Two arrows merging into one

US Mobile Announces Multi-Network Plans

Earlier this week, US Mobile announced a closed beta for a new, multi-network offering. Here’s the core excerpt from the announcement that Ahmed Khattak, US Mobile’s CEO, shared on Reddit:

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thoroughly testing the cellular switching functionality on my phone and have been genuinely impressed. Conducting granular speed tests in areas where I know network performance varies sparked an exciting idea: how do we bring this capability to our customers? In that spirit, I am thrilled to announce the launch of our Multi-Network Unlimited Plans, starting with a closed beta.

With these plans, you can use your unlimited data across multiple networks on a single device that supports DSDS (eSIM/eSIM or eSIM/pSIM). For an additional cost of $15, you can add a line from another network to your device and share your unlimited data seamlessly between both networks.

OS-Level Switching

As far as I can tell, US Mobile plans to rely on the cellular data switching capacities that are available on multi-SIM devices and built into Android and iOS. The approach differs from what we saw with Google Fi’s (now largely abandoned) switching technology that functioned with a single SIM card.

My impression, shared by many Reddit commenters, is that OS-level automated switching between SIM cards is not seamless or optimal. Network switching occurs reliably when an active network becomes unavailable. Switching may occur at other times as well, but the technology falls short of constantly testing both networks and reliably selecting the better network at every moment.

So far, I sound negative. But I’m thrilled about this announcement. While I don’t understand the underlying technology, I expect both Google and Apple will try to improve this technology as more people run muti-SIM setups. I’m glad US Mobile can piggyback on these behemoth companies instead of trying to do tough technical work themselves.

And US Mobile is still pulling off a possibly first-of-its-kind feat in logistics. While users have SIMs on two different networks, US Mobile’s systems can treat this service similarly to to a single plan that draws on one unified pool of data.

Getting Technical

In response to questions from Reddit users, Khattak edited the announcement to add technical details covering how the network switching works:

To optimize the performance of a device employing Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) technology in network selection, the device employs a methodology based on assessing the viability of switching between primary and secondary networks. This assessment begins with the calculation of an estimated link capacity for both the primary and secondary networks. This estimation leverages the instantaneous link capacity data obtained through the device’s radio transceiver.

Subsequently, the estimated link capacity for each network is paired with the device’s data usage, resulting in a congestion ratio representing the ratio of data usage to link capacity for each network. Higher congestion ratio values signify elevated data usage on the respective network and/or comparatively lower link capacity. This indicates a higher likelihood of encountering slower data transfer speeds and diminished performance when utilizing that particular network.

The process of estimating link capacity and device data usage operates over a defined time window, adjustable to accommodate desired sensitivity levels in the estimates. Additionally, a moving average of the congestion ratio is continuously computed for each network, serving as an ongoing reference maintained by the device. This ensures a dynamic assessment of network performance, facilitating informed decisions regarding network switching to optimize the device’s connectivity experience.

I read over that several times, but I may not fully comprehend it. Three metrics are mentioned: (1) data usage, (2) link capacity, and (3) congestion ratio. Link capacity will differ between two networks. While data usage changes over time, I believe it should be the same for both networks at any given moment. Since the congestion ratio is just the ratio of the other two metrics, I think only link capacity matters at the end of the day.

Perhaps more importantly, the explanation seems to describe how switching technology could work in an idealized scenario. I’m not sure how relevant it is to how switching occurs today in the real world. US Mobile appears cognizant of that. In comments on the announcement, Khattak suggests latency may play a role in switching decisions. If latency is accounted for, that may occur outside of the process described in the excerpt above.

Network Switching Is Complicated

My hunch is that US Mobile doesn’t fully understand how OS-level switching decisions are made. And I don’t mean that as a dig. I consider network switching one of the most interesting technologies emerging in cellular, and I don’t understand how it works. The underlying mechanisms could even be changing as Google and Apple update their operating systems.

Anyhow, it’s great to see a new multi-network option hitting the market—particularly one that comes without an outrageous price point.

