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


T-Mobile Expands LTE Home Internet Options

T-Mobile just announced that it will massively expanded the pilot program for its LTE home internet service. Almost 500 cities are being added to the service. T-Mobile shared a list of new locations in its press release.

In the press release, T-Mobile takes a lot of shots at AT&T’s recent decision to cease offering DSL service:

What AT&T takes away, T-Mobile brings back. Following news that AT&T is discontinuing DSL home broadband in many communities, T-Mobile is massively expanding its Home Internet pilot service to give another option to an additional 20 million households in parts of 450 cities and towns — many in rural America — being abandoned by AT&T in the middle of a pandemic when connectivity has never been more important.

While I’ve only looked into it briefly, T-Mobile’s service seems promising. With automatic payments enabled, it comes in at $50 per month. It looks like that $50 includes taxes, fees, and hardware costs. Further, T-Mobile doesn’t appear to be pushing subscribers into long-term contracts.

The service seems to be in its infancy. I entered two different address on T-Mobile’s website to whether the internet service was available. In both cases, I didn’t actually get an answer. Instead, T-Mobile requested my contact information and suggested the company would get in touch if service was available in my area.

You can find more information about T-Mobile’s LTE home internet service on the company’s website.

5G abstract

T-Mobile Expands Mid-Band 5G

T-Mobile just launched mid-band 5G in a bunch of cities. Here’s the key bit from the press release:

T-Mobile lit up a supercharged 5G experience in another 121 cities and towns with mid-band 5G, delivering up to gigabit-per-second peak speeds and average download speeds around 300 megabits-per-second for capable 5G devices.

The expansion into mid-band 5G is exciting. While T-Mobile has been destroying its competitors in terms of 5G coverage, T-Mobile has relied mostly on slow, low-band 5G.

Twitter sweepstakes

In the press release, T-Mobile mentions a sweepstakes to encourage Twitter users to discuss T-Mobile’s 5G:

To celebrate, T-Mobile is giving away $100,000 on Twitter over the next several months, with #5Gsfor5G.

Interestingly, T-Mobile’s President of Technology, Neville Ray, criticized this sort of thing in a Tweet he shared the same day the sweepstakes launched:

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

T-Mobile To Offer A Cheap 5G Phone – REVVL 5G

T-Mobile just announced that it will soon offer the REVVL 5G for a regular price of $400. Eligible customers can get the phone for a discounted price of $200.

I believe the REVVL 5G will be the cheapest 5G phone available in the U.S. when it launches on September 4. T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s flanker brand, Metro, will both stock the device.

REVVL 5G details

The REVVL 5G is essentially a rebranded and slightly altered version of the TCL 10 5G, a phone that received some solid reviews.1 The REVVL 5G will have a Snapdragon 765 processor and compatibility with the following bands:

LTE:

  • B2
  • B4
  • B25
  • B26
  • B41
  • B66

5G:

  • n2
  • n25
  • n66
  • n71

Notably, the REVVL 5G will not be compatible with the frequencies used for millimeter wave 5G.

Promotion eligibility

While the regular price of the REVVL 5G is $400 (or $16.67 per month for 24 months), eligible customers can effectively get the device for $200. Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release:

New and existing T-Mobile customers — including T-Mobile for Business customers up to 12 lines — can get REVVL 4 and REVVL 4+ for FREE or the REVVL 5G for just $200 after 24 bill credits when they switch or add a line.

My take

I’m glad to see a cheaper 5G phone hitting the market. I don’t think consumers need to rush out and buy the device in mass, though. We’ll see more budget-friendly devices arriving on the market over the next few years. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see a low-price device compatible with both sub-6 5G and millimeter wave 5G.

Cutting Through Bullshit Around 5G Latency

There’s a lot of unrealistic hype going around about 5G. Most of the hype focuses on the blazing-fast speeds 5G can offer.

Today, T-Mobile’s CEO, Mike Sievert, made a big deal about 5G latency rather than 5G speed:1

Latency measures the time delay involved in data transfer. It’s common for 4G connections to have a latency of about one-twentieth of a second (50 milliseconds). Some 5G technologies may be able to push latency far lower.

The video Sievert shared is allegedly a demonstration of latency under different technologies. It’s not remotely fair. The phone supposedly demonstrating a 4G LTE connection is about five seconds behind the real world. Latency isn’t anywhere near that bad with 4G. If it was that bad, normal voice conversations and video chats using 4G wouldn’t be possible.

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.

