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Framily Values: Sprint’s Dan Hesse Out, What T-Mobile Merger? and Major Layoffs Ahead

Out: Hesse

Out: Hesse

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has left the building. He won’t be the last.

Hesse was appointed to lead Sprint in December 2007 after the catastrophic mess created when Sprint and Nextel merged. Now he’s gone because of his catastrophic failure to convince regulators a merger with T-Mobile USA made sense.

Brightstar Corporation CEO Marcelo Claure, appointed to Sprint’s board of directors by Softbank Mobile CEO Masayoshi Son earlier this year, is now in charge, and his commitment to save Sprint isn’t much different from what Hesse promised almost seven years earlier.

“The strategy is simple,” Mr. Claure said in an interview Monday. “We have to get back in the game.”

On a company-wide town hall call on Thursday, Claure outlined his three priorities: cut prices, improve the network, and decrease operational costs. Priority number one, price reductions, which have already started.

In: Claure

In: Claure

Claure blasted Sprint’s current pricing models, which he admitted were out of line considering how bad Sprint’s network is these days. He also trashed Sprint’s upgrade efforts, calling the “rip and replace” method of upgrading individual cell sites too slow, admitted social media networks were loaded with negative comments about Sprint’s performance, and that absolutely nobody understood the company’s most recent marketing attempt – a talking hamster selling Sprint’s Framily plan.

“We’re going to change our plans to make sure they are simple and attractive and make sure every customer in America thinks twice about signing up to a competitor,” he said. “When you have a great network, you don’t have to compete on price. When your network is behind, unfortunately you have to compete on value and price.”

Sprint’s network isn’t just behind, it’s downright prehistoric in places. Its 3G network borders on unusable in large cities, WiMAX is on life support, and Sprint’s 4G LTE network expansion is taking so long, by the time it is finished, LTE might be considered passé.  Hesse had avoided a more aggressive timetable to protect Sprint’s share price from the precipitous drop that would come from an upgrade spending spree.

Those days are over.

Claure warned the changes for Sprint would not just include price cuts and upgrades. It will also mean major job cuts, although Claure would not specify exactly how many Sprint employees were headed for the unemployment office. Unlimited data may also be headed for the door – Claure would not commit to retaining the unlimited use wireless data plans Sprint has been known for under Hesse’s leadership. Kansas City officials are also worried Sprint’s new executive team wants to move the company headquarters west, likely to California.

sprintnextelMasayoshi Son and Claure both agree that U.S. regulators were no fans of Sprint either — sending clear and unambiguous warnings that continued efforts to merge Sprint with T-Mobile USA were futile. So a proposed merger between the two companies is off. T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere wasted no time piling on, advising Sprint customers in tweets to #SprintLikeHell to another wireless carrier (preferably his).

Some predictable grumbling from Wall Street has also been heard over Claure’s plans to disrupt the comfortable profits earned by American wireless companies.

“Expect capital spending to rise,” says analyst firm Moffett Nathanson in a research note. “They will also have to cut their service prices, which are simply are too high relative to competitors.”

With a dramatic cut in prices, Sprint’s financials will look “ugly” in the coming quarters.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Here is Why Sprint Stopped Talks With T-Mobile 8-6-14.flv

Sprint ended talks to acquire T-Mobile US a person with knowledge of the matter said, as regulatory concerns outweighed the potential benefits of combining the third- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless carries. Bloomberg’s Alex Sherman reports on “Market Makers.” (4:07)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprint Faces Tough Road Running Business 8-6-14.flv

Craig Moffett, founder of MoffettNathanson LLC, talks about reports of Sprint Corp.’s decision to end talks to acquire T-Mobile US Inc. due to regulatory concerns. Moffett speaks with Tom Keene and Brendan Greeley on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance.” (3:25)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprints Dropped T-Mobile Bid Adds Options Ergen 8-7-14.flv

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen said Sprint’s decision to drop its bid for T-Mobile US has opened up more options for his satellite-TV carrier as it looks for ways to expand into the wireless business. Alex Sherman reports on “In The Loop.” (4:01)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprint CEO Right Man for Right Company 8-11-14.flv

Patterson Advisory Group Chairman and CEO Jim Patterson and Bloomberg Intelligence Telecom Analyst John Butler discuss challenges facing Sprint’s new CEO Marcelo Claure. Patterson and Butler speak on “In The Loop.” (5:47)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Is Sprints New CEO up to the Challenges He Faces 8-11-14.flv

Bill Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures, and Bloomberg Intelligence’s John Butler discuss expectations for Sprint’s new Chief Executive Officer Marcello Claure and look at the challenges he faces as the head of the nation’s number three wireless company. They speak on “Market Makers.” (6:56)

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The Talking Hamster is Dead: Sprint Kills Its Framily Plan, Unveils Cheaper Shared Data

frobinson

The Frobinson Family

Sprint’s Framily Plan swims with the fishes starting this Friday.