US Mobile Launches $15 Per Month 10GB Plan

US Mobile launched a new phone plan that offers unlimited minutes and texts along with 10GB of data per month. The plan is only available with annual billing for $180 per year (equivalent to $15 per month).

Plan Details

Subscribers on the new plan can opt for either Verizon or T-Mobile’s network. In US Mobile’s parlance, the Verizon-based service is called Warp 5G, and the T-Mobile-based service is called GSM. Most subscribers will default to Verizon’s network. Unlike many low-cost plans, US Mobile’s offering has premium data. Subscribers won’t end up in the back of the priority queue when the network is congested.

Data is hard-capped, meaning that subscribers’ data service is cut off entirely after 10GB of use. Data top-ups are available for purchase, but the pricing isn’t as good as the initial $1.50 per GB rate on the first 10GB.

The annual-only nature of US Mobile’s plan may be unappealing to some prospective subscribers. For those who want to test drive the service and plan to port in an existing number, it may be best to start with US Mobile’s 30-day free trial before opting for the new plan.

Competing With Mint

I expect US Mobile is trying to position itself competitively with Mint Mobile. Mint typically reserves its best rates for customers who purchase 12 months of service upfront. Mint’s comparable $180 per year plan includes only 5GB of data.

Things To Come

In a Reddit post about the new plans, US Mobile’s CEO suggested an AT&T-based plan is coming to US Mobile in June. He also indicated that a feature allowing subscribers to set custom max speeds is coming later this year.

US Mobile Adds Wi-Fi Calling

Last week, US Mobile added Wi-Fi calling to its Super LTE (i.e., Verizon) service. I thought the lack of Wi-Fi calling on Verizon’s network was one of US Mobile’s biggest limitations, so I’m glad to see the new feature coming online.

Subscribers on the Super LTE network with US Mobile’s Pooled Plans and Unlimited All Plans can access Wi-Fi calling immediately. Wi-Fi calling hasn’t been launched yet for US Mobile’s Bundled Plans or Custom Plans on the Super LTE network.

Here’s an excerpt from US Mobile’s announcement on Reddit:

WiFi Calling will be rolling out to all Unlimited All and Pooled Plan customers beginning today.

WiFi Calling has been the most requested feature by our customers bar none…Every US Mobile customer can now make & take calls and send & receive texts using WiFi, even if your phone has no cellular reception or bars. That dramatically changes how our customers should think about coverage.

WiFi Calling also transforms your traveling experience — you can now use WiFi Calling to call and text while abroad using your number with no extra charges, international roaming for free! And if you’re on a flight and need to log-in with 2FA to your bank (or to your US Mobile app), you can just use your in-flight WiFi to connect on the go…

As for our Bundled and Custom plan customers on our Warp 5G network, expect to see WiFi Calling come online soon.

eSIM concept art

US Mobile Launches eSIM Beta

Yesterday, US Mobile launched a beta version of eSIM plans. Initially, eSIMs are only available with US Mobile’s service over Verizon’s network (the Super LTE network according to US Mobile’s parlance).

Device Compatibility

At the moment, only a handful of devices are will work with US Mobile’s eSIMs:

  • iPhone SE (second generation)
  • iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS and XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • Google Pixel 4a.

US Mobile suggests eSIM options are coming soon for the iPhone 12 & 13 lines along with the Pixel 5, Pixel 5a, and Pixel 6.

US Mobile Is Early With eSIMs

Additional details about the beta program were shared in an announcement on Reddit. One part of the announcement stuck out to me:

We’re also proud to be one of the first major carriers to make the step of bringing eSIMs to our domestic customers. In fact, we’re now one of two (outside of the big three carriers or carriers owned by them…) to offer eSIMs.
Earlier this year, Mint Mobile launched eSIMs, and I believe Mint is the one other carrier referenced by US Mobile. While Straight Talk quietly started offering eSIMs before US Mobile, Straight Talk is technically owned by Verizon thanks to last week’s TracFone acquisition.1

US Mobile has tried to brand itself as a next-generation carrier that leverages technology better than its competitors. While the company has sometimes overpromised, it’s impressive that a company of its size managed to become one of the first MVNOs offering eSIMs.

