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Verizon’s “Unlimited” Confusion Plus Plan Now Really Means 30 GB Data Cap, Except When Its 50 GB

Verizon wireless plans: now more confusing than ever.

The concept of “unlimited data” rarely means unlimited on mobile plans and it can get very confusing for consumers trying to figure out what each carrier defines as “unlimited.”

Verizon has announced some plan changes that are not helping resolve this confusion.

As of late last week, Verizon introduced a new version of its “Unlimited Plus” plan, which attaches to existing wireless plans for an extra $30 a month. Then, if you would like to connect more devices to your plan beyond your phone, you can sign up for an unlimited connected device plan and upgrade to Unlimited Plus for another $10 a month. If you have a tablet or hotspot, Verizon will sell you another unlimited plan for those for an extra $20 a month.

What? Confusing!

Customers enrolled in the older standard “Unlimited Plus” plan received unlimited data up to 15 GB before a speed throttle kicked in. The new “Unlimited Plus” offers unlimited-unlimited 5G and up to 30 GB of “premium” 4G LTE data. So it appears you get double the unlimited data as well as an infinite amount of 5G service which is probably not provided in your area (or if you turn the corner, or go indoors in an area that has the service). But if you are connecting a hotspot, laptop, or tablet to your plan, then Verizon redefines unlimited again, this time to mean up to 50 GB of 5G data (almost not available anywhere) and then you get speed throttled to 3 Mbps for the rest of the billing cycle, but just on those devices.

Oh by the way, if you have an Apple Watch, Verizon has a plan for that as well, now priced at $10 a month, which gets you 15 GB of premium data, presumably on the watch.

Where is the Lavish Spending on Small Cell 5G? Upgrades-to-the-Press-Release, Apparently

Phillip Dampier August 19, 2020 Competition, Consumer News, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Despite an avalanche of press releases promising a flood of new small cells to manage America’s growing 5G networks, the vendors responsible for equipment, siting, and connectivity report small cell deployment is moving much slower than expected.

Cowen, a Wall Street analyst, noted communications infrastructure provider Zayo’s CEO Dan Caruso told investors the 5G small cell business is playing out differently than expected.

“Specifically, carrier activity is more tempered than their messaging five years ago, and the lease-up of second tenants has been slower,” Cowen noted.

Light Reading noted that suppliers and capacity providers have been boosting investments and manufacturing capacity to manage expected orders for millimeter wave 5G equipment that so far are not materializing. Cell tower management company Crown Castle increased its spending dramatically to support Verizon’s claim it would install hundreds of thousands of small cells nationwide. Crown Castle will likely provide a significant amount of the leased space for wireless providers’ small cells. Not only can Crown Castle earn significant revenue from leasing space to Verizon, it can make more selling AT&T and T-Mobile access to those same locations for their own respective small cells. But so far, business has been slow.

To build a nationwide 5G network capable of what the press releases claim, operators will need to lay millions of miles of fiber optic cables, construct 80,000 new cell towers for lower frequency 5G networks, and at least 130,000 locations this year for highly localized millimeter wave 5G small cells.

Analysts note much of the slowdown seems to be disproportionately affecting U.S. mobile networks, with much less of a slowdown among global operators moving rapidly to construct their own 5G infrastructure. Some analysts speculate operators are reducing investments because of a lack of competitive demand, while others suspect providers are now hoarding cash to bid on forthcoming “C” band spectrum that is expected to be auctioned off soon. AT&T, in particular, has also been winding down its own spending programs for fiber buildouts and the government-funded FirstNet first responder mobile network. AT&T’s stock price has been anemic for much of 2020 as investors question AT&T’s lavish spending, especially on its HBO Max and AT&T TV businesses.

Early Speed Tests of SpaceX’s Starlink Are Underwhelming; Alpha Testers Leaking Info Protected by NDAs

SpaceX’s Starlink service is unlikely to compete in the same arena as fiber and cable internet service providers, if leaked early speed test results are an accurate indication of the service’s performance.

A sub-Reddit for Starlink, the low earth orbiting (LEO) satellite internet service, is buzzing with activity after one or more anonymous users in Washington State shared speed test results in a public forum, in apparent violation of the non-disclosure agreement SpaceX insists alpha testers sign.

