Verizon’s 5G Mobile Hotspot & Tethering Policies

Verizon’s higher-end unlimited plans come with monthly allotments of full-speed 4G hotspot data.

  • Play More Unlimited – 15GB
  • Do More Unlimited – 15GB
  • Get More Unlimited – 30GB

Subscribers that burn through all of their full-speed 4G data can continue to use more hotspot data with a 4G connection throttled to a sluggish 600Kbps speed.

Verizon doesn’t prominently advertise it, but the company has separate policies for 5G hotspot data. Here’s a bit from a section of Verizon’s website that gives additional details about one of the carrier’s unlimited plans:[1]

Unlimited 5G Ultra Wideband Mobile Hotspot

An unlimited 5G Ultra Wideband mobile hotspot means your smartphone becomes an ultra-fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection for your other devices. Service available in select locations and requires a 5G capable device.

Yesterday, I was exploring my Verizon online account for the Play More Unlimited plan and found this:

Screenshot of Verizon account interface showing a 5G hotspot allotment

Verizon is currently allowing 50GB of full-speed 5G hotspot use each month on the Play More plan. After 50GB of use, speeds are throttled to 3Mbps. While 3Mbps isn’t a great speed for hotspot use, it’s still fast enough that most people could browse the internet and do work on a laptop without overwhelming frustration.

I’m guessing the Do More and Get More plans have the same 50GB allotment, but I’m not sure. It’s odd that Verizon’s 5G hotspot allotment on the Play More plan is so much larger than the regular (4G) allotment.

I wonder if the large allotment is a promotional thing. Will we see the allotment shrink as more subscribers get 5G-compatible phones?

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.

Verizon’s Revamped Shared Data Plans

Verizon used to offer several different plans with shared pools of data. The carrier has now simplified its offerings with only two shared data plans. Both plans include unlimited minutes and texts. The cheaper plan offers 5GB of shared data. The more expensive plan offers 10GB of shared data.

For customers who enroll in paperless billing and Auto Pay, The 5GB plan costs $30 per month plus $25 for each line. The 10GB plan costs $40 per month plus $25 for each line.

Customers that don’t enroll in Auto Pay and paperless billing will be charged $10 more every month on each line.

Examples

  • Two lines on the 5GB plan would cost $80 per month with Auto Pay and paperless billing. That would include the $30 base charge for the plan and two $25 line-access fees.
  • Three lines on the $10 GB plan would cost $105 per month with Auto Pay and paperless billing (a $40 base charge plus $75 in line-access fees).
Abstract art about the idea of updates

Verizon’s Updates To Prepaid Plans

Verizon recently updated the structure of its prepaid plans. This update was needed. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Verizon’s old structure for prepaid plans was confusing and difficult for consumers to make sense of.

Main new phone plans

Verizon now offers three primary prepaid phone plans. All three plans come with unlimited minutes and texts. The plans vary in their monthly data allotments:

  • Unlimited – $65 base price
  • 15GB – $50 base price
  • 5GB – $40 base price

Several discounts are available. Customers that enroll in automatic payments can save $5 per line each month after the first month of service. Verizon has also introduced loyalty discounts on these plans. After three months of service, a $5 per line discount kicks in each month. The loyalty discount jumps to $10 per line each month after nine months of service.

Here are the monthly prices a long-term customer eligible for all the discounts would end up paying (before taxes and fees):

  • Unlimited – $50
  • 15GB – $35
  • 5GB – $25

Verizon has dropped the multi-line discounts it used to offer on prepaid accounts with more than one line.

Other plans

Verizon offers a somewhat-hidden talk and text plan (no high-speed data) with a base price of $35 per month. The plan is eligible for the automatic payments discount but is not eligible for loyalty discounts.

Three data plans are available for tablet and hotspot devices. Customers on these plans are eligible for a $5 per month autopay discount.

  • 6GB – $40 base price
  • 16GB – $50 base price
  • 30GB – $70 base price

Switching promo

Verizon is offering an online-only promo on the 15GB plan. Customers that switch to the plan can get a $60 bill credit. Here are the terms:[1]

Requires new port in phone activation. Must be active on a 15 GB or Unlimited Verizon Prepaid plan for the first 2 months. $60 service credit applied to Account Owner immediately after 2nd monthly plan payment. Offer not available for tablets or Jetpacks.

Verizon To Offer Student Discounts

Starting July 2, Verizon will offer student discounts on its postpaid, unlimited plans. Students enrolled in programs of higher education (undergraduate, graduate, or vocational programs) can take advantage of $10 per month off of one line of service or $25 off of two lines of service. As far as I can tell, students on plans with three or more lines will not be eligible for any discount.