A fence

US Mobile Adds Limits to Its Unlimited Plans

Last week, the MVNO US Mobile announced that it would no longer offer truly unlimited data on its unlimited plans. Going forward, the small fraction of US Mobile customers that use over 75GB of data in a month will experience limitations.

A US Mobile employee I interacted with on Reddit was hesitant to confirm exactly what the limitations will be. Stetson Doggett reported that a US Mobile rep said ultra-heavy data users will be throttled to max speeds of 1Mbps.

I’ve been regularly critical of wireless carriers selling “unlimited” plans with hidden limits. I think the trend towards “unlimited” plans may eventually lead to a wireless marketplace that’s more confusing and less consumer-friendly. That said, US Mobile’s limits aren’t bad. 75GB is a hell of a lot of data. Further, a 1Mbps throttle isn’t terrible. While service throttled to 128Kbps (sometimes called 2G speeds) can be almost unusable, you might still be able to surf the internet passably with 1Mbps. US Mobile also did a good job disclosing its new limits with a post on Reddit, an email to customers, and a new disclosure:


Screenshot from US Mobile's website reading "Customers using >75GB/mo on Super LTE (or >50GB/mo on GSM) may notice reduced speeds."


The disclosure is technically accurate, but I think it should be rephrased. “May notice reduced speeds” has become the industry-standard phrasing for situations where customers are deprioritized. With US Mobile, it looks like we’re dealing with throttling.1

No surprises

In the past, only network operators and flanker brands owned by the operators could offer truly unlimited data.

In March, US Mobile shared a blog post titled: We’re going all in! Uncapped, unthrottled, unlimited. The post made a fuss about the carrier’s launch of a truly unlimited plan. It’s full of phrases like these:

  • “Truly unlimited plans”
  • “All-in Limitless”
  • “Uncapped. Unthrottled.”
  • “Unlimited will be unlimited again”
  • “Shed this limitation”

In the end, I guess US Mobile succumbed to the economic forces that make truly unlimited plans impractical for MVNOs.

Woman holding cell phone

US Mobile’s Plans Get Even Better

In October, US Mobile launched two plans that I thought were some of the best bargains on the market. Both plans included unlimited minutes and texts. At the time the plans were launched, a $30 per month plan included 10GB of data each month, and a $15 per month plan included 2.5GB of data each month.

In December, U.S. Mobile sweetened the deal. Without raising prices, U.S. Mobile boosted the data allotment on the $15 plan to 3.5GB and the allotment on the $30 plan to 30GB.

Today, U.S. Mobile is at it again. The $15 plan now has a data allotment of 5GB. Two amazing new plans are also available:

  • 12GB – $20 per month
  • 18GB – $25 per month

While US Mobile’s prices are outstanding, potential customers should know that US Mobile tends to have higher fees than most low-cost carriers. After taxes and fees, the final cost of these US Mobile plans will usually come out about $5 per month higher than the plans’ base prices.

The plans are available over either Verizon’s network (“Super LTE” in US Mobile’s words) or T-Mobile’s network (“GSM LTE”). You can find more details about the plans on US Mobile’s website.

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.

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.

US Mobile Improves Fee Transparency

In the past, I’ve been critical of the carrier US Mobile hiding fees.

I now want to give US Mobile credit for adding a fee disclosure to its website (hat tip to Stetson Doggett for pointing out the change):

Fee disclosure screenshot

While the new disclosure might still count as “in the fine print,” it’s a huge improvement. US Mobile used to avoid acknowledging added fees until customers were near the end of the checkout process.

