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Dates For T-Mobile & Sprint’s 3G Phase-Outs

T-Mobile has been moving towards phasing out its 3G network for some time, but until recently, the company had not committed to a specific date. In a recently published webpage, T-Mobile shared a deadline of July 1, 2022 for shutting down its native 3G network. Here’s an excerpt from the page:

  • As of January 1, 2022 Sprint’s older 3G (CDMA) network will be retired
  • As of June 30, 2022 Sprint’s LTE network will be retired
  • As of July 1, 2022 T-Mobile’s older 3G UMTS network will be retired

We’ve also shared that we plan to retire T-Mobile’s older GSM 2G network as well, but no date has been set. We will update this page with any additional information in the future.

With T-Mobile’s latest announcement, all of the major US networks now have dates set for their 3G phase-outs. I won’t be shocked if one or more of those dates are pushed back.


Credit to Mike Dano of Light Reading who tweeted and posted about this topic.

Picture poorly representing the concept of identity theft

T-Mobile Admits Customers’ Personal Data Was Hacked

Today, T-Mobile shared another press release about its recent security breach. In today’s release, T-Mobile finally acknowledged that customers’ personal data was definitely compromised.

T-Mobile shared details about the scope of the breach:

Our preliminary analysis is that approximately 7.8 million current T-Mobile postpaid customer accounts’ information appears to be contained in the stolen files, as well as just over 40 million records of former or prospective customers who had previously applied for credit with T-Mobile.

While sensitive information was compromised, it looks like financial details, including credit card numbers, were safe:

We have no indication that the data contained in the stolen files included any customer financial information, credit card information, debit or other payment information…Some of the data accessed did include customers’ first and last names, date of birth, SSN, and driver’s license/ID information.

My biggest question now is whether T-Mobile has a good justification for keeping former customers’ SSNs on file.

Image reading "system hacked"

Huge Data Breach At T-Mobile

Yesterday, Joseph Cox at Motherboard reported that a hacker was trying to sell stolen data from 100 million T-Mobile customers. The compromised information isn’t trivial:

The data includes social security numbers, phone numbers, names, physical addresses, unique IMEI numbers, and driver licenses information, the seller said. Motherboard has seen samples of the data, and confirmed they contained accurate information on T-Mobile customers.

The hacker allegedly downloaded all of the data locally before losing access to T-Mobile’s servers.

Today, T-Mobile issued an evasive press release and acknowledged that its systems were compromised (emphasis mine):

We have been working around the clock to investigate claims being made that T-Mobile data may have been illegally accessed…We have determined that unauthorized access to some T-Mobile data occurred, however we have not yet determined that there is any personal customer data involved. We are confident that the entry point used to gain access has been closed…Until we have completed this assessment we cannot confirm the reported number of records affected or the validity of statements made by others.

Bullshit. Customers’ personal data was compromised. T-Mobile knows it.

I won’t be surprised if this data breach ultimately ends up looking similar in magnitude to the infamous 2017 Equifax fiasco. T-Mobile’s stock closed today about 3% down from its closing price on Friday.1

Update:
Lawrence Abrams at BleepingComputer shared an article with additional information and rumors. Here’s one interesting bit:

The threat actor claims to have hacked into T-Mobile’s production, staging, and development servers two weeks ago, including an Oracle database server containing customer data…’Their entire IMEI history database going back to 2004 was stolen,’ the hacker told BleepingComputer.
Calendar with a date pinned

Sprint’s LTE Network Retirement Set For June 2022

Mike Dano of Light Reading recently reported that T-Mobile plans to shut down Sprint’s LTE network by June 30, 2022.

Ever since T-Mobile’s acquisition of Sprint, I’ve been wondering when Sprint’s LTE network would go offline entirely. I’m not convinced the June 30 date will stay in place. These sorts of deadlines tend to get pushed back. Often repeatedly.

As we get closer to the final days of Sprint’s LTE network, I expect we’ll gradually see the network lose power as T-Mobile repurposes Sprint’s assets for T-Mobile’s own network.

Old cell phones

T-Mobile Offering Free 5G Phones

Today, T-Mobile announced that it’ll offer customers the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G more-or-less for free.

