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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
I also found low speeds in the downtown area of Boulder, Colorado despite having a strong signal:
The most plausible explanation I can come up with for the lousy speeds is a combination of congestion and low priority.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Wi-Fi calling doesn’t seem to be supported at this time.
On Wednesday, the FCC released a fascinating report related to the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II). The MF-II is a planned program to provide federal funding for network build-outs in rural areas that are underserved by 4G coverage.
To determine which geographic areas were underserved, the FCC requested coverage maps and data from network operators. After reviewing the data and allowing outside entities to challenge the datas’ reliability, the FCC became concerned about the accuracy of the information shared by T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon. The FCC decided to conduct its own performance tests and compare the results of its tests to the information the network operators provided. Here’s what the agency found:
Through the investigation, staff discovered that the MF-II coverage maps submitted by Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile likely overstated each provider’s actual coverage and did not reflect on-the-ground performance in many instances. Only 62.3% of staff drive tests achieved at least the minimum download speed predicted by the coverage maps—with U.S. Cellular achieving that speed in only 45.0% of such tests, T-Mobile in 63.2% of tests, and Verizon in 64.3% of tests…In addition, staff was unable to obtain any 4G LTE signal for 38% of drive tests on U.S. Cellular’s network, 21.3% of drive tests on T-Mobile’s network, and 16.2% of drive tests on Verizon’s network, despite each provider reporting coverage in the relevant area.
When considering the accuracy of coverage maps, I try to think about the incentives network operators face. When advertising to consumers, network operators often have an incentive to overstate the extent of their coverage. However, incentives can run in the opposite direction in other situations. For example, when trying to get approval for a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, Sprint had incentives to make its 4G coverage profile look limited and inferior to the coverage profiles of other nationwide networks.
I’m not well-informed about the MF-II, so I don’t feel like I have a good grasp of all the incentives at play. That said, it’s not clear that all network operators would have an incentive to overstate their coverage. A network operator that claimed to offer coverage in an area it didn’t cover may limit competitors’ access to subsidies in that area. However, a network operator erroneously claiming to cover an area may prevent itself from receiving subsidies in that area.
After network operators submitted coverage information to the FCC, a number of entities, including both governments and network operators, were allowed to challenge the validity of coverage information submitted by others. Here’s a bit more detail about the challenge process:
After release of the map of presumptively eligible areas, mobile service providers, state, local, and Tribal government entities, and other interested parties granted a waiver were eligible to submit challenges in the challenge process via an online system operated by USAC. Challengers that requested access to the USAC MF-II Challenge Portal were able to access the provider-specific coverage maps, after agreeing to keep the coverage data confidential, and to file challenges to providers’ coverage claims by submitting speed test data. Challengers were required to conduct speed tests pursuant to a number of standard parameters using specific testing methods on the providers’ pre-approved handset models. The Commission adopted the requirement that challengers use one of the handsets specified by the provider primarily to avoid inaccurate measurements resulting from the use of an unsupported or outdated device—e.g., a device that does not support all of the spectrum bands for which the provider has deployed 4G LTE…During the eight-month challenge window, 106 entities were granted access to the MF-II Challenge Portal. Of the 106 entities granted access to the MF-II Challenge Portal, 38 were mobile service providers required to file Form 477 data, 19 were state government entities, 27 were local government entities, 16 were Tribal government entities, and six were other entities that filed petitions requesting, and were each granted, a waiver to participate.
About a fifth of the participating entities went on to submit challenges:
21 challengers submitted 20.8 million speed tests across 37 states.
The challenge data often showed failed tests and lackluster speeds in areas where network operators claimed to offer coverage:
During the challenge process, some parties entered specific concerns into the record. For example:
Smith Bagley (d/b/a Cellular One) submitted maps of its service area in Arizona overlaid with Verizon’s publicly-stated 4G LTE coverage and the preliminary results of drive tests that Smith Bagley had conducted. Smith Bagley asserted that, for large stretches of road in areas where Verizon reported coverage, its drive testers recorded no 4G LTE signal on Verizon’s network. Smith Bagley argued that the ‘apparent scope of Verizon’s inaccurate data and overstated coverage claims is so extensive that, as a practical matter, the challenge process will not and cannot produce the necessary corrections.’