Starlink’s current alpha test, open to rural areas in Washington State only, will give SpaceX data on how well the platform performs in the marketplace. As beta tests begin later this year, testers will be required to have an unobstructed view of the northern sky, live within 44 and 52 degrees latitude, be willing and able to complete multiple surveys about the service over a two-month period, and agree to receive and properly install the equipment. All alpha and beta testers will receive the service for free, but will be asked to pay $1 to test Starlink’s billing system.

Testers are supposed to keep information about their Starlink experiences private, as per a detailed non-disclosure agreement that each tester must sign. But anonymous leaks about the service, along with ‘telling’ questions, have frequently appeared in a public forum about the satellite service, frustrating SpaceX. The satellite provider has reportedly issued multiple “takedown requests” to remove violating content.

Last week, Starlink began requesting more detailed information from those seeking to enroll in future beta tests, a sign it is gearing up to test the service more widely soon.

So far, Starlink testers in Washington State willing to leak their experiences are reporting download speeds no better than 60 Mbps, with upload speed averaging between 10-15 Mbps. Latency, a constant problem with satellite internet, was a more impressive 50 ms on average, but can vary between 31-94 ms.

Only a small number of people in Washington State are estimated to be taking part in current trials, which started before SpaceX’s entire satellite fleet is in orbit. SpaceX previously claimed the service was designed to deliver “blazing fast speeds” up to 1,000 Mbps. That clearly is not happening at the moment. Some testers have been told that speed will increase as more satellites are placed into orbit, but others are wondering if early results are good enough, especially considering they are conducted on satellite infrastructure that currently has a light load with almost no users.

Starlink’s speed and performance will be crucial indicators of how the broadband industry will respond to the emerging market of LEO-based satellite internet. If 60/10 Mbps service is what many users can expect to get, that might deflate SpaceX’s boasts that its Starlink platform could be a competitive game-changer. Cable and fiber providers will likely dismiss Starlink as a serious competitor in the urban and suburban markets they serve, noting wired internet performance is already considerably faster. Still, the project could provide much-needed internet service in exurban and rural areas bypassed by cable companies, leaving consumers with a current choice of <10 Mbps DSL from the phone company or no service at all.

Verizon Launches 4G LTE Home Broadband Service Without Data Caps, Starting at $40/Month

Verizon is introducing a new wireless home broadband service that will target customers that can get good cell phone reception from home but are stuck with slow speed DSL from the phone company, or no internet access at all.

Verizon’s new LTE Home Internet will offer customers speeds of 25-50 Mbps without data caps on Verizon’s already built 4G network. The service launched this week in Savannah, Ga., Springfield, Mo., and Tri-Cities, Tenn./Va./Ky. Starting today, Verizon says it will expand home internet access to customers outside of its existing Fios and millimeter-wave 5G Home footprints, primarily to reach rural customers.

“With LTE Home Internet, our most awarded 4G LTE network will provide internet connectivity for customers in more rural parts of America who may not have access to broadband internet service – a critical need, especially now, when so many are counting on reliable connectivity for remote work and educational needs,” said Frank Boulben, senior vice president of Consumer Marketing and Products at Verizon.

The service and equipment are sold at different prices depending on how much business you already do with Verizon:

LTE Home Internet Service Pricing

  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $70/month.
  • If you do NOT have an active Verizon mobile plan or one that costs less than $30/month and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $60/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and DO NOT WISH to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $50/month.
  • If you DO have an active Verizon mobile plan that costs $30/month or more and ARE WILLING to enroll in paper-free billing and auto-pay, the service costs $40/month.
  • The required LTE router costs $240 or $10/month for 24 months (0% interest) on Verizon’s Device Payment Plan. If you order the router using “device payments,” you will receive a $10/month promotional credit for the next 24 months, making the router free of charge if you stay with the service for two years. If you cancel service early, the remaining payments will become due immediately.

Although the service cannot match the speeds offered by modern cable and fiber broadband networks, Verizon’s wireless speeds do appear to qualify as “broadband service” and for the first time on a 4G LTE network, do not include any data caps or sneaky speed throttling, making it a potentially respectable option for those in rural areas looking for something better than phone company DSL.

Verizon offers this coverage check tool to determine if service is available in your area. If not, you can leave your e-mail address and phone number and Verizon will contact you as the service expands.

This Verizon-provided video introduces the company’s new LTE Home Internet service, a wireless broadband option without data caps for those looking for rural access or something better than phone company DSL. (1:25)

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).

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