Ex-CEO Dan Hesse’s latest (and last) attempt to get creative with a talking hamster selling cell service was a fantastic flop.

“There’s no longer going to be Framily as of this Friday,” incoming CEO Marcelo Claure said to employees, who oohed and applauded the forthcoming eviction of the eclectic Frobinson family.

Framily was the closest Sprint came to a desperate multi-level marketing scheme that turns customers into irritating recruiters hassling friends, family, and strangers to join their wireless plan for bigger discounts.

Framily began earlier this year offering four lines for $160 a month with 1GB of data each. Unlimited data was a $20 add-on.

T-Mobile’s John Legere mocked the plan from day one and more importantly obliterated its savings by undercutting it with T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan ($100 a month for four lines and 2.5GB of data on a much faster network.)

evictionEven worse, if you were convinced to sign up for Framily and another member of your “extended family tree” decided Sprint’s network disruptions and performance were no longer worth the trouble, every other family member’s bill increased when they defected — talk about an awkward moment with friends and family.

“It’s quite the confusing plan to sign up and more confusing when people drop off,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics. He noted Sprint’s network disruptions from the extensive upgrade effort had sent some customers packing.

“If Sprint doesn’t work for them, your price goes up. So you get penalized for Sprint’s network,” Entner said.

Out with the Frobinson Framily, in with Sprint’s Family Share Pack.

Starting Friday, the Sprint Family Share Pack will offer considerably more data for that $160 a month. At that price, Family Share offers four lines and 20GB of data, compared to 10GB of data for the same price from AT&T or Verizon. Really big families will appreciate Sprint’s support for up to 10 lines on one account. Existing customers won’t appreciate the fact Sprint won’t offer existing customers any promotions or discounts.

A kick-off offer promises even lower prices if you don’t mind sharing data. For $100, a family of four can share 20GB of data and unlimited talk/text through the end of 2015. As an added bonus, customers will get an extra 2GB per line for up to 10 lines. (The $100 offer is available Aug. 22 – Sept. 30, 2014 only when customers switch to Sprint. It includes $15 a month in line access charges waived through 2015. Valid only on 20GB or higher data allowance plans.)

For example:

Sprint Family Share Pack  Limited-Time Promotion
Price # of lines Data Additional 2GB per line Total Data for # of lines
$100 4 20GB 2GB x 4 lines 28GB
$100 10 20GB 2GB x 10 lines 40GB

Sprint Family Share Pack – How it Works

Customers can build their own plan in three steps as shown below.  First, choose the data allowance. Second, add up to 10 lines of data access with unlimited talk and text while on the Sprint Network.  Third, include your tablet devices for $10 per month per line and mobile broadband devices for $20 per month per line. There is no early termination fee and no annual service contract with non-discounted phones.

Sprint Family  Share Pack High Res2
Everyday pricing for competitors that have shared data plans:
Competitors-Shared-Pricing-Data-Plans2Limited-time Promotion for Customers Switching to Sprint Family Share Pack

For a limited time, customers who bring their number and activate on the Sprint Family Share Pack can receive a Visa Prepaid Card up to $350 to compensate for early termination fees charged by their current carrier. This switching offer will be available at Sprint stores and Sprint Telesales.

With the limited-time promotion, Sprint is waiving the data access charge for handsets, tablets and mobile broadband devices on 20GB or higher data allowances for up to 10 lines. To qualify for the offer customers must switch their number from another carrier to Sprint.   All devices must be purchased through Sprint Easy Pay. Existing customers do not qualify.

Limited-Offer-Switch-to-Sprint42

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Sprint’s New Plans: Putting Lipstick on a Pig and Enraging Your Soon-to-Be Ex-Customers

tmobileIf this is the best Sprint’s Marcelo Claure can do, Softbank needs to keep shopping for another CEO.

Claure’s decision to deep-six the appallingly stupid Framily Plan was a no-brainer. Sprint’s own customer service agents barely understood the multi-level marketing scheme it actually was, and I never saw much value in alienating friends and family by cajoling them to use the atrociously bad Sprint network. Neither did Sprint employees who loudly cheered its upcoming demise.

Even Claure trashed Sprint’s network performance and upgrade program as glacier-slow and highly disruptive to customers who find nearby cell sites here today, gone tomorrow, and maybe back again someday when network upgrades have been finished. Unlike AT&T or Verizon where a cell tower outage might cut a few bars of signal strength, when a Sprint cell tower drops, it’s roaming time. It is not uncommon for residents along Lake Ontario’s shorelines in the United States to find their phones preferring to roam on Canadian networks (especially Rogers) to avoid Sprint.