As part of a public report detailing its experience, Vermont published a map showing its speed test results which contradicted the coverage maps in Vermont of U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, and Verizon, among others. This map included information on the approximately 187,000 speed tests submitted by Vermont, including download speed, latency, and signal strength. In the report, Vermont detailed that 96% of speed tests for U.S. Cellular, 77% for T-Mobile, and 55% for Verizon failed to receive download speeds of at least 5 Mbps.
After reviewing the challenges, the FCC requested additional information from the five largest network operators (AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular) to understand the assumptions involved in the networks’ coverage models.
Around the same time the FCC was requesting additional information from network operators, the agency also began its own testing of Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile’s networks. These speed tests took place in 12 states and primarily made use of a drive-testing methodology. As mentioned earlier, analyses of the FCC’s test data suggested that the on-the-ground experience with Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular’s network was much different than the experience that would be expected based on the information the networks provided to the FCC.
A lot of the commentary and news articles I’ve seen in response to the FCC’s report seem to conclude that network operators are bullshitters that intentionally lied about the extent of their coverage. I have reservations about fully accepting that conclusion. Accurately modeling coverage is difficult. Lots of factors affect the on-the-ground experience of wireless subscribers. The FCC largely acknowledges this reality in its report:
Providers were afforded flexibility to use the parameters that they used in their normal course of business when parameters were not specified by the Commission. For example, the Commission did not specify fading statistics or clutter loss values, and providers were required to model these factors as they would in the normal course of business.
Our speed testing, data analyses, and inquiries, however, suggest that some of these differences may be the result of some providers’ models: (1) using a cell edge RSRP value that was too low, (2) not adequately accounting for network infrastructure constraints, including backhaul type and capacity, or (3) not adequately modeling certain on-the-ground factors—such as the local clutter, terrain, and propagation characteristics by spectrum band for the areas claimed to be covered.
Further supporting the idea that assessing coverage is difficult, the FCC didn’t just find that its tests contradicted the initial information submitted by network operators. The FCC data also contradicted the data submitted by those who challenged network operators’ data:
The causes of the large differences in measured download speed between staff and challenger speed tests taken within the same geographic areas, as well as the high percentage of tests with a download speed of zero in the challenger data, are difficult to determine. Discrepancies may be attributable to differences in test methodologies, network factors at the time of test, differences in how speed tet apps or drive test software process data, or other factors…Given the large differences between challenger and staff results however, we are not confident that individual challenger speed test results provide an accurate representation of the typical consumer on-the-ground experience.
While the FCC found some of the information submitted by networks to be misleading about on-the-ground service quality, I don’t believe it ended up penalizing any network operators or accusing them of anything too serious. Still, the FCC did suggest that some of the network operators could have done better:
Staff engineers, however, found that AT&T’s adjustments to its model to meet the MF-II requirements may have resulted in a more realistic projection of where consumers could receive mobile broadband. This suggests that standardization of certain specifications across the largest providers could result in coverage maps with improved accuracy. Similarly, the fact that AT&T was able to submit coverage data that appear to more accurately reflect MF-II coverage requirements raises questions about why other providers did not do so. And while it is true that MF-II challengers submitted speed tests contesting AT&T’s coverage data, unlike for other major providers, no parties alleged in the record that AT&T’s MF-II coverage data were significantly overstated.
The FCC concluded that it should make some changes to its processes:
First, the Commission should terminate the MF-II Challenge Process. The MF-II coverage maps submitted by several providers are not a sufficiently reliable or accurate basis upon which to complete the challenge process as it was designed.
