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T-Mobile: AT&T Gouges Us With Data Roaming Rates 150% Higher Than Average

bill shockT-Mobile has asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate AT&T’s “artificially high roaming rates” charged when its customers travel outside of T-Mobile’s home service area.

T-Mobile is heavily reliant on AT&T for roaming service outside of major cities and the country’s smallest national wireless carrier complains AT&T is using their market power to put it at a major disadvantage, which could force new limits on roaming access in some areas.

T-Mobile provided examples of the damage already done by AT&T’s roaming rates:

“Limitless Mobile has severely restricted its customers’ access to AT&T’s network ‘for the sole reason that AT&T’s data roaming rates are too high and by continuing roaming access, Limitless could not maintain a commercially competitive retail wireless data offering to the general public,’” T-Mobile told the FCC.

The Rural Wireless Association noted that competing carriers “cannot sustain the provision of data roaming services if [they] must provide that service at a loss.”

The problem of data roaming rates is getting larger as carrier agreements are due for renewal at many mobile providers. Independent cellular companies are finding AT&T unwilling to renew at prices and terms comparable to their existing contracts. Instead, they face renewal rates that average a minimum of 10 and as much as 33 times higher than the national carriers’ retail rates.

For example, T-Mobile’s agreement with AT&T includes a data roaming rate that is now 150 percent higher than the average domestic rate that T-Mobile pays for data roaming.

This is one thousand percent higher than the data roaming rate negotiated between Leap Wireless and MetroPCS prior to their respective acquisitions, wrote T-Mobile.

With the stark price increases, carriers have begun imposing limits, including speed throttling and data caps, on customers when roaming on AT&T’s network.

t-mobile-set-recordBecause of AT&T’s artificially high roaming rates, T-Mobile wireless customers roaming in South Africa have a better user experience than customers roaming on AT&T’s network in South Dakota, argues T-Mobile. Their speed is twice as fast, and their data usage is unlimited.

T-Mobile is asking the FCC to intervene by establishing some type of standard about what constitutes “commercially reasonable” roaming rates as part of its 2011 Data Roaming Order, designed to protect competition.

This year, carriers dependent on Verizon Wireless or AT&T to help deliver “nationwide coverage” are negotiating roaming access to the companies’ 4G LTE networks for the first time. Most roaming agreements used to only cover 3G service, delivered at a slower speed.

If carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile are unable to negotiate fair terms, both companies will be at a major competitive disadvantage, relegated to providing only regional coverage or charging higher prices for roaming service.

AT&T vice president of regulatory affairs Joan Marsh said T-Mobile’s request bordered on being illegal, in direct violation of the Telecommunications Act. Marsh argued T-Mobile and other carriers should be incentivized to build their own networks instead of relying on cheap roaming access from companies like AT&T. Marsh added any move by the FCC to set rates or benchmarks would be beyond the FCC’s mandate. Wireless carrier rates are deregulated and not subject to common carrier regulation.

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.

 

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)

The Terrorists Win: Isis Mobile Payment Brand Flees From Its Own Name, Nobody Notices

The 1975 Saturday morning heroine delivered a morality message at the end of each episode.

The 1975 Saturday morning heroine

“O My Queen,” said the royal sorcerer to Hatshepsut, “with this amulet, you and your descendants are endowed by the goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles, and command the elements of sky and earth.” Three thousand years later, a young science teacher dug up this lost treasure and found she was heir to The Secrets of Isis. Andrea Thomas, teacher, and Isis, dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of Truth and Justice.

Three thousand and one years later, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless used their respective bank accounts to endow themselves with a mobile payment system called Isis they hoped would soar profits, run up your bill, and command the electronic payment universe. They called it Isis.

Three thousand and two years later a group of strict Wahhabist Muslims operating a terror group called the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” would establish a new caliphate covering sections of Syria and Iraq.

Seconds after they declared the new (generally unrecognized) state, the group set off terrorizing the local infidels and apostates in their midst, a/k/a Shia Muslims and Christians. Although the name of their newly declared independent nation, “Islamic State” is about as catchy as generic paper plates, the group’s abbreviated name was enough to provoke some serious Excedrin headaches.

They call it: ISIS.

The Other ISIS

The Other ISIS

Checkmate AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

“However coincidental, we have no interest in sharing a name with a group whose name has become synonymous with violence and our hearts go out to those who are suffering,” said Isis CEO Michael Abbott. “As a company, we have made the decision to rebrand.”

Did Abbott just give in to the terrorists? Most Americans wouldn’t know or care, having never heard of the wireless industry’s payment system. In fact, with just 20,000 Isis Wallet activations per day, more Americans likely know that name from the 1975 Saturday morning TV series, The Secrets of Isis.

Which survives longer is open to question. Most consumers really don’t want or need an alternative to existing payment mechanisms.

According to a Forrester report released in December, “Understanding Digital Wallet Options For Your Business,” only 11% of US consumers have a digital wallet. “Driving consumer interest and adoption is a steep, uphill climb in developed markets because the current payment systems work quite well,” the report says.

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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