Claure’s commitment to cut prices while cruelly excluding your current customer base from getting any of those savings is a sure-fire way to accelerate their departure… mostly to T-Mobile. John Legere is waiting with open arms.

Sprint doesn’t need to just cut prices, it needs to butcher them, and fast. Sprint’s loyal customers have been promised a lot since the company unveiled its Network Vision upgrade plan during the French Revolution of 1789. The Bastille might still be standing today had Sprint slapped a working 4G LTE antenna on top of it. But alas, let them suffer with Sprint 3G, declared Dan Hesse, on a network so bad that throttled customers in heavy-use prison actually saw their speeds rise. Some customers in western New York simply turn Sprint 3G data off to save the battery.

When Sprint 4G LTE finally did arrive in western New York (illogically first in rural communities like the stiflingly-dull town of Dansville), many barely noticed because Sprint’s backhaul connection between the cell tower and Sprint’s data network often stayed the same — congested and slow.

Although T-Mobile’s coverage is not that different from Sprint, its network upgrades are.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere has confidently pushed Sprint around over its newest plan, but if it does start to eat into T-Mobile’s business, Legere will no doubt respond with some new plans of his own. For current Sprint customers, T-Mobile is definitely the upgrade Sprint has promised for at least five years, and should be considered at contract renewal time. But current Verizon and AT&T customers paying Cadillac pricing should not be expected to switch to Sprint after recalling dropped calls in a store, home or in an emergency on Sprint’s less robust network. They are very unlikely to change carriers no matter what shade of lipstick Sprint applies to its plans.

Claure has the right idea — slash prices and actually deliver on promises of a better network going forward, but those commitments deserve to apply to both existing and new customers. So far Claure has managed to inflict only superficial wounds. The price cuts must go much deeper to attract business from customers of the larger carriers willing to compromise for the right price and upgrades have to be real and delivered immediately.

Sprint still doesn’t understand it cannot charge Honda Accord prices on a Chevy Spark network. Until they do, T-Mobile is likely to continue taking them to school.

 

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Surprise Bid for T-Mobile USA from Iliad’s Free Mobile Has Wireless Competitors, Wall Street Unnerved

french revolutionThe French Revolution in wireless could be spreading across the United States if Paris-based Iliad is successful in its surprise $15 billion bid to acquire T-Mobile USA (right out from under Sprint and Japan-based Softbank). Wall Street hopes it isn’t true.

If you named one wireless carrier in the world guaranteed to provoke groans, sweat, and Excedrin headaches from powerful wireless industry executives living high on 40%+ annual margins, Iliad and its notorious Free Mobile would be the chief provocateur. Initially dismissed as an irrelevant upstart (much like T-Mobile itself) when it announced service on a less-robust network in 2012, as soon as Free Mobile announced its groundbreaking prices, panic was rife in the boardrooms and executive suites of competitors Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, who couldn’t slash their own prices fast enough.

As one wireless executive in Paris put it, when Free Mobile launched, “the tsunami hit.”

In short order, Free Mobile has taken nearly five million of their competitors’ very profitable customers in France, mostly from its vicious price-cutting that results in rates half that of any other competitor.

Orange and other carriers promptly announced slashed shareholder dividend payouts and implemented cost-saving measures after being forced to cut pricing.

American wireless executives visiting Europe were aghast at the prices charged by the French upstart, suggesting they were reckless and would eliminate necessary investment in upgrades. Although France has been behind the United States in launching 4G service upgrades, French customer satisfaction with their wireless service is higher than in the U.S., and Free Mobile has the lowest customer loss (churn) rate of any carrier in France.

Iliad’s reputation as a nasty competitor is fine with self-made billionaire CEO Xavier Niel, who has become extremely wealthy selling cutting edge, yet affordable, telecommunications products without losing touch of his more modest roots. But he is reviled by most of his competitors for disrupting the comfortable wireless service business models his competitors have maintained for years. Niel has thrown marketing bombs into every sector of the French telecom market, ruthlessly cutting prices for customers while relying on in-house innovations to keep costs low.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Euronews Telecoms turmoil in France 2012.mp4

Euronews reported on the turmoil Iliad caused incumbent wireless carriers when it forced them to respond with major price-cuts to stay competitive. (0:44)

freemobileFree’s customer care center is run on Ubuntu-based, inexpensive notebook and desktop computers. Free’s wired broadband, television, and phone service is powered by set-top boxes and network devices custom-developed inside Iliad to keep costs down. Its creative spirit has been compared to Google, much to the chagrin of its “business by the book” competitors.

“It’s not done like this,” is a common refrain heard when Free Mobile announces more price cuts, an easing of usage caps, or completely free add-ons.