Second, the Commission should release an Enforcement Advisory on broadband deployment data submissions, including a detailing of the penalties associated with filings that violate federal law, both for the continuing FCC Form 477 filings and the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Overstating mobile broadband coverage misleads the public and can misallocate our limited universal service funds.
Third, the Commission should analyze and verify the technical mapping data submitted in the most recent Form 477 filings of Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile to determine whether they meet the Form 477 requirements. Staff recommends that the Commission assemble a team with the requisite expertise and resources to audit the accuracy of mobile broadband coverage maps submitted to the Commission. The Commission should further consider seeking appropriations from Congress to carry out drive testing, as appropriate.
Fourth, the Commission should adopt policies, procedures, and standards in the Digital Opportunity Data Collection rulemaking and elsewhere that allow for submission, verification, and timely publication of mobile broadband coverage data. Mobile broadband coverage data specifications should include, among other parameters, minimum reference signal received power (RSRP) and/or minimum downlink and uplink speeds, standard cell loading factors and cell edge coverage probabilities, maximum terrain and clutter bin sizes, and standard fading statistics. Providers should be required to submit actual on-the-ground evidence of network performance (e.g., speed test measurement samplings, including targeted drive test and stationary test data) that validate the propagation model used to generate the coverage maps. The Commission should consider requiring that providers assume the minimum values for any additional parameters that would be necessary to accurately determine the area where a handset should achieve download and upload speeds no less than the minimum throughput requirement for any modeling that includes such a requirement.
The FCC’s report illustrates how hard it is to assess network performance. Assumptions must be made in coverage models, and the assumptions analysts choose to make can have substantial effects on the outputs of their models. Similarly, on-the-ground performance tests don’t always give simple-to-interpret results. Two entities can run tests in the same area and find different results. Factors like the time of day a test was conducted or the type of device that was used in a test can have big consequences.
If we want consumers to have better information about the quality of service networks can offer, we need entities involved in modeling and testing coverage to be transparent about their methodologies.
VerizonWireless.com appears to be down at the moment. If you’re having trouble accessing the website right now, the issue is not on your end. As far as I can tell, the problem is not related to the browser or device visitors are using to access Verizon’s website.
At the moment, I’m being served a “Page is unavailable” message on all of the web pages I’ve tried to load:
Earlier, I was presented with a different error message:
The outage appears to be unrelated to the locations users try to access Verizon’s website from. I continued to receive error messages when accessing Verizon’s website from other locations via a VPN.
The outage appears to have started by about 1:30MT and hasn’t been resolved at the time of writing (about an hour later). Android Central and at least one Twitter user have also picked up on the outage.
T-Mobile just started a satirical ad campaign criticizing Verizon. T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere, kicked the campaign off with this tweet:
The ad campaign criticizes Verizon for its decision to charge a premium for 5G service without publishing a map of areas where 5G service is available. The website for the campaign, VerHIDEzon.com, has some entertaining content:
We believe in charging a premium for 5G, without telling you where you’ll have coverage.
Why do we do this? Because we’re VerHIDEzon, and we do whatever we want…Every day we wake up with one goal in mind: charge our customers as much as possible.
T-Mobile makes a good point. It’s silly for Verizon to charge for 5G service without publishing information that indicates the extent of Verizon’s 5G coverage. Still, I find the campaign kind of odd. Neither company has much 5G coverage at the moment. Almost no one is using 5G-compatible phones yet. It may make business sense for T-Mobile to run the campaign today, but more time will need to pass before 5G has a lot of relevance for typical consumers.
Google Fi has a lot going for it: amazing international roaming options, fancy network-switching technology, and a simple pricing structure. Despite all Fi’s great aspects, I don’t usually recommend it. For most users, it’s just too expensive. Google Fi typically charges $10 per gigabyte of data. A lot of other carriers offer plans with far lower rates for data.
