Clock and hourglass

Verizon Sets New Deadline For 3G Retirement

Major networks are gradually phasing out 3G technology. Today, Verizon announced a new deadline for 3G retirement: December 31, 2022.1

Verizon has set and pushed back deadlines a few times:

Since 2016, we have stated publicly that we are actively decommissioning our 3G CDMA network. Initially, we announced we would close down our 3G network in 2019. However, we extended our shut off date – first to the end of 2020 and now to the end of 2022 – in order to care for our customers and give them every effort to minimize disruptions to their service as they move to newer and more advanced technologies.

I wonder if Verizon always knew it would push back the early deadlines. Even if the early deadlines were artificial, they may have helped transition subscribers off of 3G-only devices:

We worked for the past several years to help those who still have 3G devices transfer to devices capable of accessing the 4G LTE or 5G networks and continue to actively work with remaining 3G customers to migrate them to new devices and technology. As a result of those efforts, we can now report that more than 99% of our customers are using the enhanced features of 4G LTE or 5G, with less than 1% still accessing the 3G network.

In today’s announcement, Verizon stated that it would not push back the retirement deadline again. I’m unsure whether Verizon will keep a tiny portion of its 3G network active after 2022 to support business customers using legacy technology.

Crystal ball

Prediction: Verizon Will Offer C-Band Service To Everyone

Verizon won a bunch of spectrum in the recent C-Band Auction. That spectrum will be deployed over the next few years and will soon form a core part of Verizon’s network.

Eli Blumenthal, a reporter for CNET, recently shared this tweet:

I’m betting Verizon won’t stick to this policy over the long term. The new C-band spectrum is going to be extremely useful for Verizon when managing performance on its capacity-constrained network. If Verizon artificially limits C-band access to a minority of its customers, the company won’t be able to use the spectrum as efficiently as possible.

While I expect limiting C-band access will eventually become costly for Verizon, it’s not too costly yet. There are two main reasons:

  1. C-band spectrum will take a while to deploy (much of the spectrum won’t even be available to Verizon until 2023).
  2. At the moment, C-band is only supported by a handful of top-of-the-line phones. People with new, fancy phones almost certainly subscribe to Verizon’s premium plans at a disproportionate rate.

The situation will change as more C-band spectrum is deployed and C-band compatibility becomes a standard feature on nearly all phones. As that happens, I expect Verizon will open up C-band access to almost all of its direct subscribers as well as subscribers with Verizon’s flanker brands and Verizon-powered MVNOs.

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.

Trophy

Does T-Mobile Have The Best 5G?

T-Mobile has started bragging about having the best 5G speeds in Opensignal’s latest report. Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release from T-Mobile:

New independent data from Opensignal, based on real world customer usage from millions of device measurements, shows T-Mobile customers now get the fastest 5G download speeds, fastest 5G upload speeds AND a 5G signal more often than anyone else.

I’ve been critical of selection bias issues inherent in Opensignal’s methodology. I continue to think there are serious selection bias issues with Opensignal’s latest 5G metrics. Still, I don’t think my qualms are significant enough to dismiss T-Mobile’s apparent lead in 5G speeds and 5G coverage. T-Mobile is killing it. Here’s another bit from today’s press release:

With the first and largest nationwide 5G network, T-Mobile’s Extended Range 5G covers more than 280 million people across nearly 1.6 million square miles – offering 2.5x more geographic coverage than AT&T and nearly 4x more than Verizon. With Sprint now part of T-Mobile, the Un-carrier is widening its lead, using dedicated spectrum to bring customers with capable devices download speeds of around 300 Mbps and peak speeds up to 1 Gbps. The Un-carrier’s Ultra Capacity 5G already reaches more than 1,000 cities and towns and covers 106 million people.

Early in its 5G rollout, T-Mobile relied on low-frequency spectrum around 600MHz. While this spectrum was great for coverage, it had lousy speed potential. In 2020, T-Mobile put a lot of effort into bragging about how it led the nation in 5G coverage. While the bragging was technically accurate, the whole thing was bullshit in practical terms. 5G delivered with T-Mobile’s low-frequency spectrum was often slower than a typical 4G connection.

Recently, T-Mobile started rolling out large-scale 5G deployments using mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G now covers about a third of Americans. Mid-band 5G actually delivers speeds that are substantially better than consumers are used to with 4G.