Today, a typical Free Mobile customer pays $26.75US a month for wireless service which includes:

  • Unlimited calls to France and 100 other destinations, including the U.S., Canada, China, and all French overseas departments (eg. Guadeloupe, Tahiti, Mayotte, etc.);
  • Unlimited SMS/text messages;
  • Unlimited MMS messages to French numbers;
  • 20GB of 4G access before the speed throttle kicks in;
  • Unlimited free Wi-Fi on Free’s extensive Wi-Fi network.

A Free Mobile customer that also subscribes to Free’s wired broadband or television service gets an even bigger discount. Their monthly wireless bill for the same features? $21.40US a month.

Niel said the reason he has not brought the Free Mobile brand to the United States is because the wireless industry here is highly anti-competitive. The fact T-Mobile USA is now up for sale represents ‘the opportunity of a lifetime,’ a “one-time opportunity to enter the world’s-largest telecoms market,” a person familiar with the matter said prior to the announcement.

“The competitive landscape in the U.S. is a lot less aggressive than what we are used to in France,” added Niel. “There is enormous potential. It is almost too good to be true.”

A number of Wall Street analysts who prefer the current business model of high cost/high profits are keeping their fingers crossed the Iliad offer is just a pipe dream. Some, including analysts on Bloomberg TV, dismissed Niel as a former pornographer and suggested “for the guppies, it is whale season,” a reference to Iliad’s small size relative to T-Mobile USA.

“To say this is surprising is something of an understatement; it is one of the most bizarre bits of potential M&A we have ever witnessed in the sector,” said analysts from Espirito Santo in a note to investors.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Who Is T-Mobiles New French Suitor 8-1-14.flv

Some on Wall Street are mocking the deal as a guppy hoping to swallow a whale. T-Mobile is considerably larger than Iliad, says CNBC. “It’s preposterous. Who put them up to it?” (6:18)

“Iliad is about a third of the size of T-Mobile US, and we don’t think there would be synergies from the deal,” said Jonathan Chaplin, an analyst at New Street Research, in a note. “It would be tough to finance without Xavier Neil relinquishing control. Sprint and anyone else with synergies should be able to outbid them.”

Should Free Mobile enter the United States, its cutthroat pricing would make CEO John Legere’s “bad wireless boy” campaign to make T-Mobile the “uncarrier” quaint in comparison. Every wireless carrier in the U.S. could be forced to cut rates by one-third or more to stay competitive should Niel adopt a similar business model for Free Mobile in the U.S. market.

Some worry that Softbank’s bid to merge Sprint and T-Mobile together has just become even less likely with the possibility of a new player in the U.S. market, competing against three other carriers, not two as the Softbank deal proposes.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Sprint Deal with T-Mobile Has Little Chance 8-1-14.flv

CNBC spoke with Nik Stanojevic, equity analyst at Brewin Dolphin, who was surprised Iliad threw in a bid for T-Mobile, but believes Softbank/Sprint’s deal to acquire T-Mobile has very little chance getting by regulators. (2:40)

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Sprint Testing New Shared Data Plans, More Aggressively Priced Framily Plans to Stay Relevant

Waiting for an upgrade... Sprint Spark is the latest and fastest, but it's only in 24 cities.

Waiting for an upgrade… Sprint Spark is the latest and fastest, but it’s only in 24 cities.

Sprint may be feeling the music is about to stop and it doesn’t have a chair at the table.

While AT&T and Verizon Wireless divide up the premium market and T-Mobile goes for the aggressive price championship, Sprint is muddling along with its glacially paced upgrade to 4G LTE and a barely usable 3G experience that has a lot of customers pondering a switch. This spring Sprint lost 364,000 pre-paid and 231,000 valuable postpaid customers.

CNET reports Sprint is now seeking to follow other carriers with a shared family data plan and better pricing on both its Framily and individual plans.

Sprint may be America’s least exciting wireless carrier. While T-Mobile’s CEO gets into hot water with bombastic rhetoric about Verizon and AT&T, he largely ignores Sprint. To more than a few in the wireless industry, Sprint seems to be just plodding along.

“I will be collecting Social Security before Sprint upgrades to 4G around here,” writes suburban Sacramento resident Danny Chiang. “You just keep holding out for something better from Sprint just around the corner, but they never seem to actually get there.”

Chiang and others have endured a heavily congested 3G network while Sprint initially focused on rural and small market 4G network upgrades — hardly intuitive for loyal Sprint customers in urban areas. Today, all Sprint can claim is that it has America’s “newest network.”

Some investment analysts believe Sprint is being more conservative about spending as it navigates towards a potential merger with T-Mobile. Its Japanese owners — Softbank, have argued a combined Sprint and T-Mobile is the only way America’s third and fourth largest carriers can possibly hope to compete toe to toe with Verizon and AT&T.

