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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.

Canadian Mobile Operators Raking in Fat Coronavirus Profits With Bill Shock

Canadians are opening cell phone bills that have skyrocketed as a result of usage from work-at-home initiatives to stop the spread of COVID-19, a health crisis that is also fattening profits at some of the country’s biggest mobile operators.

Rosette Okala of Pickering, a suburb of Toronto, was stunned to receive her Rogers Mobile bill this month for $540, up from the usual $160 she is used to paying.

“I almost dropped,” Okala told CBC News. She is a pharmaceutical employee whose job requires being online. Her 12-year-old son has been online more too, doing schoolwork.

The part of Pickering where Okala lives does not have wired internet service available, so she relies on internet service from her mobile provider, like hundreds of thousands of other Canadians do. Pickering is hardly a tiny town either. With a population of 92,000, the city is immediately east of Toronto in the Durham Region. Despite that, there are sections of the city still waiting to get wired internet service.

Using the internet in areas considered to be “rural Canada” by providers is not cheap. Rogers offers customers a $145/mo wireless internet plan that includes 100 GB of usage. Customers that exceed that do so at their peril, facing overlimit fees of $5/GB.

“This is just a slap in our face,” said Okala. “We [rural customers] pay huge bills just to be able to do something basic that most people take for granted.”

Okala hoped her employer would help cover her phone bill. Rogers has been reluctant to help, despite a showy ad campaign from the cable and wireless giant promising customers “we are in this together and are here to help.” When it comes to billing matters, talk is cheap and help is hard to find.

Pickering, Ont.

Okala said she spent hours on the phone with a Rogers representative trying to negotiate a lower bill. Rogers eventually offered a paltry $30 credit and a payment plan to pay off her balance. A second attempt resulted in an improved offer of $100 credit, an upgrade to a different service plan, and 50% off monthly service fees for 24 months. But Rogers still wanted to be paid at least $440, at least until the CBC pointed out it would share Okala’s story with the rest of Canada for free. Rogers suddenly offered to take another $230 off Okala’s March bill and give her the mobile hotspot hub she was leasing for free.

John Burbidge, a University of Waterloo economics professor in North Dumfries living in a town of 10,000 near Cambridge, Ont., got schooled in the mobile broadband business by Bell Mobility, which sent him a bill for $650, including nearly $400 in usage charges. Burbidge was confused by an email from Bell, Canada’s largest phone company, which claimed it was waiving overlimit usage fees for customers during the pandemic. He missed the fine print advising that fee waiver only applied to Bell’s DSL and fiber wired customers, not wireless data plans. Burbidge argued it was unfair to exempt some customers from usage fees, while continuing to charge them to others.

“If rural Canadians are expected to work and do school work from home, decent and reasonably priced access to the internet is a basic right. Bell should not be allowed to gouge rural customers,” Burbidge told Canada’s public broadcaster.

Bell told the CBC the company was offering customers an extra 10 GB on customer data allowances and a $10 credit off the cost of using a mobile hotspot connected to Bell’s mobile network. As a courtesy, Bell agreed to credit Burbidge’s account $350 for March and take 60% off overlimit fees in April, but he is on his own after that. Burbidge’s current plan charges $180 a month for up to 100 GB a month, with a $5/GB overlimit fee.

“It’s really sad to hear,” Laura Tribe, executive director of consumer group OpenMedia told the CBC. “Data caps are definitely unnecessary. We see them as a punitive mechanism to make sure that people suppress the amount of data that they use and overpay when they go over what they want.”

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), an industry lobbying group representing the country’s wireless companies, claims data caps are necessary to prevent overwhelming Canada’s wireless networks, which could make calling 911 impossible. But voice calls can travel over different spectrum than data traffic, and no wireless company or the CWTA would admit if their networks were close to being overhwhelmed by traffic as a result of millions of Canadians working from home.

Tribe says the traffic spikes that have come from the coronavirus crisis prove her point. Even with data usage at all-time highs, no provider is claiming their network is close to capacity. That should call into question whether there is any need at all for mobile data caps.

“They’re a way to increase profits and suppress the usage of the networks,” said Tribe.

Siberia May Have Better Rural Internet Access Than You Do

Russian satellite television provider Tricolor, in collaboration with Eutelsat Networks, has launched satellite broadband service throughout Siberia, with data plans offering speeds up to 100 Mbps.

Customers can choose from packages of internet and television service or just go broadband-only. A one time fee of $136.75 gets the customer a startup package including a satellite receiver and data modem. Customers can pick up equipment from stores in Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Barnaul, Irkutsk and Kemerovo or have it direct shipped to their home address.

Customers can choose between three “unlimited” data packages: 40/10 Mbps for $75/mo, 20/5 Mbps for $45/mo, or 10/5 Mbps for $27/mo. Like many satellite providers, Tricolor reduces data speeds during peak usage times for customers using over 50, 25, and 15 GB of usage per month, respectively. But Tricolor says speed reductions will not be as severe as some providers that reduce speeds to less than 1 Mbps. A faster, usage-limited tier with speeds up to 100 Mbps is also to be introduced, and customers can get discounted subscriptions by agreeing to usage caps on the three aforementioned speed tiers.