On Twitter, US Mobile’s CEO, Ahmed Khattak, raised an interesting point:

In many ways, I agree with Khattak. Hidden fees continue to be a big problem with carriers other than US Mobile. However, I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to make more of a fuss about US Mobile’s hidden fees than other carrier’s hidden fees. US Mobile’s fees are often much larger than the fees charged by similar carriers (i.e., other low-cost MVNOs).1

Hidden fees generally

Going forward, I’m going to push against hidden fees throughout the industry. AT&T and Verizon continue to have significant hidden fees. T-Mobile is doing a bit better, but the carrier still has room for improvement.2 In the long run, I’d love to see all universal fees (i.e., fees that aren’t location-specific) built into plans’ advertised prices. If carriers could coordinate to simultaneously stop hiding fees, consumers would have better information, and carriers would experience limited downsides.3

US Mobile’s New Unlimited Plans – Well-Priced With Some Limits & Hidden Fees

The carrier US Mobile recently released new unlimited plans. As with US Mobile’s old plans, customers can choose either the Super LTE network or the GSM LTE network. Super LTE runs over Verizon’s network while GSM LTE runs over T-Mobile’s network. Plans appear to be priced the same regardless of the network a subscriber chooses.1

“Unlimited” is a bit of a misnomer for US Mobile’s new plans. The plans have limits, but the limits are dependent on which options subscribers select. Customers can choose either US Mobile’s “Fast” plan or its “Ludicrous” plan.

Limits

As I understand them, here are the limits on the Fast plan (base price of $40 per month):

  • Speeds are usually throttled to a maximum of 5Mbps
  • If 50GB of data is used in a single month, speeds are throttled intensely (15GB with GSM)
  • Hotspot use is not permitted (can be added for an additional $5 per month)

The Ludicrous plan has a base price of $50 per month. The Ludicrous plan does not have a 5Mbps throttle, and mobile hotspot is included. As with the Fast plan, data use beyond 50GB (15GB with GSM) is throttled intensely.

I use the phrase “throttled intensely” because US Mobile doesn’t disclose its policies clearly. On its website, the company writes:

Super LTE plans come with 50GB of high-speed data. A tiny fraction of heavier data users may notice reduced speeds afterwards.
While I appreciate the disclosure, I think there’s a lot wrong with it. While I interpreted it as indicating that speeds would be throttled intensely, a Reddit user thought the disclosure implied US Mobile customers normally would have high priority during congestion but would receive low priority after 50GB of data use.

A US Mobile agent I reached out to confirmed that there is a throttle after the threshold level of data use is reached. The agent seemed reluctant to mention a specific speed cap but explained that speeds would feel like 2G. Following the argument I made in Unlimited Plans At 2G Speeds Are Bogus, I think it would be more transparent if US Mobile called their plan a 50GB plan. Extra data at slow speeds could just be a little perk. That said, I understand the carrier caving to the pressure to call its plans “unlimited”.

I don’t love the phrasing of “A tiny fraction of heavier data users may notice reduced speeds.” It seems to suggest that only some of the people who pass the threshold will have reduced speeds. As I understand it, US Mobile is imposing a serious speed cap on everyone who passes the threshold of 50GB. I’d suggest an alternate phrasing along the lines of Heavy data users, who make up a tiny fraction of our subscriber base, will experience substantially reduced speeds after 50GB of use..”

Are The Plans Competitive?

US Mobile’s Super LTE unlimited plans look competitively priced for those who only need one or two lines and want service over Verizon’s network. Large families can probably get better per-line rates by purchasing service from Verizon directly (Verizon drops its per-line rates on unlimited plans as more lines are added).

Unlimited plans purchased from Verizon’s Flanker brand, Visible, may be cheaper than US Mobile’s plans, but regular issues and limited device options with Visible may make US Mobile a better bet.

US Mobile also includes some other companies’ services as perks with their unlimited plans. Here’s a screenshot from the carrier’s website:

List of US Mobile Perks

Hidden Fees

On the new unlimited plans, it seems US Mobile is still hiding fees. Most consumers won’t see these fees until after they’ve ordered a SIM card:

US Mobile's hidden fees

Both fees are annoying. One could argue the regulatory recovery fee is at least a fee that many other carriers are also hiding. The $2 per month service fee is unusual.