Sprint’s latest network innovation — Spark — which combines spectrum in three different frequency bands to deliver a larger data pipe, is only available in two dozen cities. Spark would be a natural showcase for Sprint’s enormous spectrum holdings. Sprint Spark combines 4G FDD-LTE at 800MHz and 1.9GHz and TDD-LTE at Clearwire’s old WiMAX 2.5GHz spectrum.

But network upgrades do no good if your customers are headed out the door to the competition. While Sprint continues to upgrade its network, it is testing a variety of new plans in different cities for a possible wider release later this year.

Shared/Family Mobile Data Plan Trials — San Diego, Portland, Ore. and Las Vegas

Sprint believes its Framily Plan might be too expensive.

Sprint believes its Framily Plan might be too expensive.

Data Allowance Options

  • 1GB – $20
  • 2GB – $30
  • 4GB – $40
  • 6GB – $50
  • 10GB – $60
  • 20GB – $100
  • 30GB – $130
  • 40GB – $150
  • 60GB – $225
  • No unlimited shared data option
  • Unlimited Talk/Text Phone Access Charge (required charge per phone): $25 for 1-10GB data plans, $15 for 20+GB data plans
  • Annual Device Upgrade included at no extra charge for all customers with 20+GB shared data plans (San Diego and Portland only)
  • Annual Device Upgrade Option: $5/month (Las Vegas only)

CNET points out Sprint’s plans are a better deal for heavy data users. The $20 plan for 1GB, for instance, is only $5 cheaper than a comparable AT&T plan. But the 30GB plan is $75 cheaper than AT&T’s $225 version.

Discounted Framily Plan Trials – Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Providence, R.I.

  • Starting price reduced $10 to $45/month. Add five people to your “framily” and the price drops to $25/month (two fewer people now required to get the largest discount).
  • Selecting the $20 unlimited data option automatically enrolls you in an annual upgrade plan (Buffalo and Philadelphia only).
  • Customers can choose to pay $5 extra a month for an annual upgrade option (Providence only).

New Bring Your Own Device Option for Individual Plan Trials — Chicago, Minneapolis, and West Michigan

  • Customers paying full price for a smartphone, those paying in monthly installments,  or who bring their own device to Sprint are eligible for a $50 unlimited plan or a $40 for 3GB of data per month plan. Unlimited Framily data plans usually cost $75 a month.
  • Unlimited data customers in Chicago and Minneapolis are automatically eligible for annual upgrades.
  • West Michigan customers will have to pay a $5 fee each month for their annual upgrade.
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A Better Alternative to Comcast’s Internet Essentials’ Tricks & Traps: EveryoneOn’s Discount Internet Access

internet essentialsWhile regulators sort through the thicket of fine print that keeps hundreds of thousands of families from qualifying for Comcast’s $9.95 Internet Essentials affordable Internet program, a much simpler offer has emerged that doesn’t work overtime to protect Comcast’s broadband revenue from being cannibalized. In short, regulators don’t need to cut deals to expand programs like Internet Essentials in return for saddling residents with America’s “worst cable company.” There are alternatives.

EveryoneOn markets Comcast’s Internet Essentials where appropriate, but the group also gives low-income residents without school-age children other options that won’t require a $45 billion merger deal to expand.

EveryoneOn’s website asks visitors to enter their zip code to determine eligibility for discounted Internet access in neighborhoods with below-average standards of living. In western New York, we found few programs available in wealthy suburban zip codes, but most city neighborhoods were eligible for substantial discounts off wireless Internet access:

Mobile Beacon, like FreedomPop, uses the Clear WiMAX network at the moment.

mobile beacon coverage

Mobile Beacon relies on Sprint’s Clear 4G WiMAX network.

Mobile Beacon utilizes Sprint’s Clear 4G WiMAX network at the moment, and does not throttle or limit customer usage. The $10 rate plan is by far the cheapest around for unlimited access, but speeds are limited to 1Mbps. That may not be a problem for many Clear WiMAX users who can’t get speeds faster than that anyway.

howItWorksModemFreedomPop offers 1GB of monthly data for free, after a $49 setup charge.

Both offers are readily available to public with almost no pre-qualifications. The biggest downsides to both plans include Clear’s very limited WiMAX coverage area and the fact Sprint is gradually decommissioning its WiMAX network.

To remain committed to low-income Internet access, Sprint will offer free wireless broadband service to 50,000 low-income students nationwide.

Microsoft is also actively promoting EveryoneOn’s affordable Internet service offers to school districts nationwide as a solution to their home connectivity problems.  Microsoft will also help deploy Windows devices below $300 to classrooms across the country. Schools can buy Windows 8.1 Pro at a discounted rate and get “Office 365 Education” at no extra cost after they buy Office for teachers and administrators.

