Rumors About T-Mobile SIMs on Tello

While Tello has historically used Sprint as its host network, Tello announced plans to transition to T-Mobile’s network following the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. It looks like that transition may be starting.

A user in Reddit’s NoContract community recently shared a transcript from a conversation with a Tello support agent. Among other things, the support agent mentioned a date for the beginning of Tello’s transition to the T-Mobile network:

Starting 12/07/202, Tello will switch to the T-Mobile Network

Based on the rest of the conversation, it looks like the agent was suggesting 12/07/2020 will be the first date new subscribers can order service and SIM cards running over T-Mobile’s network. When the support agent was asked when existing Tello customers would be moved over to T-Mobile’s network, he could share a specific date. However, the agent suggested existing customers that wanted to transition to T-Mobile as soon as possible may be able to order new SIM cards at their discretion:

However, you will have the option to purchase a Tello SIM if you want to switch networks.

Tello’s website as of 12/7/2020

When I looked at Tello’s website early today, I didn’t notice major changes. The coverage page still showed a Sprint coverage map. The page about Tello’s bring-your-own-device program still suggested Tello ran over Sprint’s network:

Screenshot from Tello's website suggesting the service works for phones built for Sprint's network

I’m not sure what to think. Tello may already be shipping T-Mobile SIM cards, and an update to Tello’s website could be coming soon. It’s also possible the transition to T-Mobile’s network didn’t start today. Whatever is going on, I expect we’ll see Tello beginning its transition soon. A blog post Tello shared in October indicated that the carrier planned to start transitioning to T-Mobile’s network by the end of 2020.

FCC Hits T-Mobile With A $200 Million Fine For Sprint’s Abuse Of The Lifeline Program

The FCC fined T-Mobile $200 million for Sprint’s abuse of the Lifeline program. Under the Lifeline program, wireless carriers can get a nearly $10 subsidy for each eligible, low-income American they provide phone service to. Often, the Lifeline subsidy is large enough for carriers to offer basic service at no cost to eligible consumers.

According to the Lifeline program rules, carriers are only supposed to get subsidies for lines that are in active use. Lines that go unused are supposed to become ineligible for a subsidy. Here’s how the FCC explains the rationale for rules about usage:

The FCC developed this and other rules after investigations showed that companies were aggressively selling free Lifeline service, knowing that they would get paid each month even if consumers didn’t use their phones. Since there was no bill, consumers had no incentive to relinquish the subscription.

Before Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile, the carrier was receiving subsidies for almost a million lines that we’re in violation of the usage rules. Since T-Mobile now owns Sprint, T-Mobile is on the hook for the FCC’s $200 million fine. The FCC’s press release describes the fine as the “largest fixed-amount penalty to be paid in Commission history.”

Tello After The T-Mobile & Sprint Merger

The carrier Tello has offered some of the best prices in the industry for a while now. Until recently, the major downside of Tello was that it ran over Sprint’s lackluster network.

Ever since the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint closed, I’ve been wondering what the future would look like for Tello. On Friday, Tello shared a blog post that shed some light:

  • Tello plans to start implementing service over T-Mobile’s network in late 2020.1
  • Tello does not plan to change its pricing structure at this time.2
  • Sprint-only service is expected to be available until at least mid-2021.3
  • Sprint-only phones may see a big decline in the performance of data service before mid-2021.4

Phone compatibility with T-Mobile

Fortunately, many Tello subscribers already have phones that are compatible with T-Mobile’s network. High-end phones purchased in the last few years are particularly likely to work with T-Mobile.

If you bought a phone in the past 2 years — such as a recent iPhone or Galaxy — it likely already has support for both networks. Same goes for iPhone XR, XS, or later that should be good for the full T-Mobile experience, but devices older than 2018 may not be able to tap into the full capabilities of the new network.

Tello recommends using phones that support LTE bands 2, 4, 12, 66, and 71 along with VoLTE. Customers without compatible phones will probably need to upgrade their devices if they want to remain with Tello after the legacy Sprint network shuts down.

The long term

Tello has said it won’t raise prices, but I don’t think that’s a long-term commitment. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a price hike by the end of 2021. Tello will be more appealing with the expanded coverage offered by T-Mobile’s network. Additionally, the market for low-cost service is likely to become less competitive as Sprint disappears and large companies buy out a number of MVNOs.

While we may see a price increase eventually, I’m tentatively excited for Tello’s future. T-Mobile’s network is likely to offer Tello subscribers a far better coverage experience than Sprint’s network ever could.


Visit Tello’s website


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.

T-Mobile & Sprint Merger Officially Closes

To no one’s surprise, the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint finally closed this morning.1

With the closure of the merger, John Legere is stepping down from his position as T-Mobile’s CEO. Legere will be replaced by Michael Sievert, who was until now the COO of T-Mobile.

I continue to think the merger is going to be bad for consumers over the long term. However, we should see some things that are good for consumers in the short term, like the recently released T-Mobile Connect plans.

