AT&T Matches T-Mobile’s $15 Plan

Last week, T-Mobile began offering a plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data for only $15 per month. A few days later, AT&T responded by offering its own $15 per month plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 2GB of data.

Plan terms

I dug around to learn about the plan’s policies. Here are my impressions at the moment:

  • New subscribers need an AT&T prepaid SIM (costs $4.99).
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering are permitted.
  • Unused data rolls over for one month.[1]
  • Taxes and fees are not included in the $15 base price.
  • Unlimited international texting to over 100 countries is included.
  • Streaming video traffic will be throttled by default, but subscribers can turn the throttle off.
  • The plan is not eligible for AT&T’s discounts for paperless billing or automatic payments.
  • Data has a soft cap—once 2GB of regular data has been used, additional data can be used at significantly reduced speeds.

Limited time offer

AT&T has repeatedly described its new $15 plan as a promotion and a limited time offer. I don’t know when the plan will cease to be available.[2]

T-Mobile Connect vs. AT&T’s plan

AT&T’s $15 plan has a handful of substantial advantages over the $15 T-Mobile Connect plan:

  • AT&T has better nationwide coverage.
  • SIM cards are cheaper from AT&T ($5 vs. $10).
  • Only AT&T offers data rollover.
  • AT&T has a soft cap on data, while T-Mobile Connect has a hard cap.

However, it’s not clear how long AT&T’s plan will be around. People who take advantage of AT&T’s offer today won’t necessarily get the same great deal each month for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it looks like the T-Mobile Connect plans will continue to be available to new and existing subscribers for years.

T-Mobile Connect Launches With $15 Per Month Service

In November 2019, T-Mobile committed to offering a new, budget plan if a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint was approved:[1]

[The New T-Mobile will offer a] competitive $15 per month prepaid option– half the price of the lowest T-Mobile plan today – to EVERYONE, especially lower-income consumers.

T-Mobile launched that plan last week. I didn’t expect it to be available so soon. It looks like the plan’s rollout was accelerated in response to the coronavirus:[2]

T-Mobile Connect was announced in November of 2019 as part of 5G for Good – the first planned Un-carrier moves for the proposed New T-Mobile – but in response to customer needs in these trying times, the Un-carrier is launching it this week.

Plan versions

The new T-Mobile Connect plans come with unlimited minutes and texts. Subscribers have two options for their data allotments:

  • 2GB plan – base price of $15 per month
  • 5GB plan – base price of $25 per month

Taxes and fees are not included in the base price of either plan. T-Mobile plans to boost data allotments by 500MB each year:[3]

T-Mobile Connect also has an Annual Data Upgrade, giving customers an additional 500MB of monthly data, every year, at no additional cost, for the next five years.

Plan terms

I’ve read through a lot of detail’s T-Mobile’s published about the plan. Here are my biggest takeaways from that reading:

  • New subscribers must purchase a T-Mobile SIM card for $10.[4]
  • International roaming is not available for T-Mobile Connect plans.
  • Data has a hard cap. Subscribers who’ve used all their regular data cannot continue to use the internet at reduced speeds.
  • Up to five T-Mobile Connect lines can be combined on a family plan. Line prices stay constant regardless of the number of people on a plan.
  • Mobile hotspot and tethering are permitted.
  • Video is throttled to 480p by default, but subscribers can turn off throttling.

Metro’s offer

T-Mobile’s flanker brand, Metro, will temporarily offer a plan similar to T-Mobile’s $15 plan:[5]

For the next two months, Metro is offering a $15 plan – that’s half the price of the current most affordable plan. For 60 days after customers activate, it’s just $15 per month for unlimited talk and text plus 2GB of high-speed smartphone data.

Unless I’m missing something, it seems like anyone who’s torn between the T-Mobile’s $15 plan and Metro’s plan should go with T-Mobile.

My take

T-Mobile’s Connect plans will be a great option for budget-sensitive consumers that don’t use a ton of data. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like subscribers on the Connect plans will have a level of priority on par with most of T-Mobile’s postpaid subscribers. If my speculation is accurate, that may give the Connect plans a big advantage over the budget-friendly plans offered by many of the MVNOs that operate over T-Mobile’s network (e.g., Mint Mobile).

Earlier today, I placed an order for the $15 per month T-Mobile Connect plan. I’ll write more about it once I’ve had a chance to trial the service.

Twigby Launches Smart Value Plans

The MVNO Twigby just launched a handful of what it calls “Smart Value Plans.” These plans are an alternative to plans using Twigby’s build-your-own-plan structure.