New York regulators are getting an earful from public interest and non-profit groups about solving a digital divide that is critical to the state’s economic future. The Internet is no longer merely a nice thing to have. It’s now essential:

  • A 2013 Jobvite survey revealed 94% of recruiters use or plan to use social media to find potential employees.
  • Fifty percent of today’s jobs require technology skills, and this percentage is expected to grow to 77% in the next decade.
  • The new GED test is being offered only on a computer, requiring all taking the test to have a level of comfort with technology;
  • The typical US household saves approximately $8,000 per year by using the Internet, according to an industry-backed Internet Innovation Alliance report.
  • 21% of uninsured Americans  do not  use the Internet, making it impossible for them to use the online health exchanges.
  • A Pew Internet Report revealed 59% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to provide care and support for the person in their care.
  • The New York Times reported Internet access and literacy allows seniors to stay socially connected to friends and family, maintain their health and increase longevity.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Mobile Beacon Nation Case Study.mp4

Mobile Beacon isn’t just powering income-challenged Americans. The 4G wireless broadband project is also connecting communities, schools, and social service agencies in communities under economic pressure. Mobile Beacon won’t put cable customers under more economic pressure from skyrocketing cable bills, either. It’s not owned by a cable operator. (13:21)

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Sprint Nears Deal to Purchase T-Mobile USA; $32 Billion Merger Will Face Regulator Scrutiny

And then there were three?

Official merger announcement due next month.

Several media reports breaking this evening report Softbank/Sprint is close to a deal to acquire majority interest in Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA in a deal that will combine the two carriers under the Sprint brand.

Bloomberg News reports Sprint has offered $40 a share for Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA — 50% in cash and 50% in stock. The deal will leave the German wireless carrier with a 15% minority ownership stake in the combined company. Sprint would still dwarf both Verizon Wireless and AT&T and would continue to be hampered by significant coverage caps in suburban and rural areas that neither Sprint or T-Mobile’s home networks cover.

The deal includes a breakup fee payable by Sprint if the merger is blocked by regulators or fails to be executed. Sprint reportedly offered $1 billion in cash and assets if the deal falls through, but Deutsche Telekom is reportedly seeking as much as $3 billion.

Masayoshi Son

Masayoshi Son

Bloomberg News previously reported a deal would probably be announced in June or July. It’s possible a deal announcement could slip into August, a source told Bloomberg. If no deal is reached by then, the sides are likely to stop negotiations for several years and wait for a new U.S. presidential administration more amenable to consolidation.

Billionaire Masayoshi Son, the founder of Japan-based SoftBank, which owns 80 percent of Sprint, faces skeptical regulators who are wary about eliminating one of four national wireless competitors. But in the last few days, executives at Sprint and Deutsche Telekom believe they can get the deal passed regulators preoccupied with a flurry of merger announcements, including Time Warner Cable and Comcast and AT&T and DirecTV. With a tidal wave of consolidation sweeping across the American telecommunications market, some industry insiders believe groups opposed to such deals will be overwhelmed trying to stop all of them.

More importantly, the issue of wireless spectrum was a key motivator to push the two companies towards a quick deal.

The Wall Street Journal reports the FCC originally considered barring AT&T and Verizon Wireless from bidding on airwaves that would have been set aside for smaller carriers. But a fierce lobbying effort by AT&T successfully nixed that plan and slashed the amount of spectrum available exclusively to smaller carriers. Sprint and T-Mobile believe the FCC’s decision gives them an opening to argue the government needs to allow a merger because it isn’t doing enough to help them compete.

FCC's Rosenworcel met privately with Wall Street analysts to tell them she'll keep an open mind on reviewing a T-Mobile/Sprint merger.

Rosenworcel

Another welcome sign for Sprint and T-Mobile is Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who saw nothing wrong with holding private meetings with Wall Street insiders, telling them she would keep “an open mind” when considering the merger. With both Republican commissioners almost certain to approve a merger and Thomas Wheeler and Mignon Clyburn — both Democrats — likely opposed, Rosenworcel may have signaled she holds the deciding vote.

Prior to 2011, wireless consolidation was rampant, with an FCC predisposed to almost rubber stamping approval of buyouts and mergers. That changed in 2011 when AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile. It was the U.S. Justice Department, not the FCC, that led the charge against the deal, calling it anti-competitive. The Justice Department was vindicated when T-Mobile promptly launched new competitive service plans and pricing that forced price reductions and plan improvements from its competitors. T-Mobile has seen dramatic growth since launching its aggressively competitive service plans.

Sprint will likely claim T-Mobile’s competitive gains are illusory and will never offer a real competitive challenge to AT&T and Verizon’s market dominance. Despite the fact the combined company would still be far smaller than either AT&T or Verizon Wireless, Sprint is expected to argue it will be better positioned to fiercely compete for customers.

