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China’s 5G Competition Brings Astonishing Discounts: 5G Plans Starting at $9.76 a Month

Chinese consumers are enjoying some of the lowest priced mobile plans in the world as several giant wireless companies compete to attract customers interested in 5G wireless service.

Prices have been coming down fast in the ongoing price war, with China Mobile now selling its entry level 5G package for just 69 yuan ($9.76 US) a month, 31% off the original price. A premium 5G package that originally was priced at 128 yuan ($18.08 US) now sells for 88 yuan ($12.43 US), if the customer signs a one-year contract.

China Unicom, another competitor, has responded with price cuts of its own, reducing some plan prices by 30 percent. A popular 5G package called “5G Refreshing Ice Cream” costs 90 yuan ($12.72 US) per month, not including a small prepaid service fee and a 12-month contract. A premium 5G package is priced at 103 yuan ($14.55 US) per month and comes with a 24-month contract.

Most of the cheapest 5G plans include unlimited texting, but have talk time limits (usually 200 minutes per month) and a data cap of 30 GB and a speed cap of 300 Mbps. Higher end plans include more talk time and much higher data caps of up to 300 GB and a speed cap of 500 Mbps or 1,000 Mbps, depending on the plan. Customers on budget plans may see traffic de-prioritized on busy cell towers during peak usage times in some cities, but data speeds will always exceed 4G service.

Fu Liang, a telecom industry analyst, told China Daily the competitive pricing was not about trying to force competitors out of business. Instead, operators are trying to attract Chinese consumers to upgrade to 5G-capable devices which will offload traffic from existing 4G networks to more efficient 5G networks, saving carriers money. Faster speed 5G plans are also expected to persuade businesses to create 5G applications and services.

Mobile handsets with built-in support for 5G are also getting cheaper every day, with prices starting at $210 US in China. Handset purchases are gradually growing as companies build out 5G capacity and coverage in their networks.

Some American operators are marketing 5G service as a premium product, with at least one (Verizon) charging some a $10 monthly surcharge for access to 5G service.

“When you deliver a differentiated service, you can get a differentiated price point,” Verizon CFO Matt Ellis explained during an investor event held this spring. Verizon temporarily rescinded the fee after customers complained about Verizon’s tiny 5G coverage areas, but the surcharge has since returned for some customers. Verizon waives the fee on its $80 Do More and Play More plan options and the $90 Get More plan, if you activate a 5G device on those plans. A cheaper $70 Start Unlimited plan is also available, but the $10 5G surcharge applies, making it cost as much as Verizon’s other $80 plans.

Ironically, Verizon’s $10 surcharge is more expensive than some Chinese carrier’s cheapest 5G mobile plans.

Chinese carriers are marketing a range of plans to attract an income diverse customer base, while in the United States, traditional postpaid plan carriers primarily sell much higher-cost plans that bundle “unlimited” talk, text, and data (up to 20-50 GB). Lower income customers are usually diverted to less credit-risky prepaid plans, often sold by independent resellers or specialty carrier-owned brands like Cricket, MetroPCS, or Boost Mobile (soon to be owned by Dish Networks).

T-Sprint Promised 11,000 New Jobs to Regulators, Started Laying Off Sprint Employees Instead

Despite repeatedly promising the public and regulators that a merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would create thousands of new jobs, this week hundreds of Sprint employees are learning their old jobs are gone.

In a brief six minute conference call Monday hosted by T-Mobile vice president James Kirby, almost 400 people on the call learned their jobs with Sprint’s inside sales division were being eliminated and their last day of employment will be Aug. 17. It was just one of several conference calls announcing layoffs for Sprint’s sales teams, according to Techcrunch, notably those working on business and commercial sales. Other jobs targeted for cuts included national retail account executives, and indirect sales-affiliated account managers and executives.

So far, the pattern of layoffs is clearly favoring T-Mobile, with only a handful of top Sprint executives remaining with the company. In 2018, Sprint disclosed it had about 6,000 employees working in its headquarters city — Overland Park, Kan. T-Mobile has already made it clear it was slimming down Sprint’s operations there. A year ago, Sprint sold its headquarters campus to Wichita-based Occidental Management in a sale-leaseback deal, which freed up cash for Sprint, while allowing the company to continue renting the same office space. Consolidation is expected to reduce the number of buildings leased by the wireless carrier from 11 to just four.

According to employee messaging forum, thelayoff.com, many independent Sprint retailers are also being notified by T-Mobile their contracts to sell Sprint devices are being terminated in 120 days, which may result in store closures and additional job losses.

The job losses come despite repeated promises from former T-Mobile CEO John Legere to regulators and employees that the merger would result in job growth.