Verizon website screenshot

Verizon has a page on its website about the new discount. Here are further details on the offer’s terms, per Verizon:

For eligible students actively enrolled (including online enrollment) in a U.S. secondary educational institution of higher learning, including undergraduate, graduate, and/or vocational school or institution. Approved verification documents req’d. Offer good for a max of four (4) years as long as annual eligibility evaluations are met. Discount limited to max of 2 phone lines. Eligible students must be account owner or account manager; one offer per account. Cannot be combined with most offers.

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW’s Mislisted & Different Specs

Verizon just released the Samsung Galaxy S20 5G UW. While other carriers had already released versions of the S20 5G, Verizon’s UW (ultra-wide band) model of the phone is the first version compatible with Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G service.

I pre-ordered the phone. The device I received does not have the specs Samsung advertised. Here’s an archived Samsung web page with the specs as of June 2. Here’s the page as of today, June 9.

No SD Card Slot

Unlike other models of the S20, Verizon’s UW model doesn’t have an SD card slot. Those who pre-ordered the phone couldn’t have figured that out from the information on Samsung’s website.

The June 2 specs page shows an SD slot:

Mention of the SD slot is dropped in the newer, corrected version of the page:

The listing for the phone on Verizon’s website is getting a lot of one-star reviews from pre-order customers annoyed about the missing SD slot.

Missing network bands

I like it when phones have extensive cross-network compatibility. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Verizon’s S20 5G would be compatible with band 71 (a low-frequency band T-Mobile uses extensively). Here’s a screengrab from Samsung’s early specs page:

Originally listed bands for S20 5G UW

It turns out the phone doesn’t support band 71 (or bands 1, 29, and 30). Here’s the updated specs page:

Less RAM than other carriers’ models

Verizon’s version of the S20 5G comes with 8GB of RAM. Samsung listed this correctly on the early specs page. Other carriers’ versions of the S20 5G come with 12GB of RAM. For most users, I expect the reduced amount of RAM in Verizon’s model won’t cause performance issues.

Picture of a confused person looking at bills

Verizon Prepaid’s Confusing & Awesome Promotions

Verizon Prepaid is offering some great deals right now. Notably, a single-line plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 16GB of data is now available for as low as $35 per month.

Multiple promotions and discounts are stacking on top of each other. This has been baffling for some consumers. A price calculator on Verizon’s website that fails to take some of the promotions into account has contributed to the confusion.

To sort things out, I’m going to run through the promotions and discounts one by one.

Double data

For about a year, Verizon has been running a double data promotion. The prepaid plans regular allotments of data have been doubled at no extra charge:

  • The usual 500MB plan become a 1GB plan
  • The usual 3GB plan became a 6GB plan
  • The usual 8GB plan became a 16GB plan

Auto Pay discount

Customers who sign up for Auto Pay can get a $5 per month discount. This discount is only available (a) after the first month of service and (b) on lines of service with base prices of at least $40 per month.

Multi-line discounts

On multi-line plans, Verizon offers discounts on added lines. These discounts do not apply to the first line on a plan. The size of the discount depends on the data allotment subscribers opt for:

  • 1GB: No discount
  • 6GB: $10 per month discount
  • 16GB: $15 per month discount
  • Unlimited: $20 per month discount

$10 off first line

A recent, online-only promotion offers $10 per month off the first line of service on either a 16GB or unlimited plan. This discount only applies after the first month of service.

Examples

A single-line on the 16GB plan has a base price of $50. In the first month, no discounts apply. After the first month, the $5 Auto Pay discount and the $10 discount on the first line of service come into effect. As a result, the ongoing price (before taxes and fees) comes out to $35 per month.

Two-lines of service on the 16GB plan would cost $85 in the first month ($50 for the first line and $35 for the second line thanks to a $15 multi-line discount). After the first month, the ongoing rate would fall to $65 per month (the $10 discount on the first line would kick in along with two $5 Auto Pay discounts).

Commentary

$35 for a single-line with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 16GB of data on Verizon’s extensive network is a great deal. If Verizon wants to make its prepaid plans easier for consumers to understand, I see a few steps it could take:

  • Fix the price calculator to include a $10 discount on the first line of service if a 16GB or unlimited plan is selected.
  • Keep the current pricing and data allotments but drop all the complexity of double data. Forget having a 3GB plan that actually comes with a 6GB data allotment. Just call that a 6GB plan.
  • Let the Auto Pay discount kick in for the first month if customers set it up Auto Pay immediately.

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 some 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.

