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Cable Companies See Large Gains in Mobile Customers During COVID-19 Pandemic

With record-breaking unemployment and an economy in tatters, consumers are abandoning high-priced mobile plans and switching to lower priced cable operator mobile plans.

Comcast, Charter/Spectrum, and Altice USA saw dramatic customer gains of 547,000 new customers in the first quarter of 2020, primarily at the expense of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, according to Wall Street analyst firm MoffettNathanson. The four largest wireless carriers saw a collective 1.3% drop in subscribers, which counts as the worst performance the traditional wireless sector has seen since 2014. But their loss was the cable industry’s gain, with three cable operators achieving a 130% increase in new mobile customers during the first quarter of the year. The three cable companies now have a combined 3.7 million wireless customers.

Comcast and Charter contract with Verizon Wireless for 4G LTE and 5G service, while Altice USA provides its mobile customers with access to Sprint’s network. The cable operators keep costs down by favoring Wi-Fi connections wherever possible.

Two factors are driving the growth of cable industry mobile plans:

  1. Price: Altice USA sells its mobile service at just $20/mo per line. Comcast and Charter both sell unlimited data, talk and text plans for $45 a month per line and a “By the Gig” plan option that includes 1 GB of data bundled with unlimited calls and texting for a flat $14/per gig at Charter and $15/1 GB or $30/3 GB or $60/10 GB at Comcast. With unemployment numbers high and consumers worried about the future of the job market, economizing expenses matters.
  2. Network: Comcast and Charter both rely on Verizon Wireless, recognized as one of the strongest wireless performers in terms of coverage and signal quality. Customers can switch to a cheaper cable company mobile plan without sacrificing network coverage.

MoffettNathanson’s Craig Moffett noted that the COVID-19 pandemic closed most wireless retail stores, and there was a wide belief that wireless industry sales would be anemic at best during the spring as people stayed home. Instead, the cable industry heavily marketed its wireless plans and expanded the number of pre-owned devices qualified for “Bring Your Own Device” switching, allowing customers to swap SIM cards instead of being forced to buy new devices.

“Given the levels of economic hardship that have accompanied the lockdowns, one can reasonably imagine that these kinds of hyper-aggressive pricing plans won’t have much trouble breaking through to capture market share,” Moffett said in a research note.

Moffett predicts the second quarter will show an even greater number of customers dropping traditional mobile plans in favor of plans provided by their local cable company. Some customers report saving over $100 a month by switching.

One potential downside: customers must subscribe to other products sold by their cable provider to get the best price on wireless service. Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile applies a $20 per line monthly charge if the customer does not maintain at least one of the following: Xfinity TV, Internet or Voice service. Spectrum customers that cancel internet service with the cable company will pay an additional $20 monthly charge per line, have Spectrum Wi-Fi speeds limited to 5 Mbps, and are not allowed to add any additional mobile lines.

Comcast Offers Xfinity Mobile Customers Access to Verizon’s 5G Network, Raises Prices

Comcast is now giving Xfinity Mobile customers access to Verizon’s 5G network, if a customer owns a suitable 5G-capable device and is willing to pay more in certain cases.

“From day one, Xfinity Mobile has been proud to be the only provider to empower customers to design a mobile plan that fits their needs, as well as have the flexibility to seamlessly switch between unlimited or per gig to save money,” said Rui Costa, Comcast’s senior vice president of innovation and customer value propositions. “We’re excited to now extend that benefit with 5G data plans.”

Comcast has diverged from Charter Communications, which has been offering access to Verizon’s 5G network to Spectrum Mobile customers since March. Xfinity Mobile customers paying “by the gig” or subscribed to unlimited service will both have access to 5G service. In contrast, Spectrum Mobile customers must have an unlimited plan to access 5G.

Existing Xfinity Mobile customers will need to opt in to 5G service through the Xfinity Mobile app, which will also raise your rates from $12/GB to $15/GB. If you don’t want 5G access and prefer paying $12 per gigabyte as you have all along, do not opt in to the new plan:

Xfinity Mobile Pricing (Effective May 18, 2020)

  • Discontinued By the Gig 4G-LTE: $12 per gigabyte (includes unlimited voice and texting)
  • New By the Gig 5G/4G-LTE: $15 per gigabyte (includes unlimited voice and texting)
  • Unlimited 5G/4G-LTE: $45 per month (includes unlimited voice and texting)

Comcast and Charter’s wireless offerings have seen substantial subscriber gains as customers discover they can access Verizon Wireless’ extensive network and pay substantially lower prices as well. Verizon’s own customers will eventually face a $10 surcharge per month for access to 5G.

Is Xfinity’s 5G “By the Gig” plan worth an extra $3 per gigabyte? Only if you live in one of 35 U.S. cities where Verizon offers millimeter wave 5G service in select neighborhoods. Verizon’s current 5G network is extremely limited, with most living and working outside of a Verizon 5G coverage area. That could mean upgrading to Xfinity’s 5G plan will only result in paying more money for the same level of service you already had.

Spectrum Mobile’s Unlimited Customers Get Free Access to Verizon’s 5G Network

Spectrum Mobile customers enrolled in an unlimited data plan will get free access to Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G network, if they own a device that supports 5G service.