Each of the new plans comes with unlimited minutes and texts. The plans differ in their data allotments. Twigby has a 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB Smart Value Plan. The new plans cost a bit less than an equivalent plan would cost under Twigby’s old build-your-own-plan structure.

Monthly DataNew PriceOld PriceSavings
3GB$20$2829%
5GB$25$3324%
10GB$35$4319%

For the first six months of service, Twigby offers customers 25% off the prices above.

U.S. Telecom Companies Take The “Keep Americans Connected” Pledge

In response to coronavirus-related threats, the FCC recently asked a large number of U.S. broadband and telephone companies to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Companies that take the pledge commit not to cut off subscribers who fail to pay their bills for reasons related to the coronavirus. Companies further pledge to waive late fees for subscribers that fail to pay.

From a document on the FCC’s website:

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:(1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;(2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and(3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

In a very short period of time, a ton of American telecom companies took the pledge. Here’s an incomplete list of players in the wireless industry that have already pledged:

  • AlticeUSA
  • AT&T
  • Comcast
  • Sprint
  • T-Mobile
  • TracFone Wireless
  • US Cellular
  • Verizon

It will be interesting to see how these companies’ commitments play out.

Tracfone’s $40 Per Year Plan

Tracfone is offering a super cheap annual plan through its eBay store. For $39.99, customers can get a plan with:

  • 365 days of service
  • 1200 texts
  • 1200 minutes
  • 3GB of data
  • Service over AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile’s network

The allotments of data, texts, and minutes last for an entire year and do not renew each month.

It’s awesome to see that the offer is available on AT&T and Verizon’s extensive networks. As I understand it, Tracfone will ship a SIM card for each of the three networks, and subscribers can then choose which network to use.

This is one of the best deals I’ve seen for an extremely low-use plan. Unlike some of the other companies offering ultra-cheap plans, I have a lot of faith in Tracfone. I’ve gone ahead and ordered a plan, and I expect to post an update once I’ve had a chance to trial the service. I don’t know how long this deal will be around for. Tracfone has suggested it’s a limited time offer.

Reviewing Altice Mobile’s “Unlimited” Policies and Pricing

Alice Mobile recently increased its prices by $10 per month. Service now costs $30 each month for Optimum or Suddenlink customers and $40 per month for everyone else.

In September, I argued that Altice Mobile was doing a lousy job of disclosing the limitations that came with the carrier’s supposedly “unlimited” plan. Given the recent price increase, I figured now would be a good time to revisit Altice Mobile’s policies.

Limits continue

Altice is still imposing a lot of limits on its “unlimited” plan:[1]

  • Mobile hotspot speeds are still throttled to 600Kbps.
  • Video is still throttled to about 480p.
  • Roaming data is still throttled to 128Kbps.

Previously, video and hotspot traffic would be throttled more intensely after 50GB of use. It looks like Altice has decreased that threshold to 20GB.

“Unlimited Everything” continues

Altice continues to advertise “unlimited everything.” Here’s a screenshot from Altice’s website today:

Altice Mobile screenshot

As before, it’s misleading for Altice to suggest subscribers can stream an unlimited amount of video or use an unlimited amount of mobile hotspot data. After 20GB of use, subscribers will be throttled to a maximum speed of 128Kbps for video and hotspot traffic. At 128Kbps, continuous streaming of conventional video won’t be possible.[2] Many activities subscribers will want to do over a hotspot connection will be frustratingly sluggish if not impossible.[3]

Improved disclosures

To Altice’s credit, it looks like the carrier is doing a bit better disclosing limitations. With a single click, website visitors can view additional information:

Altice’s Broadband Disclosure Information seems easier to find than it was previously. While the disclosures still fall short of being explicit or easy-to-understand, Altice is moving in the right direction.

Total Wireless Updates Plan Offerings

Total Wireless, one of my favorite mobile virtual network operators running over Verizon’s network, recently updates a few of its plans. Previously, the cheapest single-line plan was $25 per month and came with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and no data. Total Wireless has updated the plan so that it now includes 1GB of regular data as well as additional data at substantially reduced speeds for those who exceed 1GB of data use. At $25, the plan is a reasonably competitive option for those who don’t use a lot of data and want to benefit from Verizon’s extensive network.

Total Wireless also updated its single-line plan that costs $35 per month. The plan used to come with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 5GB of data. For new customers, the plan now includes 10GB of data for the first three months. I find this change a bit odd. Subscribers who will benefit from the extra 5GB of data are liable to be disappointed when their data allotment drops to 5GB after the first few months of service.

