions of DISH’s spectrum to support DISH customers on the AT&T network, by allowing AT&T the right, but not the obligation, to request to use portions of DISH’s spectrum.

Other Brands

The filing makes it clear that access to AT&T’s network is available for both existing and future brands under Dish (emphasis mine):

[The agreement provides] customers of Boost, Ting and Republic Wireless and all future DISH brands coverage on AT&T’s network.

Speculation

My hunch is that this deal is good news for both AT&T and Dish. For a while, I’ve heard people express skepticism about whether Dish actually intends to build its own network. I’m finding the skepticism less plausible as time goes on. With the backing of AT&T, Dish can focus on building out a 5G network in dense areas while offloading to AT&T for more extensive coverage.

The new agreement is probably bad news for T-Mobile. The company’s stock closed today a bit over 3% down from its opening price.4

Power button

Boom Mobile Drops AT&T (For Now)

As pointed out by Reddit user u/Ethrem, the MVNO Boom Mobile is no longer offering service over AT&T’s network. Another Reddit user, u/cllatgmail, shared part of a conversation with a Boom support agent:

[AT&T] hopefully temporarily, maybe permanently, removed the renewal of data from our plans which does not allow us to activate or renew customers plans. Due to this we are not allowing customers to renew on the yearly plan, so they would have to move to month-to-month. If the data ends up getting cut off before your yearly plan ends, we plan on refunding the remaining months.

The ability to renew on the yearly plan will be rescinded shortly.

At this time, I’m not sure if whatever caused Boom to pull its AT&T plans will also affect other MVNOs offering service over AT&T’s network.

Rocket launching

US Mobile Updates Its Low-Cost Plans

US Mobile, an MVNO that offers service over Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks, just updated two of it’s low-cost plans:

  • $15 per month: Unlimited minutes and texts with 3.5GB of data each month
  • $30 per month: Unlimited minutes and texts with 30GB of data each month

Before today, US Mobile’s low-cost plans still offered good value but came with less data. The $15 per month plan previously came with 2.5GB of data each month, and the $30 per month plan came with 10GB of data.

Customers signing up for US Mobile will have to opt for either Verizon’s network (“Super LTE” in US Mobile’s parlance) or T-Mobile’s network (“GSM LTE”). While the plans are a good deal on either network, the Super LTE options running over Verizon’s network strike me as some of the best deals on the market right now.

Potential subscribers should know that US Mobile’s fees tend to be higher than fees charged by similarly priced carriers. The final cost of US Mobile’s 3.5GB and 30GB plans will usually come out about $5 per month higher than the plans’ base prices.1

You can find more information about the updated plans on US Mobile’s website.

Cellular tower

Teltik Rumored To Be Transitioning To An MVNO Model

The business line reseller Teltik may be transitioning to a more conventional structure as an MVNO.

Earlier today, a Reddit user shared a transcript from a conversation with a Teltik support agent. The agent suggested that a migration is underway and that Teltik will accept new customers in a few weeks. Based on what the support agent said, it looks like Teltik will continue to run over T-Mobile’s network but will transition to a traditional MVNO model. Some perks Teltik used to offer, like international data access and T-Mobile Tuesdays, will not be available under the new setup.

US Mobile’s Low-Cost Plans

US Mobile is a low-cost carrier that offers service over Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks. In the last few months, US Mobile launched two plans that look like great deals for subscribers that opt for Verizon’s network:

  • $15 per month – Unlimited minutes and texts + 2.5GB of data
  • $30 per month – Unlimited minutes and texts + 10GB of data

US Mobile charges more in fees than most of its competitors. The final cost of these two plans will probably be about $5 per line higher each month than the base prices.

I often think of T-Mobile’s Connect plans and Mint Mobile’s 3GB-8GB plans as the cost leaders in the U.S. wireless market. While these plans have excellent prices, coverage on these plans isn’t as good as the coverage offered by Verizon’s network.

US Mobile’s plans are more expensive than Mint’s plans and T-Mobile’s Connect plans, but the price differences are relatively small. US Mobile may have some of the best options for people that want extensive coverage but also want cheap service. I’m planning to test and review one of the new plans soon.

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 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.


Considering Xfinity Mobile? Check coverage at your location with the carrier’s coverage tool.

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.