Tricolor provides solid reception across the Russian Federation, including the vast expanse of Siberia. Wiring a country the size of Russia is a daunting task, so satellite and wireless internet services are likely to be a major offering across the country for years to come.

Tricolor’s coverage map.

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.

 

Sprint Shutting Down Virgin Mobile; Remaining Customers Being Switched to Boost Mobile

Phillip Dampier January 7, 2020 Boost Mobile, Sprint, Virgin Mobile 2 Comments

Sprint’s prepaid mobile division

Sprint will be closing down its prepaid Virgin Mobile service in February and will shift customers to its Boost Mobile brand instead and drop its standalone Mobile Broadband service.

The wireless company has virtually ignored Virgin Mobile at least as long as Sprint has been in negotiations to merge operations with T-Mobile USA. The Virgin Mobile website has also been neglected, with no media releases for almost two years and over two years of unchanged rates. Last October, Sprint dropped its last major retail arrangement with Walmart that allowed Virgin Mobile devices and airtime to be sold in Walmart stores. Best Buy and several grocery chains ended sales of Virgin Mobile devices even earlier. As of late last year, new customers could only sign up for Virgin Mobile through its own website, a sure sign Sprint was prepared to accept customer attrition and was likely to pull support for the prepaid brand.

Sprint inherited Boost Mobile after it acquired Nextel in 2005. Boost Mobile had offered its own prepaid service over Nextel’s push-to-talk network beginning in 2001. After Sprint shuttered Nextel’s network, it operated both Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile on Sprint’s network as competing prepaid wireless services. In the last two years, Sprint apparently decided it only needed to support a single brand, and quietly began shifting its marketing exclusively towards Boost.

This week, Sprint confirmed it was shutting down the Virgin Mobile brand in the U.S. in a prepared statement.

“We regularly examine our plans to ensure that we’re offering the best services in line with our customer needs. Beginning on the week of Feb. 2, we will be moving Virgin Mobile customer accounts to our sister brand Boost Mobile – consolidating the brands under one cohesive, efficient and effective prepaid team. In most circumstances, customers can keep their current phone and will receive a comparable or better Boost Mobile service plan with no extra cost.”

The transition will strand Virgin Mobile Broadband and Broadband2Go customers that use a standalone device for mobile broadband service, often used by RV-traveling customers or those in rural areas. Sprint has decided that Boost Mobile will not serve those customers, so mobile data service provided over standalone hotspot devices will end next month.

An FAQ on Virgin Mobile’s website provides some other insight:

Customers were notified in early January about the decision to discontinue Virgin Mobile USA service plans. At that time, we informed customers of the transfer to Boost Mobile. In most instances, your existing account will be transferred to Boost Mobile with your device, and a comparable or better Boost Mobile service plan at no extra cost to you. You will keep your phone number, and your monthly payment date will remain the same as long as you continue on time payments until the transfer to Boost Mobile is complete.

At this time, paying for your service through your PayPal account will not be supported on your new Boost Mobile account and therefore, Paypal will be removed as a registered payment vehicle 4-5 days prior to the migration date. Customers enrolled on a payment method or AutoPay with PayPal accounts will need to re-establish payment options and re-enroll in Autopay using a major credit/debit card. Boost Mobile also does not accept 45/90 Day Top Up Payment Option for service payments. Customers enrolled in 45/90 Day Top Up Payment option will need to re-establish payment option and re-enroll in a Low Balance Autopay option using a major credit/debit card prior to transition in order to avoid service interruption. If your account is impacted by either of these payment methods, we will notify you with instructions for how to make changes prior to transfer date in order to avoid service interruption. Please note the Texas LIDA credits will no longer be issued following transfer to Boost Mobile.

  • Taxes and fees will now be INCLUDED in your new Boost Mobile plan.
  • 6,800 Boost Mobile locations nationwide for your convenience.
  • 99% nationwide coverage with voice roaming.
  • Boost Perks, a reward program exclusive to Boost Mobile customers.

If you have a Mobile Broadband (MBB) device, this device and service will not transfer to Boost Mobile.

In order to avoid service interruption for your MBB, you will need to switch your service to a new provider. If you choose to consider Boost Mobile, please visit Boostmobile.com or your nearest Boost Mobile store for information and current promotions.

The wind down of Virgin Mobile may also serve as a bit of housekeeping as Sprint prepares to merge with T-Mobile. A condition of that merger is spinning off Sprint’s prepaid services including Boost Mobile service to DISH Network to create another viable national wireless carrier to protect competition. Dropping Virgin Mobile now is likely to provide an easier transition for DISH, which would launch operations with a combination of Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile customers.

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