All Fi subscribers have roughly the same plan with the same pricing structure. There aren’t ten different plans with different names and policies. This is in sharp contrast with Verizon. Looking at just unlimited plans, Verizon has several options:
Play More Unlimited
Do More Unlimited
Get More Unlimited
In fact, Verizon actually has a fifth unlimited plan it offers as a prepaid option. Each unlimited plan is a bit different. Some of the plans have more limits than others—inviting critics to joke about how Verizon doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “unlimited.”
While it feels silly, there are a handful of reasons why it makes business sense for Verizon to have several unlimited plans. Today, I’ll only touch on one of those reasons: when a carrier has multiple plans, it’s easier to introduce new prices and policies without immediately affecting existing customers. We just saw Verizon do this. A month ago, Verizon was offering three postpaid, unlimited plans. They were different from today’s plans:
When Verizon introduces new plans, it can cease offering old plans to new customers while offering existing customers the same service on legacy plans. Since there are several plans that all have different policies, it’s difficult for people to make simple, apples-to-apples comparisons between legacy plans and plans available to new customers.
Back to Fi. Google Fi has been charging almost everyone $10 per gigabyte for a long time. Years ago, that was a decent price for data. Today it’s not. Data costs have gone down in most of the industry.
I don’t have any inside knowledge about Fi, but I’m suspicious Fi’s simple pricing structure makes it hard for the company to change its prices. If Fi wanted to offer new customers data for $5 per gigabyte, existing Google Fi subscribers would want that deal too. If existing subscribers had to continue paying $10 per gigabyte, they’d get angry. If Fi reduced prices for existing subscribers, Fi’s revenue would plummet.
Added after publication: The idea I share in this post probably doesn’t explain why Fi charges so much for data (or at least, it is probably an incomplete explanation). There are a lot of other plausible explanations. E.g., Fi’s agreements with network operators may not lead to Fi getting good rates on data.
Added even later: When I said I don’t usually recommend Google Fi, I didn’t mean to imply that Fi’s prices are uniquely awful or that no one should use Fi. Rather, I don’t typically recommend Google Fi since most consumers can find comparable service at a lower price (see carriers I recommend).
Verizon has updated a web page about the company’s plans for retiring its 3G network. Previously, the web page indicated that (a) Verizon planned to retire its 3G network by the end of 2019 and (b) Verizon would no longer activate devices that were CDMA-only or did not support HD Voice:
Verizon Wireless is retiring its CDMA (3G) network at the end of 2019. As a result, we are no longer allowing activation of CDMA-only devices, including CDMA-only basic phones and smartphones, or 4G LTE smartphones that do not support HD Voice service.
The updated web page suggests Verizon plans to keep its 3G network available to customers until the end of 2020. It also looks like some CDMA-only phones and phones without HD Voice may be eligible for activation until the end of the year:
Starting January 1, 2020, Verizon will no longer allow any CDMA (3G and 4G Non-HD Voice) ‘Like-for-Like’ device changes.
The page also indicates that bringing your own CDMA device to activate on an existing line will be prohibited starting 1/1/2020.
As networks’ change their deadlines, I plan to update my earlier blog post covering each major networks’ plans for phasing out 3G networks.
Added 2/18/2020: Ting has found a way to continue offering service over T-Mobile’s network going forward. The parts of this post about Ting’s plans to migrate subscribers away from T-Mobile’s network are no longer accurate.
Yesterday, it was made public that the mobile virtual network operator Ting will soon cease offering service over T-Mobile’s network and begin offering service over Verizon’s network. It was also announced that Ting had extended its existing agreement with Sprint through September 2020.
Based on my understanding of yesterday’s SEC filing, I expect Ting will continue to offer service over T-Mobile’s network to existing subscriber until at least late 2019 and possibly late 2020. I’m less sure whether new customers will be able to sign up for service over T-Mobile’s network for much longer.
