Wednesday, April 26, 2017

US Cellular's Backup Plan

US Cellular is one of the more popular among our Wireless Noise subjects, and we were reminded after our article on Verizon's lack of a viable value-oriented wireless choice, that US Cellular has even less.  US Cellular has not been competitive with their Prepaid product, possibly because they can't offer as much coverage as larger carriers.  We think they can, and more importantly, they should.  Like Verizon, US Cellular's best competitor should be themselves.


US Cellular has an advantage with their less-restrictive ownership.  They can be much more creative in their combinations of their own network bundled with roaming partners.  They even cut a deal with Google Fi, a potential competitor.

US Cellular continues to expand their network, they recently purchased some new 600 MHz spectrum.  They also need to take a broader view for their customers who want to save a few bucks, without leaving open the barn door.  Hey, US Cellular could buy US Mobile to give them a bargain outlet. but we hear Virgin Mobile might be available...or at least not being used.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Verizon Has No Backup Plan

Now that Verizon has reported a first-ever net loss of wireless customers, we want to check on their backup plan.  Oh...we don't see one.  Let's look at the competition.  AT&T has both a Cricket and a GoPhone.  T-Mobile has MetroPCS.  Even Sprint has a Boost and a Virgin.  Each of the other "Top 4"  have a prepaid version for value-oriented customers to fall back on, where Verizon claimed their Prepaid was TracFone.  We thought that was short-sighted.  Now it's blind-sided.

Verizon is losing wireless customers to the competition when they could have been losing customers to themselves.  They tried to revive their own prepaid brand, but it's too little, too late. Are they afraid they might dilute their product?  We don't think they should be baking up a "Verizon Lite," but they do need a Plan B.


Last week Verizon announced a deal to lay more fiber.  Now it looks like before they add more fiber to their diet, they need to unblock their wireless pipeline. Fortunately, Verizon is moving in the right direction by expanding their network bandwidth and swimming into the 5G depth of the pool, but don't lose those of us at the other end of the pipe.  OK, it's a good thing they threw us an Unlimited bone, but figures say we want more.  Let's hope TracFone doesn't really become Verizon's prepaid division, they're one of the disruptors stirring these wireless waters.

Monday, April 17, 2017

T-Mobile Jumps Over Another Hurdle

It was little over a year ago we noted that T-Mobile had overcome our biggest objection to sign up as T-Mobile customers.  They had purchased a large chunk of 700 MHz spectrum, and had actually built cell sites using those frequencies giving them more, and better, coverage than ever.  Now that they have purchased another large swath of spectrum in the new 600MHz band, we would expect them to pretty much cover the entire US (yes, Alaska and Hawaii as well) as well as...or, egad, better, than other carriers.

We don't usually give credit to carriers for new coverage until it actually happens and in this case we will add our usual dose of caution: we won't be using this new spectrum until we can get 600 MHz-capable phones.  They're coming, and T-Mobile claims they'll start using their newly-acquired space later this year.  Yes, this is possible, but to fully use this new spectrum, a few hundred TV stations have to move their on-air TV channels, which could take years.  Also, 600 MHz isn't the best wireless coverage band, but it fits well into T-Mobile's spectrum portfolio even though it doesn't address those elusive "5G" needs.  The part we like the most is what happened in several areas with their 700 MHz bands: coverage in rural America.


The next thing we have to endure are all the stories that will state that now T-Mobile becomes an even better takeover candidate, or merger partner with Sprint.  Aw, c'mon.  That honor belongs to Dish and Comcast, the other big 600 MHz auction winners.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sprint Goes Price Happy

Sprint is competing aggressively in the "Unlimited" competition with some interesting adjustments.  First, their Unlimited plan among 5 family members could cost you as little as $28 per month per line, but you could have as many as 10 lines with even more savings! That price goes up on 6/30/18, but if your phones are paid off by then, you'll be ahead.  This follows the end of their "Half Off" sale.


Sprint also mentioned that they will be pricing their own Sprint Prepaid more to attract the non-Unlimited customer, but that advantage slips away when compared to their 'regular' plans...unless your credit really sucks.  Sprint's Prepaid also has a limited choice of phones.

On the other side of the Sprint building, their Virgin Mobile brand is still waiting to pounce on the market with a "disruptor" price, while making sure they don't do harm to their other prepaids, including Boost Mobile.  That's 3 prepaids from one major wireless company.  I wonder if there are arguments in the hall at Sprint headquarters about who gets to do what: price wars within the same company?  Back in 2009 we pondered that Virgin Mobile would become the low-priced version of Sprint.  I'm sure they'll get around to it in less than 8 years.

Friday, March 31, 2017

US Cellular on the Cheap

We have always thought of US Cellular as worth a premium price, after all, they're a real carrier.  However, when there's a chance to do it cheaper, we take it.  If you live in US Cellular territory you can use Google Project Fi and enjoy the benefits of US Cellular for a much better price.  However, the chances of using their network is low if Sprint and T-Mobile are nearby.  We can't predict which network gets priority, but we can be fairly certain that where US Cellular is your best, or only, choice, Google Fi will find it...which is a good thing.