Verizon is still crushing the competition in terms of coverage with ultra-fast, millimeter wave 5G. However, Verizon’s achievements with millimeter wave don’t have much value for consumers yet. Even Verizon’s millimeter wave coverage is lackluster, and practical applications for ultra-fast cellular speeds are rare.

While I think T-Mobile legitimately holds the top spot for 5G coverage and average 5G speeds, I also think Verizon will overtake T-Mobile as 5G rollouts reach more mature stages. In my view, the interesting thing to watch will be whether T-Mobile or AT&T ends up with the second-place spot in the 5G competition.1 T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings and financial position may give the network a significant edge over AT&T.

Verizon Prepaid’s New Ultra Wideband Plan

For a while now, Verizon has offered a prepaid plan with unlimited minutes, texts, and data. Yesterday, Verizon Prepaid launched a second and more expensive unlimited plan. While the old plan had a base price of $65 per month, the new plan has a base price of $75 per month. Both plans are eligible for loyalty discounts and a discount for automatic payments. Together, discounts can decrease the monthly cost of either plan by up to $15 per month.

Verizon’s new plan includes two features that aren’t included with the old unlimited plan:

  • 10GB per month of regular mobile hotspot data
  • 5G Ultra Wideband access

Ultra Wideband 5G

Verizon splits its 5G service into two buckets: 5G Nationwide and 5G Ultra Wideband. 5G Nationwide is Verizon’s widely available 5G service. While the 5G Nationwide coverage profile is solid, the speeds 5G Nationwide delivers are not especially impressive. 5G Ultra Wideband is outrageously fast, but the service has extremely limited availability.

All of Verizon’s prepaid plans give subscribers with compatible devices access to Verizon’s 5G Nationwide service. The new prepaid plan is the only one that offers 5G Ultra Wideband service. Given 5G Ultra Wideband’s terrible coverage, not many people will benefit from the added feature. I suppose the tiny minority of people that live or work where 5G Ultra Wideband is available might have a rationale for paying extra to get Verizon’s latest plan.

Hotspot access

Verizon’s cheaper prepaid unlimited plan does not include mobile hotspot access by default. However, subscribers can add a 10GB per month hotspot allotment for an extra $5 each month. Subscribers on Verizon’s new unlimited plan will get a 10GB hotspot allotment at no extra charge. Additionally, subscribers on the new plan can use an unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data when connected to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network.

Is the new plan worth it?

For most people, it will be hard to justify the extra $10 per month that Verizon’s new plan costs relative to Verizon Prepaid’s old unlimited plan. If you need hotspot access, I’d recommend just using the old plan with a $65 base price and adding the $5 per month hotspot feature.

In the off chance you happen to spend a lot of time covered by Verizon’s Ultra Wideband service, the more expensive plan might be justifiable. However, the choice still might not be a no-brainer. While Ultra Wideband delivers impressive speeds, it’s rare for consumers to see many real-world benefits from the added speeds. 4G LTE and 5G Nationwide deliver speeds that are sufficient for most people.

Verizon store

Verizon Continues 5G Expansion

Earlier this week, Verizon announced a few planned expansions of its 5G services.

5G Home Internet

Starting January 14, Verizon’s 5G Home Internet will be available in parts of five more cities:

  • Anaheim, CA
  • Arlington, TX
  • Miami, FL
  • San Francisco, CA
  • St. Louis, MO

The service will be available in Phoenix, AZ starting January 28th.

Ultra Wideband 5G

Later this month, Verizon plans to bring Ultra Wideband 5G to parts of three more cities:

  • Colorado Springs, CO
  • Columbia, SC
  • Knoxville, TN

By my count, that will bring the total number of cities will Ultra Wideband coverage to 64.

Verizon building

Verizon Further Pushes Back 3G Retirement

In an earlier post about network operators’ plans for phasing out 3G, I wrote:

It’s possible some network operators won’t stick to their current deadlines (plenty of early deadlines have already been pushed back).

At one point, Verizon was saying it would mostly phase out its 3G network by the end of 2019. Later, Verizon pushed the deadline to the end of 2020. Today, Mike Dano of Light Reading reported that the deadline has been pushed back once more.