The new arrangement with Verizon is based on a five-year agreement that Elliot Noss, CEO and president of Ting’s parent company spoke positively about:
“With Verizon, we will be adding the network that in our opinion has the best coverage and performance ratings in the U.S. Our contract with Verizon is better than that with T-Mobile in terms of rates, guarantees and other financial terms, which had negatively impacted Ting Mobile’s past performance. Finally, our dealings with Verizon to this point have been productive and professional. So long-term, we see this as very positive news.”
I’ve previously raved about Ting’s customer support, but I’ve been reluctant to strongly recommend Ting since its rates have been fairly high for access to mediocre networks (Sprint and T-Mobile). If Ting’s rates don’t increase as a result of moving to Verizon’s higher-quality network, I think the case for recommending Ting becomes a lot stronger.
Ting anticipates some friction migrating its T-Mobile subscribers to new networks:
“We estimate the costs of migration, primarily in the form of SIMs, shipping and device marketing, to be in the range of $3 million this year, and as much as $12 million over the following years. These variable costs are mostly in the nature of the marketing costs needed to move customers from one network to the other, and will mostly be in the form of inducements, device subsidies and/or a form of service credit. There’s not a lot of precedent to provide guidance on which marketing programs will be most effective, and we are also unsure of how many, if any, of our customers will refuse or fail to move. This makes the total migration cost difficult to estimate. Taking on as much as $12 to $15 million in unplanned, one-time costs, over a few years, is a lot for us. That being said, this move is key to putting the mobile business back on a stronger long-term footing.
When Ting drops T-Mobile, it will no longer offer service over a GSM network. I expect the move from T-Mobile (and GSM) to Verizon makes more financial sense today that it would have a few years ago. As operators gradually replace their 3G networks with LTE networks, support for older GSM and CDMA technologies is becoming less important.
Added 2/26/2020: Ting officially launched service over Verizon’s network in February 2020.
Earlier this month, Verizon improved its prepaid plan offerings by relaunching the double data promotion it has run in the past. As before, all of prepaid phone plans include unlimited talk and text. Plans differ in the amount of high-speed data allotted each month. Here are the current monthly prices for each plan before taxes, fees, or discounts:
$30 – 1GB high-speed data
$40 – 6GB high-speed data
$50 – 16GB high-speed data
$65 – Unlimited high-speed data
Streaming video will likely be limited to 480p quality on Verizon’s prepaid plans. Unlimited data at low (2G) speeds is available if a customer uses up all of his or her allotted high-speed data.
A $5 per month per line discount is usually available if subscribers pay automatically each month. The discount cannot be applied to the $30 per month plan or the first month of service.
When an initial line is purchased at full price, the following multiline discounts are available:
$10 off — Additional line with 6GB high-speed data
$15 off — Additional line with 16GB high-speed data
$20 off — Additional line with unlimited high-speed data
The current deals appear to be part of a temporary promotion, but I haven’t seen any indication of an end date for the promotion. When the promotion ends, it looks like customers who’ve already taken advantage of the promotion will continue to receive the deal for the lifetime of their plan:
Limited time offer. Available to new activations only. Bonus data added each month as long as your account remains active. Once activated, customers can move between eligible plans anytime and keep the bonus data. Your promotional data allowance will not appear in your shopping cart, but will be seen in your account after activation.
I’m not aware of any mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) operating on Verizon’s network offering better deals to heavy data-users than Verizon is now offering directly. However, consumers that use small amounts of data each month may still be able to find better deals with MVNOs operating over Verizon’s network.
I’ve been trying Verizon’s prepaid service for a few weeks now, and I’m a fan. While Verizon’s prepaid subscribers may be deprioritized in times of congestion, I believe the prepaid service offers nearly the same coverage as Verizon’s postpaid service.
I have a financial relationship with Verizon. As of 5/28/2019, I’m likely to receive a $24 commission when I refer a new prepaid subscriber to Verizon. I share more details about my relationship with Verizon here.