“In total, New T-Mobile will have more than 11,000 additional employees on our payroll by 2024 compared to what the combined standalone companies would have,” Legere claimed in an open letter last April.

FCC Chair Calls T-Mobile Network Outage ‘Unacceptable’, Vows Probe

(Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will probe an extensive T-Mobile network outage that impacted customers across the United States, the head of the U.S. telecommunications regulatory agency said on Monday.

“The T-Mobile network outage is unacceptable. The @FCC is launching an investigation. We’re demanding answers – and so are American consumers,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Twitter.

Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile, said on Twitter Monday that engineers were working to resolve a voice and data issue that has affected customers around the country.

He said later that data services were now available and some calls were completing. “Alternate services like WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, Facetime etc. are available,” he added.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert addressed the outage on a network status page on the company’s website late last evening:

Starting just after 12 pm ET and continuing throughout the day, T-Mobile has been experiencing a voice and text issue that has intermittently impacted customers in markets across the U.S. We are recovering from this now but it may still take several more hours before customer calling and texting is fully recovered. Neville Ray has shared updates throughout the day but I wanted to share the latest on what we know and what we’re doing to address it. This is an IP traffic related issue that has created significant capacity issues in the network core throughout the day. Data services have been working throughout the day and customers have been using services like FaceTime, iMessage, Google Meet, Google Duo, Zoom, Skype and others to connect.

I can assure you that we have hundreds of our engineers and vendor partner staff working to resolve this issue and our team will be working through the night as needed to get the network fully operational. 

Pai

Early this morning, Sievert provided this update: “These issues are now resolved. We again apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.”

T-Mobile had 86 million customers at the end of 2019. T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the outage.

In 2018, Pai backed the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint Corp saying it would lead to improved 5G coverage in the United States and would bring much faster mobile broadband to rural Americans.

T-Mobile on April 1 officially completed its $23 billion merger with Sprint, solidifying its position as the No.3 wireless providers in the United States.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates

Cox Getting Into the Mobile Business, Sources Say; Plans Will Resemble Xfinity/Spectrum Mobile

Phillip Dampier June 10, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Wireless Broadband 1 Comment

Cox was planning to get into the wireless business back in 2010 until T-Mobile started slashing prices after a failed merger with AT&T a year later. Cox canceled its mobile ambitions in 2012. Now they are interested once again.

Cox Communications is in advanced stages of launching a new mobile service for customers that subscribe to at least one Cox cable service, according to sources speaking to multiple media outlets.

“We believe the market is becoming more attractive for us to enter the wireless space and we are exploring it more aggressively now, but have not announced any specific plans,” company spokesperson Todd Smith wrote in response to questions from Light Reading. “We have not entered into any MVNO agreements yet.”

Stop the Cap! has learned Cox has spoken to at least two major wireless carriers about signing an agreement that would allow customers to roam on a carrier’s pre-existing wireless network. AT&T is reportedly aggressively pursuing Cox and other cable operators to resell access to its network, after watching Charter’s Spectrum Mobile and Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile partner with Verizon Wireless.

A source tells us Cox would offer pricing and packages comparable to what Charter and Comcast offer customers — at least two plans, one flat rate unlimited, selling for around $45 a month, and a second “By the Gig” plan that would include 1 GB of data, unlimited voice and texting for between $14-16. Customers would be billed an additional $14-16 for each additional gigabyte consumed during the month.

Cox will market its wireless service to current customers that subscribe to at least one Cox product. If a customer switches to a competitor, Cox would charge an additional non-customer wireless fee, likely $20 a month.

If Cox closely follows Comcast and Charter, it will debut with a very limited selection of premium devices available for purchase or 0% financing, with Bring Your Own Device plans likely to follow. Devices will be programmed to favor cable industry or home Wi-Fi where available and automatically switch to 4G LTE service from an unspecified carrier once traveling outside of a Wi-Fi signal area. A soft cap of around 20 GB of usage per month will also likely be attached to the unlimited plan, with speed throttling applied once customers exceed that amount.

Cox had aborted attempts to enter the wireless business earlier. In 2012, Cox was months away from launching wireless service over its own 3G CDMA network over favorable 700 MHz spectrum it acquired earlier. It suddenly dropped the effort after AT&T failed to acquire T-Mobile in 2011 and T-Mobile began cutting prices to shake up the wireless industry.

Cable operators have attempted to keep wireless costs as low as possible, combining the use of cable companies’ pre-existing Wi-Fi hotspot networks with agreements with third party wireless carriers to handle data traffic and calls. Cable operators have so far chosen not to construct their own wireless mobile networks, although there are indications Charter will probably be the first to build some of its own wireless capacity using 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum, which will likely work better outdoors than indoors. The more traffic wireless companies can offload to their own networks, the lower their costs.