Charter Communications extended its deal with Verizon Wireless, which currently supplies Spectrum Mobile with 4G LTE service, to include Verizon’s 5G service, now available in a few neighborhoods in these cities:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Grand Rapids
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Providence
  • St. Paul
  • Boise
  • Cincinnati
  • Denver
  • Greensboro
  • Indianapolis
  • Memphis
  • Omaha
  • Salt Lake City
  • Washington D.C.
  • Boston
  • Cleveland
  • Des Moines
  • Hampton Roads
  • Kansas City
  • Miami
  • Panama City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Charlotte
  • Columbus
  • Detroit
  • Hoboken
  • Little Rock
  • Minneapolis
  • Phoenix
  • Spokane

Customers on Spectrum’s pay-per-gigabyte plan can access Verizon 5G service by switching to Spectrum’s $45 unlimited plan. Otherwise, they will remain locked to Verizon’s 4G LTE network only. Spectrum Mobile is selling customers Samsung’s S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra 5G-capable phones with financing package prices ranging from $41-58 a month, and promises other 5G-capable devices will also be supported in the future.

At present, Verizon’s millimeter wave 5G service only works outdoors and is generally only available in very limited urban areas, often in business, shopping, or entertainment districts downtown. Charter is considering launching its own wireless network in the future utilizing CBRS frequencies, which can reach indoors and can travel over longer distances than millimeter wave technology. For now, Spectrum Mobile is dependent on Wi-Fi and Verizon Wireless’ nationwide network.

 

Verizon Customers Get a Year of Disney+ for Free

Phillip Dampier October 22, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Disney+, Online Video, Verizon No Comments

Some Verizon customers can receive 12 free months of Disney+, starting Nov. 12.

All Verizon Wireless Unlimited customers, new FiOS Home Internet, and 5G Home Internet customers qualify for the offer.

Customers must enroll for the offer between Nov. 12, 2019 and June 1, 2020. One subscription per account. Must be 18 years of age or older and a legal U.S. resident. After the 12-month promotional period, customers will be charged the prevailing subscription rate of $6.99+tax/month until canceled. Charges will be billed to your Verizon account. For New Mexico residents, Disney+ ends automatically after 12 months. Verizon is not zero-rating Disney+ usage, so it will count towards your total data usage.

Customers can get more information here: http://verizon.com/disneyplus.

The deal with Disney+ is an exclusive among U.S. wireless carriers. The Wall Street Journal reports under the latest agreement, Disney and Verizon will share the cost of providing the content to the carrier’s subscribers, according to a person familiar with the arrangement.

“Giving Verizon customers an unprecedented offer and access to Disney+ on the platform of their choice is yet another example of our commitment to provide the best premium content available through key partnerships on behalf of our customers,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg. “Our work with Disney extends beyond Disney+ as we bring the power of 5G Ultra Wideband technology to the entertainment industry through exciting initiatives with Disney Innovation Studios and in the parks.”

Verizon and T-Mobile: Poor Neighborhoods Won’t Get 5G

Verizon and T-Mobile are redlining their up and coming 5G wireless services to target wealthy neighborhoods and business districts while shunning the urban poor.

Dave Burstein examined the coverage maps of both carriers in cities like Manhattan and found a distinction in the service available in wealthy southern Manhattan and what upper Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem and the mostly Latino Washington Heights are getting. For both companies, 5G is not much of a priority for Brooklyn either.

“I do not think T-Mobile specifically intended to exclude people of color, but that seems to be the practical effect,” Burstein wrote.

(Image: Dave Burstein)

Ronan Dunne, executive vice president & group CEO of Verizon Consumer confirmed that Verizon will be targeting 5G service to areas where it makes the most economic sense. He said that more than half of Verizon Wireless customers will continue to get 4G LTE-like speeds, with the rest eventually upgraded to 5G service.

“So we’ve taken a very clear view that we want to have both a coverage strategy and a capability strategy. And a very large majority of the volume of data that we carry on our networks goes to large, dense urban environments,” Dunne told investors recently. “So from a population point of view, it’ll be significantly less than half of the customers [getting 5G]. But from a data traffic point of view, it’s significantly more than half. So when it comes to the ability to use 5G as a significant capacity enhancement, there’s more of an opportunity to leverage that in the urban areas.”

In other words, Verizon plans to target population dense urban areas for 5G service the most, because that is where most of its data-loving customers live and where they network’s cost effectiveness may be the highest. Although the geographic coverage of 5G will seem relatively small, the population density of areas targeted for 5G service is not.

Dunne

Verizon has been touting its forthcoming nationwide 5G network, but Dunne has hinted to investors that the devil will be in the details. Not every customer will have access to Verizon’s super fast millimeter wave 5G service. In fact, at least half the country will be serviced by existing 4G LTE cell towers upgraded to provide 5G service on lower frequencies capable of reaching far beyond the coverage area offered by millimeter wave service. But that will also mean a much larger number of customers will share the same 5G network connection, potentially dramatically reducing speed and performance. Dunne said the performance of this type of 5G service “will approximate a good 4G service.”

Burstein notes in real terms, this will mean a significant difference in network speed. Verizon’s millimeter wave service will be capable of delivering 1-2 Gbps, while Verizon’s 5G upgrade of its existing 4G cell towers will deliver speeds in the low hundreds of megabits per second, potentially even slower on crowded cell sites.

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