Google Fi can also seek out a Wi-Fi network, so your chances of using US Cellular are potentially even less, unless a nearby "Off" switch removes that Wi-Fi from the equation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sprint's Spectrum: Money in the Bank

More than one analyst this week claims that Sprint and T-Mobile must merge.  Each analyst also notes that the marriage faces a number of challenges: anti-trust laws, incompatible technology, and more.  So, after I stopped gritting my teeth, I looked at the advantages of each company to go it alone.

As we noted earlier this week, T-Mobile was the beneficiary of some prime ex-AT&T spectrum in their failed merger attempt. T-Mobile also has their new 700 MHz bandwidth and may have won some of the 600 MHz space from this year's auction.


Sprint may be sitting on a spectrum gold mine.  A Wells Fargo analyst claims Sprint still has some prime holdings across the country but now the 2.5 GHz spectrum they acquired with Clear Wireless gives them some prime 5G real estate as well.  All Sprint needs to do is add water, some capital expenditures, and they'll grow an even more robust network, maybe with help from someone who can make withdrawals from that spectrum bank.

Friday, March 17, 2017

T-Mobile Doesn't Want to Merge with Sprint

I cringe every time I hear someone say it's time for Sprint and T-Mobile to merge.  This rumor has been floating around ever since the Feds denied the merger of T-Mobile and AT&T in 2011.  A few days ago T-Mobile's CFO, Braxton Carter, said at a Deutsche Bank investor conference that the carrier is more interested in merging with a cable company like AT&T did with DirecTV.

It's this thinking that keeps us from losing sleep over the US falling into a Canadian-like situation of only 3 major wireless carriers, but you can't say it can't happen.  Sprint's parent company does have deep pockets and could make an offer T-Mobile (and their stockholders) can't refuse.  All concern about losing one of our carriers goes out the window when there's money to be made.  Additionally, increases in interest rates have made the cost of money greater, making a big deal just a bit less likely.


Some of T-Mobile's recent success (and improved coverage) has been built from the $4 billion of cash and licenses it got from AT&T as a breakup fee when AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile was blocked in 2011.  T-Mobile would be smart to avoid that scenario by staying away from a merger of another wireless carrier.  They don't want me to lose sleep, do they?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Verizon Gets an AttaBoy

A few weeks ago we gave kudos to T-Mobile for giving Verizon a good run for their money as they finished the download derby in almost a tie.  More recently, the Root Metrics measurements put Verizon back in  first place for performance in both local and national performance.  We report this to keep from appearing like T-Mobile fanboys.  To be fair, the RootMetrics reports on network performance, not coverage, which is why Sprint continues to do well even though they do it in fewer locations.

Yes, RootMetrics is a bit more credible in this measurement, but after years of marginal coverage compared to the Top 2 carriers, there has been such a huge improvement with T-Mobile, primarily using their newly-acquired 700 MHz spectrum, we can't help but note how far they have come.  700 MHz provides better building penetration in urban areas and longer distance coverage in rural areas.  We presume that T-Mobile will add to these "low-band" holdings to further expand this better coverage in areas where they are not yet available.

I recently had a discussion with a reader about how T-Mobile has made inroads into Montana, a state that we did not expect a carrier like T-Mobile to ever cover well, but it looks like they will, soon.  With even more recently-acquired spectrum there, we expect improvements in the Big Sky state.  However, I will give credit to Verizon Wireless for giving us faster downloads and more reliable connections so we can post those pictures of us posing with the bears in Yellowstone National Park.  What better use can we ask of our spectrum?

Monday, March 13, 2017

An AT&T Grows in Mexico

AT&T, the newest cellular carrier in Mexico, is finally showing substantial growth.  With about 20% of the Mexican market, AT&T isn't the top dog, but a closer look shows a remarkable 38% growth in the past year.  We didn't predict that AT&T would dominate the country anytime soon, but over a year ago we did predict that roaming South of the Border would become a much better experience for US roamers.

Oddly, T-Mobile was the first US carrier to enable "Free" Mexico roaming, with AT&T to quickly follow.  Today, roaming in Mexico just isn't what it was just 2 years ago.  Last December our AT&T and Cricket phones roamed there on whatever network was available, which wasn't always AT&T.  We'll be looking for improvements this year at Spring Break.

Also, the other networks in Mexico are upgrading to 4G-LTE more hastily, most likely in response to the invasion of the Yankees who are pushing the AT&T network to be the fastest in the country.  TelCel, the country largest wireless operator still faces government pressure to slice up their communications monopoly and when (if?) that happens, AT&T (and Movistar) should stand to benefit.  ¡Muy Bien!