As of this moment, it’s unclear when Verizon will push 3G-only devices off the network. Activations for 3G-only devices continue be prohibited.

Verizon building

No Throttling Of Verizon’s Ultra Wideband Mobile Hotspot

Verizon’s premium unlimited plans (Play More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited, and Get More Unlimited) come with 15-30GB monthly allotments of mobile hotspot data. The 15-30GB hotspot allowances only apply when using hotspot data through Verizon’s 4G LTE or 5G Nationwide service.

In July, I shared a post about Verizon’s rarely discussed policies for hotspot use with the network’s 5G Ultra Wideband service. At the time, subscribers on Verizon’s premium plans were allotted 50GB of full-speed, Ultra Wideband hotspot use each month. Verizon suggested it would throttle hotspot speeds to 3Mbps for subscribers that burned through their data allotments. Here’s a screenshot I pulled from Verizon’s website in July:

Screenshot of Verizon account interface showing a 5G hotspot allotment

I no longer see that usage graphic in my Verizon dashboard. Instead, I see graphics like these:

Verizon data usage graphs

As best as I can tell, Verizon no longer throttles heavy users of Ultra Wideband hotspot data. Reddit user albert1735 recently provided some corroboration. Yesterday, the user shared a video showing speed tests pulling several hundred megabits per second after over 70GB of hotspot use in a single month.

While there aren’t data caps or throttles for Ultra Wideband mobile hotspots at this time, I expect they’ll come back once Verizon’s 5G deployment is further along.

Telecom abstract

Verizon Expands 5G Coverage

Today, Verizon announced expansions of its 5G coverage.

More low-band 5G coverage

Verizon’s low-band 5G, 5G Nationwide in Verizon’s parlance, now covers about 25 million additional people. Here’s an excerpt from Verizon’s press release:

Verizon announced continued expansion of its 5G Nationwide service to millions more customers throughout Central Texas, Tulsa, OK, Upstate New York, and the New England area, bringing the total to 230 million people able to access Verizon’s 5G capabilities and benefits in over 2,700 cities.

New millimeter wave cities

Verizon added millimeter wave 5G to parts of four additional cities:

  • Tampa
  • St. Petersburg
  • Albuquerque
  • Durham

The additions bring the total number of cities with some millimeter wave coverage from Verizon to 61.

Verizon is also claiming to have millimeter wave coverage in parts of 48 stadiums. I’m not sure which stadiums Verizon added, but I believe Verizon’s count of stadiums increased by 5 since the company last shared a number publicly.

Carrier aggregation

Verizon’s press release included some boasting about the network operator’s carrier aggregation capabilities:

Using advanced technology called Carrier Aggregation, Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network is reaching 4 Gbps peak speeds in some locations. This technology combines multiple channels of spectrum to provide greater efficiency for data sessions transmitting over the wireless network. Verizon combined eight separate channels of mmWave spectrum to achieve multi-gigabit speeds in parts of some cities. Using this technology, customers can see double the download speeds they have historically experienced on 5G Ultra Wideband, with peak speeds up to 4 Gbps possible in some locations. Customers will also see a boost in speeds with two carrier aggregation now available for uploads.

You can check Verizon’s 5G coverage at your location with the company’s interactive coverage map. For more details about Verizon’s 5G coverage and strategy, see my dedicated article.

Verizon store sign

Verizon To Offer Some Subscribers Up To 12 Months of discovery+ At No Cost

On January 4, 2021, Discovery, Inc. is launching the streaming service discovery+ in the U.S. It looks like the service will launch with a huge catalog of mostly non-fiction, unscripted shows. The catalog will include a wide range of content from Planet Earth to Fixer Upper.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s press release:

At launch in the U.S., discovery+ will have the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a strong leadership position, including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries.

Verizon will be offering some of its subscribers free access to discovery+. New and existing subscribers on Verizon’s Play More Unlimited and Get More Unlimited plans will receive 12 months of access. Subscribers on the Start Unlimited and Do More Unlimited plan will receive 6 months of access.1

I’ll be interested to see whether Verizon’s partnership with discovery+ evolves. When Verizon began its partnership with Disney+, Verizon included a time-limited trial of Disney+ with some of its plans. Recently, Disney+ became a perk available permanently on some plans.