Verizon Launches New Flanker Brand: Yahoo Mobile

Today, Verizon launched a new flanker brand, Yahoo Mobile. The new carrier is extremely similar to another Verizon flanker brand, Visible. You could argue that Yahoo Mobile is closer to a reseller of Visible’s plans than a distinct carrier. Both Visible and Yahoo Mobile have extremely similar websites, policies, and plans. Yahoo Mobile explicitly mentions Visible in FAQ entries, and Yahoo Mobile’s terms of service make the relationship clear:[1]

Yahoo Mobile wireless service is provided by Visible Service LLC (“Visible”). Your use of the wireless service is governed by the Yahoo Mobile Terms and Conditions which you are entering into with Visible, as well as the Yahoo Mobile Privacy Policy.

Advantages of Yahoo Mobile

In most respects, Yahoo Mobile looks nearly identical to Visible. So far, I see two little advantages the service has over Visible:

  • The base price of Yahoo Mobile is a penny cheaper each month ($39.99 vs. $40.00).
  • Yahoo Mobile comes with access to Yahoo Mail Pro at no extra charge.

Advantages of Visible

The advantages Yahoo Mobile has over Visible will be almost meaningless for most people. On the other hand, Visible’s offerings are better than Yahoo Mobile’s in a few substantive ways:

  • Visible discounts the first month of service to only $25.
  • Visible’s Party Pay system allows subscribers’ ongoing monthly rates to drop as low as $25.
  • Visible has a swap program that allows new customers to trade in junky, old Android phones for decent, new phones at no charge.

Ting’s New Verizon Service: Initial Impressions

Last week, the mobile virtual network operator Ting launched a new service running over Verizon’s network. The day it launched, I went to Ting’s website to order a SIM card and begin trialing the service.

Ordering process

Initially, I ran into a bug during Ting’s checkout process that prevented me from finishing an order. I think this was a launch-day issue with Ting’s website. A few hours later, the bug seemed to be fixed, and I ordered a SIM card. I paid about $5 for the SIM, shipping, and taxes:

Ting receipt showing about $5 in total charges

Activation process

Two days after placing my order, a SIM card arrived at my door. I popped it into a Moto G7 Play and went to Ting’s website to activate service. Activation wasn’t difficult, but it felt a bit clunky. Some of the information I had to provide when ordering the SIM card needed to be re-entered during the activation stage.

Once I’d finished the process on Ting’s website, I restarted my phone. The service worked immediately.

Service quality

Coverage has been great, as I expected from Verizon’s network. I’ve run speed tests under a variety of signal strengths, and the speeds have mostly been solid:

Several speed test results from Ting's Verizon service showing decent speeds

As expected, I didn’t notice any throttling of regular data speeds. However, it looks like most video traffic is throttled to a maximum of about 4Mbps:[1]

Test results suggestive of video throttling

Possible low prioritization

I’m suspicious that Ting has low priority on Verizon’s network (despite some suggestions to the contrary).

Using the app Network Signal Guru, I found my data traffic to generally be associated with a QCI value of 9. I expect a QCI of 9 on Verizon’s network is indicative of low priority.

Network Signal Guru test result hsowing a QCI of 9 for Ting's Verizon service.

I also found low speeds in the downtown area of Boulder, Colorado despite having a strong signal:

Speed test result from Downtown Boulder, CO showed a speed of 0.1Mbps

The most plausible explanation I can come up with for the lousy speeds is a combination of congestion and low priority.[2]

In most situations, low-priority service won’t cause subscribers much trouble. My best guess is that Ting users have the same priority level as Verizon’s prepaid customers, most Xfinity Mobile customers, and customers on Verizon’s cheapest post-paid unlimited plan.[3] I reached out to Ting to see if the company could provide any additional information about prioritization. At the time of writing, I have not heard back.

Tentative view

So far, I’m a big fan of Ting’s new service: Ting offers way better coverage than it used to, Ting didn’t raise its prices, and the company continues to offer awesome customer support.

Downsides

Despite my generally positive view, I have a few quibbles about Ting’s new service:

  • I don’t think Ting adequately discloses video throttling. I don’t remember any notifications about it during the ordering process. That said, I don’t think the video throttling is a big deal. It may actually help subscribers keep their data charges low.
  • Ting’s coverage page states: “By piggybacking on America’s largest network, Ting makes sure you’re covered from coast-to-coast. Period.” This implies that subscribers will be covered by Verizon’s network. It would be more transparent for Ting to indicate that most, but not all, subscribers can access Verizon’s network. Further, Ting said this on its coverage page for a little while before the service over Verizon’s network even launched.
  • Ting doesn’t allow subscribers to choose a network directly. Instead, potential subscribers provide information about their devices and where they live and are then matched with a network. I understand why Ting uses this approach for most website visitors. Many people would end up confused and choose networks poorly if they had to choose a network on their own. Still, I wish there was an option for knowledgeable users to explicitly sign up for Verizon’s network.[4]
  • Wi-Fi calling doesn’t seem to be supported at this time.