T-Mobile & Sprint Merger Rumored To Be Headed For Approval

Several state attorneys general have been suing to stop a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. Rumors came out earlier this evening that the judge presiding over the case is planning to rule in favor of the merger. Here’s a bit from a Wall Street Journal article:

A federal judge is expected to approve T-Mobile US Inc.’s merger with Sprint Corp., according to people familiar with the matter, clearing the way for the two wireless rivals to combine and overcoming a state antitrust challenge.

The rumors are almost certainly correct. Sprint’s stock soared in after-hours trading. The market closed with Sprint trading at close to $4.80. Since then, the stock has been trading for almost 70% more at over $8 per share:1

Sprint Stock Price After Merger

T-Mobile’s stock experienced a more modest after-hours rise from about $85 per share to slightly over $90 per share:

T-Mobile stock price graph after merger with Sprint

I’m planning to write something more detailed once the news is made official and the companies involved release statements.

Location, Location, Location

In my opinion, major wireless networks can be ranked pretty clearly in terms of their current, nationwide reliability:

  1. Verizon (best)
  2. AT&T
  3. T-Mobile
  4. Sprint (worst)

I get frustrated when network operators make misleading statements about nationwide quality, and I sometimes write articles calling out bullshit claims. That said, a network’s typical reliability throughout the U.S. may be very different from that network’s quality in a given area. When deciding which carrier you should use, it only matters how carriers perform where you want to use your phone.

In the last year, I’ve run speed tests in Boulder, Colorado with a bunch of carriers (using all four of the major U.S. networks). A few days ago, I ran a speed test on a phone with service from Tello, a carrier that runs over Sprint’s network. While Sprint has the worst nationwide network, the speed test found a download speed far faster than I’ve seen in Boulder with any other carrier:

129 Mbps speed test result

As a general rule, service is more expensive on networks with better nationwide performance. If you live where an underdog network performs well, you might be able to get great service at a bargain price.

Sprint – Now Offering Nationwide 5G!??

Today I was looking at Sprint’s coverage map. By default, the map appears to be displaying Sprint’s coverage profile for 5G data:

Sprint barely has any 5G coverage, so the map surprised me.

If you change the selection in the dropdown menu, you’ll see that the area shaded for “Data coverage” is identical whether the 4G or the 5G option is selected. However, the shaded area changes when “Non-LTE” is selected on the dropdown. I think Sprint may have made an honest mistake, but it has the potential to confuse consumers.

As you scroll in on specific areas, the “Data coverage” entry in the legend disappears and more finely grained categories appear:

It’s odd that users can select specific types of coverage but still see a map that differentiates between multiple types of coverage.

We know AT&T is willing to mislead its customers into believing their 4G service is 5G. At the moment, I’m going to give Sprint the benefit of the doubt. After all, the legend doesn’t even appear until a user toggles its visibility.

DOJ Clears T-Mobile’s Merger With Sprint

As expected, the Department of Justice made an announcement today approving a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. While the merger isn’t officially closed, DOJ approval was the largest hurdle T-Mobile and Sprint needed to jump before making their merger a reality.

As far as I can tell, the terms of the merger were consistent with what most commentators were expecting:

  • Most of Sprint’s prepaid business will be divested to DISH1
  • DISH will get Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum
  • DISH will receive access to the New T-Mobile’s network for at least 7 years2
  • DISH will have the option to take over leases on some retail stores and cell sites

I don’t think mergers between telecom companies have a good track record of benefiting consumers. I hope this merger will be different, but I’m not betting on it. As many others have pointed out, something is odd about the whole arrangement. The divestitures to DISH are ostensibly intended to allow DISH to create a viable, facilities-based carrier (i.e., a carrier that has its own hardware and doesn’t just piggyback off other companies’ networks). If DISH is likely to succeed, it’s hard to explain why Sprint couldn’t remain a viable force. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something important.

I expect the merger-related transitions to take a few years, and I plan to write about new developments as they occur. Should be interesting.


For those interested, here are a few excerpts from T-Mobile’s announcement:

The proposed New T-Mobile, will divest Sprint’s prepaid businesses and Sprint’s 800 MHz spectrum assets to DISH. Additionally, upon the closing of the divestiture transaction, the companies will provide DISH wireless customers access to the New T-Mobile network for seven years and offer standard transition services arrangements to DISH during a transition period of up to three years. DISH will also have an option to take on leases for certain cell sites and retail locations that are decommissioned by the New T-Mobile, subject to any assignment restrictions.
The New T-Mobile will be committed to divest Sprint’s entire prepaid businesses including Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint-branded prepaid customers (excluding the Assurance brand Lifeline customers and the prepaid wireless customers of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company and Swiftel Communications, Inc.), to DISH for approximately $1.4 billion. These brands serve approximately 9.3 million customers in total.
With this agreement, Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint-branded prepaid customers, as well as new DISH wireless customers, will have full access to the legacy Sprint network and the New T-Mobile network in a phased approach. Access to the New T-Mobile network will be through an MVNO arrangement, as well as through an Infrastructure MNO arrangement enabling roaming in certain areas until DISH’s 5G network is built out.
The companies have also committed to engage in good faith negotiations regarding the leasing of some or all of DISH’s 600 MHz spectrum to T-Mobile.