That argument is tempered by the fact that competition in the prepaid wireless market — already diminished by AT&T’s acquisition of Leap Wireless’ Cricket — will suffer even more if Sprint and T-Mobile, both major competitors in the prepaid market, are combined.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Sprint T-Mobile Near Accord on Price Breakup Fee 6-4-14.flv

Sprint is nearing an agreement on the price, capital structure and termination fee of an acquisition for T-Mobile US that could value the wireless carrier at almost $40 a share, people with knowledge of the matter said. Alex Sherman has more on Bloomberg Television’s “Taking Stock.” (2:34)

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Deutsche Telekom Agrees to Sell T-Mobile USA to Sprint, But Regulators May Balk

And then there were three?

And then there were three?

Deutsche Telekom has agreed to sell T-Mobile USA to the Japanese parent company of Sprint in a deal that would combine the third and fourth largest wireless companies in the United States under the Sprint brand.

Japan’s Kyodo News Agency said they learned about the buyout agreement from industry sources, but did not reveal any further details.

SoftBank CEO and Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son and his lobbyists have been promoting such a merger for weeks, so the outlines of a deal between the two companies come as no surprise.

SoftBank son

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son

U.S. regulators have repeatedly signaled their discomfort with any merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, however. Both the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department have repeatedly raised concerns about the emergence of just three national wireless competitors in the U.S.

AT&T is largely responsible for that perception after its failed attempt to buy T-Mobile in 2011. The large breakup fee and spectrum T-Mobile received after the deal collapsed helped T-Mobile relaunch as a feisty competitor that has forced competitors to cut prices. To regulators, it demonstrated the importance of having at least four national competitors, if only to check the dominance of leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Both the FCC and Justice Department fear any additional mergers would lead to increased prices for U.S. consumers.

Son has argued that the four-competitor policy has left AT&T and Verizon dominant against their two much-weaker competitors. An enlarged Sprint would force broadband speeds upwards as a combined Sprint and T-Mobile launch a massive network upgrade that would force prices down.

Both Softbank and Deutsche Telekom seem eager to close a deal. Softbank is already arranging financing for the estimated $50 billion Deutsche Telekom is expected to ask for T-Mobile USA and the German owner of T-Mobile has sought to exit the U.S. market for at least two years, with the proceeds of any sale used to improve its operations in Germany and eastern Europe, where the company has been more profitable.

So far, Wall Street has had only a muted reaction to the merger news. Many analysts still expect U.S. regulators to shoot down any deal that proposes merging any of the four current large wireless carriers.

SoftBank CEO and Sprint chairman Masayoshi Son was interviewed at this week’s Code Conference. On the current state of wireless: “Oh my god, how can Americans live like this?” (1:23)

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Sprint Applying Speed Breaks to Top 5% of Wireless Data Users Accessing Congested Cell Sites

throttleEffective June 1st, all Sprint contract and prepaid customers, as well as those using Virgin Mobile USA and Boost will find their wireless data speeds throttled if Sprint finds they are among the top 5% of users on a congested cell site.

Text messages are being sent to all customers about Sprint’s new “fairness algorithm” that it will use as part of its data “prioritization management.”

“Beginning 6/1/14, to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times, Sprint/Virgin Mobile USA/Boost may manage prioritization of access to network resources in congested areas for customers within the top 5 percent of data users.”

Such text messages are unlikely to be understood by average customers who have no idea how much data they use, don’t understand what “prioritization of access” means, or what would make them a “top 5 percent” data user. What many do understand is that they were sold “unlimited use” plans that will be much harder to use if they are identified as a 5%‘r.

Fierce Wireless found answers to several unanswered questions:

  • Boost and Virgin customers exceeding 2.5GB of data use a month used to find their data speeds cut to 256kbps until the beginning of their next billing cycle. In March, Sprint announced it was further cutting speeds in the punishment zone to 128kbps for affected prepaid customers;
  • Sprint’s postpaid/prepaid customers are likely to find themselves throttled once they exceed 5GB of usage per month.

speedbumpSprint says the throttle will only be activated on “congested cell sites” and will impact WiMAX, 3G and LTE 4G networks owned by the company. Anyone who has used Sprint’s 3G network will discover most urban and suburban Sprint cell towers are frequently congested, judging by the low speeds many customers endure. Rural customers or those served on the edge of a suburban area may never find themselves throttled and Sprint promises once traffic clears, the throttle is shut off.

At the same time, once Sprint labels you a “heavy user,” they can leave you in the penalty box for up to 60 days because the network prioritization will also apply during the following month of service.

“Customers that continue to fall within the top 5 percent of data users will continue to be subject to prioritization,” Sprint said.

The approach “will enable us to provide more customers with a high quality data experience during heavy usage times,” Sprint said in a statement sent to FierceWirelessTech.