T-Mobile’s Misleading Claims About Its Four Unlimited Lines For $100 Deal

Yesterday, T-Mobile shared a press release announcing deals the company is about to launch. Starting July 24, T-Mobile will offer four lines on its Essentials plan for $25 per line each month. The Essentials plan is the most basic of T-Mobile’s postpaid unlimited plans.

Customers making use of T-Mobile’s deal on the Essentials plan will have the option to take advantage of a second promotion on the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G:1

If you need 5G phones too, for just $5 more per line, get four lines for $30 each per month, plus taxes and fees with autopay on T-Mobile Essentials PLUS four Samsung Galaxy A71 5G included with bill credits and eligible trade-in.

Bragging

At the beginning of its press release, T-Mobile brags about how unbelievable the upcoming deal will be:

Four lines for just $25/month each, an unheard of price point for unlimited postpaid.

T-Mobile brags again a bit later:

This price point with unlimited data has not been offered for everyone in postpaid wireless in, well, ever.

And then again:

This price point for unlimited postpaid is unheard of. As in, unlimited high speed data at this price has never been offered before for everyone in postpaid wireless in the history of ever.

Despite T-Mobile’s claims, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen postpaid unlimited plans at this price point. Sprint previously offered its Unlimited Kickstart plan for $25 per line.

Note how the caveat word “postpaid” shows up in each of T-Mobile’s boasts. Prepaid brands Visible and Cricket offer four lines for $100. Other prepaid carriers have offered similar deals in the past. Unlike T-Mobile, both Visible and Cricket include taxes in the $100 list price of their four-line plans.

No high-priority data

Postpaid plans tend to have features that prepaid plans do not. Notably, postpaid service is likely to come with high-priority data during congestion. While T-Mobile’s Essentials plan is postpaid, it does not include high-priority data.

T-Mobile’s statements are a bit disingenuous. It’s strange for the company to brag about how the upcoming deal will involve postpaid service while neglecting to mention that a major feature people associate with postpaid service is missing.

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.

Opensignal’s Report on U.S. 5G Performance – No Big Surprises

Earlier this week, Opensignal released a report on the performance of 5G networks in the United States. Opensignal’s report puts some numbers and data behind two things that were already clear:

  • T-Mobile is destroying the competition in terms of 5G coverage, but T-Mobile’s 5G isn’t very fast
  • Verizon’s 5G is outrageously fast, but the coverage profile is terrible.

Opensignal primarily collects its performance data by crowdsourcing data from tests that run in the background on regular people’s phones. It looks like the company restricted the data underlying this report to include tests run from 5G-compatible phones.

Speeds

Verizon destroyed the competition with an average 5G download speed of 495Mbps. The other major networks in the U.S. had 5G download speeds averaging around 50Mbps. Verizon’s dominance in download speeds is due to the company’s focus on rolling out millimeter wave 5G.

Coverage

Unlike Verizon, T-Mobile has focused on deploying sub-6 5G. This type of 5G is great for covering large areas, but less impressive for delivering high speeds. Unsurprisingly, T-Mobile dominated in terms of 5G availability. According to Opensignal’s data, T-Mobile subscribers were able to access 5G 22.5% of the time. Verizon did about fifty times worse with an availability score of 0.4%.

While 0.4% is low, it’s still a better availability score than I would have predicted for Verizon. I wonder if Opensignal’s crowdsourcing approach might lend Verizon’s availability scores a leg up. If living near a Verizon 5G deployment makes a Verizon customer more likely to purchase a 5G phone, selection bias can creep in and cause Opensignal to overestimate Verizon’s actual 5G availability.

Silly press releases

Following Opensignal’s release of its report, T-Mobile published a press release. The company bragged about the network’s excellent 5G coverage without mentioning that the network got demolished in the download speed results.

Verizon published its own press release bragging about ludicrous download speeds. Verizon’s awful 5G availability score was not mentioned.

Download Speed Experience – 5G Users

Opensignal’s report included a metric called Download Speed Experience – 5G Users. The results for this metric were calculated by looking at users with 5G-compatible phones and tracking their average download speed even at times where they did not have 5G connections. In some sense, this single metric does some accounting for both 5G speeds and 5G availability.

Verizon and AT&T tied for the top spot:
Results graph showing AT&T and Verizon tied for the top spot

The metric is interesting, but I don’t think it quite captures how users will feel about the quality of their download speed experiences. The marginal value of a 10Mbps boost in download speeds that moves a subscriber from 5Mbps to 15Mbps is much greater than the marginal value of a 10Mbps boost that moves a subscriber from 500Mbps to 510Mbps. Collapsing a distribution of download speeds into a single, average download speed masks this reality.