The A32 has a regular price of $282 and is substantially less fancy than most of the 5G phones on the market. Still, from the bit I’ve heard about it, the A32 seems like a solid entry-level device.

Both new and existing customers can take advantage of the promotion by trading in a phone. Any working phone is sufficient as a trade-in:

This offer applies to new and existing customers, and ANY old phone in working condition — flip phone, Sidekick, whatever that suitcase phone was called. T-Mobile will take it.

Detailed Terms

The deal will be available starting April 18. Customers that take advantage of the promotion will get monthly bill credits for 24 months that effectively cancel out the usual $11.75 per month customers would have to pay for the A32 on an installment plan. Tax on the usual $282 price is due at the time of purchase.

Customers that cancel service before receiving all the monthly credits will be responsible for the unpaid portion of the A32’s cost.

5G Marketing

While T-Mobile’s network is worse than AT&T and Verizon’s networks in many respects, T-Mobile is the clear leader in 5G. T-Mobile has the most 5G coverage and arguably leads in 5G speeds. The company’s decision to offer free 5G phones looks like part of a larger goal of building hype around T-Mobile’s 5G dominance.

Representation of a bait-and-switch

Post Redacted

4/1/2021 Update: I’m backpedaling from this post. While I’m still unsure what’s going on, T-Mobile likely is grandfathering subscribers into its hotspot plan, contrary to what a customer reported a T-Mobile rep said. From the start, I shouldn’t have taken what the rep said (or allegedly said) as gospel.

Data abstract

T-Mobile Connect Increases Data Allotments

T-Mobile recently increased the data allotments on its Connect plans by 500MB. The $15 per month plan now includes 2.5GB of data each month. The data allotment on the $25 plan has been bumped up to 5.5GB.

The data increases are consistent with the commitments T-Mobile made to regulators when pushing for approval of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger. We should see additional 500MB increases each of the next several years. T-Mobile has said the Connect plans will be available without any price increases until at least 2025.

I continue to think the Connect plans offer some of the best value on the market.


H/T to Stettson Doggett who spotted the change to the Connect plans.

Confused person

“Premium Data” Is Losing Meaning At T-Mobile

For a while now, Verizon and AT&T have used the phrase “Premium Data” to refer to allotments of especially high-priority data. Subscribers with Premium Data may experience better speeds than other network users during periods of congestion.

In the last month, T-Mobile has started using the phrase “Premium Data” as well. If you go to T-Mobile’s primary page listing the carrier’s plans, you’ll find a table that lists the allotments of premium data on different plans:

Common sense might lead you to think “Premium Data” means the same thing regardless of what plan the Premium Data is attached to. That’s not the case.

Before T-Mobile started using the phrase Premium Data, the company made it clear that the Essentials plan had lower priority data than Magenta plans. The image below comes from T-Mobile’s old plans page:

Screenshot showing Essentials customers may experience slower speeds during congestion

While T-Mobile updated how plans appear on its website, it doesn’t look like the underlying characteristics of the Essentials plan changed. The plans page still has a disclosure explaining that Essentials customers have lower priority than Magenta customers:

Essentials customers may notice speeds lower than other customers and further reduction if using >50GB/mo., due to data prioritization.

QCI values indicate how traffic is prioritized on LTE networks. In 2020, I found the Essentials plan had a QCI of 7 while the Magenta plan had a QCI of 6 (indicating that the Magenta subscribers have higher-priority data than Essentials subscribers). Once T-Mobile started saying Essentials customers have Premium Data, I ran another QCI test on the plan. I still found a QCI of 7.

Test result showing a QCI of 7

Until recently, T-Mobile did a better job disclosing prioritization policies than the other major networks.1 T-Mobile is taking a step back by suggesting the Essentials plan has Premium Data.

As far as I know, Verizon and AT&T only use the phrase “Premium Data” to mean something like: “data prioritized ahead of the data used by a substantial portion of our other customers.” If my understanding of data prioritization on T-Mobile’s network is accurate, Essentials customers receive priority on-par with or worse than most T-Mobile Prepaid, Metro, and Mint Mobile subscribers.