Other wireless carriers also have employed speed throttling to control their grandfathered “unlimited data” customers, Fierce Wireless notes:

During September 2011, Verizon Wireless implemented what it  termed a “network optimization” plan to limit the bandwidth for the operator’s top 5 percent of 3G smartphone users who are on a grandfathered unlimited data plan. (Ed. Note: However, because of FCC requirements, Verizon cannot throttle its 4G LTE customers.)

One month later, AT&T Mobility  instituted a similar plan, targeting the top 5 percent of users on unlimited plans in specific high-traffic locations. However, AT&T was forced to alter its approach in early 2012 after an outcry from users who were unprepared to have their speeds reduced, particularly in cases where some of them had only consumed 2 GB of data. AT&T’s revised policy slowed speeds of unlimited data users who exceeded specific data thresholds.

T-Mobile US also uses a form of prioritization, noting “certain T-Mobile plans may be prioritized” over service plans under its GoSmart Mobile prepaid brand.

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Sprint Will Shut Down Clear/4G WiMAX Network by 2015; TD-LTE Upgrade for Most Cell Sites

wimaxSprint has begun decommissioning its increasingly obsolete 4G WiMAX network with definitive plans to shut off the service completely by the end of 2015.

While most Sprint customers with smartphones have long since moved away from WiMAX, Sprint has resold access to the 2.5GHz network for some prepaid Boost, Sprint, and Virgin Mobile customers as well as third parties including FreedomPop and Earthlink.

WiMAX was the first 4G network in the United States, launching first in Baltimore in the fall of 2008. Sprint customers were offered the HTC Evo 4G smartphone to access WiMAX’s faster speeds. Separately, Clearwire marketed access to WiMAX as a wireless home and business broadband solution. WiMAX was often promoted as a longer distance alternative to Wi-Fi, and was initially capable of 30-40Mbps speeds.

clear-logoIn practice, WiMAX in the United States never achieved great success. Sprint and Clearwire’s network was never built out sufficiently to provide nationwide coverage, and because it relied on very high frequencies, even customers inside claimed service areas often dealt with reception problems, especially indoors. Clearwire’s home broadband replacement often required reception equipment be placed near a window, preferably one without a thermal coating that could block or degrade the signal.

As soon as Sprint and Clearwire added a significant number of customers to the network, speeds deteriorated. Neither company invested enough in upgrades to keep up with demand. Instead, Clearwire’s home broadband customers, originally promised unlimited service, were routinely speed throttled for “excessive use.”

The same year WiMAX was introduced in Baltimore, Network World was already warning the technology was in trouble. By 2011, the magazine had officially declared WiMAX dead.

“There was way too much hype surrounding WiMAX (like the White Spaces today, it was marketed as ‘Wi-Fi on steroids’ and a replacement for Wi-Fi; such was, of course, complete nonsense)”, the magazine wrote.

Other American wireless carriers showed little interest in WiMAX, particularly as competing 4G technologies including HSPA+ and LTE were nearing deployment.

SprintDespite the promise of greatly enhanced data speeds with the next generation of WiMAX, dubbed WiMAX 2, many of the world’s largest wireless carriers were already preparing to move on. In particular, China Mobile (and its 600 million customers) became the decisive factor that turned WiMAX 2 into a bad bet. China Mobile decided the better choice was TD-LTE, a variant of LTE technology. With China Mobile providing service to 10 percent of the world’s mobile users all by itself, support for TD-LTE grew and attracted equipment manufacturers that saw the earnings potential from selling tens of millions of base stations.

TD-LTE is an excellent upgrade choice for WiMAX operators because it was designed to work best at high frequencies ranging from 1850-3800MHz — the same frequency bands that WiMAX already uses.

Sprint expects to decommission at least 6,000 of its 17,000 WiMAX cell sites. Another 5,000 of those sites have already gotten TD-LTE technology, a part of Sprint’s broader LTE network upgrade. Sprint will combine its FDD-LTE network in its 800MHz and 1.9GHz spectrum with a TD-LTE network in its 2.5GHz spectrum. Sprint Spark customers are being offered tri-band equipment that can access either technology. Sprint can use its massive expanse of 2.5GHz spectrum to offload data usage from its lower frequency spectrum, especially in large cities.

Another 5,000 legacy Clearwire cell sites will be upgraded to TD-LTE between now and the end of next year. Sprint expects to deploy TD-LTE more widely than WiMAX, potentially serving 100 cities and 100 million base stations by 2016.

Sprint has protected much of its postpaid customer base from the transition by repeatedly encouraging customers to upgrade to LTE service, now being rolled out as part of its Network Vision plan. But firms like FreedomPop and others that now lease access to the WiMAX network will leave their customers with a shorter upgrade path when WiMAX equipment stops working, requiring users to upgrade to LTE equipment.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Sprint Spark -- Today is already the future 10-30-13.mp4

Sprint hypes its new tri-band Sprint Spark network, which combines two different LTE networks to deliver faster data speeds. (1:18)

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