Cox would likely launch its mobile offering by the fourth quarter of this year, in time for the holiday season.

AT&T’s Lawyers Use Media Reports Critical of Company’s Throttle Policy in Defense of Throttling Customers

AT&T throttles

How low can AT&T go? Customers retaining “unlimited data plans” that were discontinued in 2010 were throttled to as little as 127 kbps after using just 2 GB a month.

AT&T’s lawyers are asking a judge to accept media coverage exposing the company’s allegedly “secret” speed throttling policy for some of its wireless customers as a valid defense in a 2015 class action case that seeks to compensate some AT&T customers for misrepresenting its “unlimited data plan.”

AT&T last month asked the judge to have the long-running case thrown out, claiming AT&T well publicized its new speed throttling policy it imposed on a legacy unlimited data plan the wireless company stopped selling in 2010, but allowed existing customers to keep. By 2011, some customers still subscribed to the grandfathered unlimited plan started noticing data speeds plummeting to near dial-up if they used a lot of data. At first, AT&T appeared to impose a speed throttle on customers using over 10 GB of data per month, but by 2012, AT&T was accused of speed throttling unlimited customers after they used as little as 2 GB of data during a billing period.

The resulting class action lawsuit, filed in California, alleged that AT&T misrepresented its unlimited data plan as ‘unlimited,’ when in fact in practical terms it was not. The plaintiffs are seeking damages from AT&T to discourage the company from engaging in false advertising in the future, and to compensate customers that paid for an unlimited data plan that eventually became almost useless after customers used just over 2 GB a month.

AT&T’s defense partly relies on the company’s claim it extensively publicized changes to its legacy unlimited data plan as early as 2011, and the plaintiffs should have been aware of it. The Federal Communications Commission was aware of AT&T’s actions and just a month before the class action case was filed, the regulatory agency issued a notice of apparent liability to AT&T proposing a $100 million fine for unwarranted speed throttling.

AT&T’s attorneys have worked hard to stop the lawsuit over the last five years. In addition to claiming customers were notified of their excessive data usage through text messages and billing notices, AT&T last month sought to introduce a dozen media reports covering its speed throttling policy into the court record to convince U.S. District Judge Edward Milton Chen the plaintiffs don’t have a case and to get the lawsuit dismissed.

One of the news articles cited in AT&T’s May 14 filing was written by former DSL Reports’ author Karl Bode, who has been roundly critical of AT&T’s data caps for over a decade. Ironically, AT&T’s defense team is arguing Bode’s report, “AT&T Wages Quiet War on Grandfathered Unlimited Users” offers proof AT&T was not keeping its speed throttling policy “secret,” as at least one plaintiff claimed. Bode suggested AT&T had engineered its speed throttling plan to push grandfathered unlimited data plan customers off the plan in favor of more profitable plans offering a specified data allowance and overlimit fees.

Bode

“In other words, pay $30 for “unlimited” service where you’re actually only getting 2 GB of data before your phone becomes useless, or sign up for a 3 GB tier for the same price so you’re in line to get socked with the usage overages of tomorrow,” Bode wrote at the time.

His views have not changed in 2020.

“For nearly a decade AT&T has tap danced around the fact it misleadingly sold an ‘unlimited’ data plan packed with confusing limits. No amount of legal maneuvering can hide the fact that AT&T lied repeatedly to its customers about the kind of connection they were buying,” Bode told Stop the Cap! “Instead of owning its mistake, learning from it, and moving forward, AT&T’s now trying to point to critical news coverage from the era to falsely suggest consumers should have known better. It’s utterly nonsensical and speaks volumes about the lack of ethical leadership at a company that routinely sees some of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in American industry.”

AT&T’s lawyers are not prepared to concede, however. Since the lawsuit was filed, AT&T’s legal team attempted to force the case into arbitration in 2016. That effort was successful until a 2017 California Supreme Court decision in another case gave the plaintiffs ammunition to claim that it was against California law to force consumers into arbitration. The Ninth Circuit court agreed, and the case reverted to district court, where AT&T immediately began efforts to have the case dismissed outright.

AT&T is not alone throttling so-called “heavy users” that have either legacy or current unlimited data plans. All major cellular companies enforce fine print policies that allow speed throttling after customers consume as little as 20 GB of wireless data during a billing cycle. The fact companies still advertise such plans as “unlimited” irks Bode.

“An unlimited data connection should come with no limits. If giant wireless carriers can’t respect the dictionary, they should stop using the word entirely,” Bode told us.

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