While Essentials subscribers aren’t truly last in line, only a tiny fraction of T-Mobile subscribers have lower priority (e.g., some ultra-heavy data users and people on hotspot connections). It’s silly to call data “premium” when indicating something like: “data that’s not absolutely the lowest priority in the queue.”

As I’ve argued before, consumers ought to have access to better information about prioritization and congestion. The way T-Mobile is using the phrase “Premium Data” is going leave consumers confused. For what it’s worth, I don’t mean to suggest T-Mobile is intentionally hoping to mislead consumers about data priority on the Essentials plan. T-Mobile may have made an honest mistake when coming up with the latest iteration of its plans page.


Hat tip to Stetson Doggett for drawing my attention to this topic.

pinocchio shadow

“Un-Carrier” T-Mobile Doubles Down On Bullshit

Last week, a Verizon Twitter account suggested that some users may want to turn off 5G to preserve battery life. T-Mobile jumped on the opportunity to make fun of its competitor’s advice in a series of tweets.

On Thursday, I shared a blog post pointing out that T-Mobile’s website made the same suggestion. Here’s a snap from an archived version of a T-Mobile support page for the S20 Ultra 5G:1

Screenshot showing T-Mobile suggesting to turn off 5G to save battery life

After my post came out, PCMag and The Verge picked up on the story. T-Mobile then edited a whole bunch of pages to remove advice about switching down to 2G. Here’s what the page for the S20 Ultra 5G looks like now:

Support page screenshot that no longer includes a suggestion to turn off 5G

The suggestion to turn off 5G has been replaced with “Turn on Airplane Mode if traveling to an area without mobile signal or Wi-Fi.”

Un-Carrier?

T-Mobile has tried to brand itself as the un-carrier. T-Mobile wants people to believe it’s a company that offers a more honest and consumer-friendly phone service than competitors offer.

T-Mobile’s handling of this situation doesn’t match the un-carrier ethos. A high-integrity company that cares about making a marketplace better for consumers would have owned up to its mistake. T-Mobile could have issued a mea culpa. Short of that, T-Mobile could have silently walked away from the situation. Instead, T-Mobile took a low-integrity path and tried to bury the evidence of its hypocrisy.

battery life representation

Transparency & Hypocrisy

On Sunday, the following tweet was shared by the Twitter account for Verizon’s customer support:

Verizon 5G battery life tweet

Customers that follow this advice will effectively be turning off 5G service. People on Twitter were quick to dunk on Verizon for running a marketing campaign about the benefits of 5G while simultaneously suggesting that some subscribers might want to turn off 5G service.

Hypocrisy

By Monday, a bunch of tech journalists had picked up the story. While Verizon deleted its tweet, many competing carriers posted screenshots or linked to news stories about Verizon’s gaffe:

Gizmodo ended its coverage of Verizon’s tweet with this line:

See Verizon, transparency isn’t that hard.

What’s going on? Verizon was being transparent. Verizon’s tweet had accurate and potentially useful information.

No one paying close attention to the cellular industry would be surprised that turning off 5G could preserve battery life. While a lot of hype about 5G has highlighted potential power savings, we’ve known that today’s 5G phones aren’t delivering on that potential. Here’s an excerpt from Samsung’s website:

At this time, the 5G networks are only used for data connections, and are not yet capable of carrying phone calls and messages. Your phone will need to maintain a connection to the 3G or LTE network in addition to the 5G network so that phone calls, text messages, and data will be delivered consistently.

Because your phone is connected to multiple networks simultaneously, the battery will drain faster than one would typically expect, and the phone may get warmer than when solely on 3G or LTE.

As the 5G networks grow in capacity and capability, they will be able to handle more of your phone’s functions with less battery drain.

While T-Mobile’s official Twitter account and multiple T-Mobile executives joined the internet pile on against Verizon, T-Mobile made similar suggestions on its own website:

T-Mobile tips for saving battery life

Reflections

Verizon’s customer support was doing something helpful when it let subscribers know about the potential downsides of 5G. I want to encourage rather than discourage that kind of information sharing.

I’m not exactly sure how journalists should strike a balance between calling out bullshit and disincentivizing information sharing. After watching this story play out, I’m inclined to be more thoughtful about the second-order effects of some of my critical takes.