AT&T Paying $60,000,000 For “Unlimited Data” Claims

AT&T has settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and agreed to pay out $60 million to current and past customers that may have been affected by misleading claims about unlimited data. The settlement is in response to the FTC’s 2014 accustation that AT&T failed to adequately disclose that customers on unlimited data plans could have their speeds throttled substantially. Here are a few bits from the 2014 FTC complaint:

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the company failed to adequately disclose to its customers on unlimited data plans that, if they reach a certain amount of data use in a given billing cycle, AT&T reduces – or “throttles” – their data speeds to the point that many common mobile phone applications – like web browsing, GPS navigation and watching streaming video – become difficult or nearly impossible to use…AT&T’s marketing materials emphasized the ‘unlimited’ amount of data that would be available to consumers who signed up for its unlimited plans…AT&T, despite its unequivocal promises of unlimited data, began throttling data speeds in 2011 for its unlimited data plan customers after they used as little as 2 gigabytes of data in a billing period. According to the complaint, the throttling program has been severe, often resulting in speed reductions of 80 to 90 percent for affected users. Thus far, according to the FTC, AT&T has throttled at least 3.5 million unique customers a total of more than 25 million times…consumers in AT&T focus groups strongly objected to the idea of a throttling program and felt ‘unlimited should mean unlimited.’

Here’s an excerpt from the FTC’s press release from today (emphasis mine):

As part of the settlement, AT&T is prohibited from making any representation about the speed or amount of its mobile data, including that it is “unlimited,” without disclosing any material restrictions on the speed or amount of data. The disclosures need to be prominent, not buried in fine print or hidden behind hyperlinks. For example, if an AT&T website advertises a data plan as unlimited, but AT&T may slow speeds after consumers reach a certain data cap, AT&T must prominently and clearly disclose those restrictions.

I’m glad to see the FTC cracking down on misleading practices. Bogus “unlimited” plans seem to be much more common today than they were in 2014.

Xfinity Mobile’s Pricing vs. The Competition

One of my recent posts about Xfinity Mobile received a comment on Reddit that got me thinking:

While Xfinity does have decent options (especially if you don’t need too much data) – it isn’t necessarily very different from other MVNO’s.

Let’s dive into that. It’s not always possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons among carriers since each carrier has its own way of structuring plans. Still, I’ll try my best to compare Xfinity Mobile’s prices to the best deals available from Verizon and other carriers that use Verizon’s network.

Low data use

Both the commenter and I think Xfinity Mobile may be a good option for people who don’t use a lot of data. For a base price of $12 per line, Xfinity Mobile offers a 5-line plan with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data. In comparison, a postpaid Verizon plan with 8GB of shared data, unlimited minutes, and unlimited talk would have a base price of $34 per line. It’s harder to make a close comparison with Verizon’s prepaid plans. 5 lines with 1GB of data each, unlimited talk, and unlimited text would have a base price of $30 per line. For 6GB of data on each line, the cost would be $32 per line.

If we look at individual plans rather than family plans, Xfinity Mobile still looks like a winner, but the competition is tighter. 2GB of data, unlimited talk, and unlimited text has a base price of only $24 per month with Xfinity. Verizon prepaid charges a base price of $30 for a plan with only 1GB. Verizon postpaid is a whole lot more expensive for a comparable plan. However, some Verizon MVNOs have similar prices. BOOM! offers 2GB of data, unlimited talk, and unlimited texts for under $30 per month. Total Wireless offers 5GB of data for a base price of about $33. Red Pocket offers 3GB of data for about $30.

Heavy data use

For heavy data use, Xfinity Mobile subscribers will probably want to turn to the carrier’s unlimited plans. These plans have a base price of $45 per line each month. At this point, Xfinity Mobile is no longer a clear winner, especially on family plans. With 5 lines on Verizon’s postpaid Start Unlimited plan, there is a base price of $30 per month. However, a single start unlimited line has a base price of $70, still a much higher rate than Xfinity charges. Visible, a flanker brand run by Verizon, offers unlimited plans for only $40 per month. Verizon MVNO Total Wireless has excellent prices on high-data allotment family plans. For example, 4 lines with 100GB of shared data come with a base price of about $24 per line.

Takeaway

Xfinity Mobile has extremely competitive prices for those who want service over Verizon’s network, don’t use a lot of data, and don’t mind being more tightly tied to other Xfinity services. For those who use moderate or large amounts of data (especially on family plans) Xfinity Mobile faces plenty of competition.