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AT&T Businesses Cellphones Communications

Mobile Virtual Networks Are Booming Again 79

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Sue Marek reports at Fierce Wireless that the mobile virtual network operator business is booming again, with new MVNOs launching nearly every week and operators like Sprint and T-Mobile hungry for MVNO partners because MVNOs offer a good economic return and can help them to grow their market share and reach into markets where they might not have visibility. 'It's a good strategic play for us,' says Matt Carter, president of Sprint wholesale and emerging solutions. 'It's another army to help us garner more subscribers on the network.' But unlike the MVNO craze of the 2005-2006 era--highlighted by high-profile failures like ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile, Amp'd Mobile and Helio, today's high-profile MVNOs like FreedomPop, Republic Wireless, Solavei and Ting offer innovative service plans, marketing techniques and, in some cases, devices that they hope will draw consumers to their offerings. Today's MVNOs can be successful with a seemingly tiny number of customers. For example, Tucows' MVNO Ting, which sells mobile usage by minutes, text messages and megabytes, announced they currently have around 25,000 total customers, and that the business is on track to cross the break-even threshold in the fourth quarter of this year. Virtual carriers now also get the latest phones like the Moto X at launch and don't have to wait for new Android handsets to trickle down."
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Mobile Virtual Networks Are Booming Again

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  • Hopefully VoLTE will make this even more popular. I want to just buy a sim and use whatever device I like. Maybe I want a smartphone without data service, maybe I want to bring a device the carrier has never heard of, maybe I want to see some damn competition in our mobile market. Why the FCC does not mandate interoperability like we do with landlines I will never understand.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )

      Why the FCC does not mandate interoperability like we do with landlines I will never understand.

      Money talks and bullshit walks. And who has the money?

      That said, Ting FTW!

      I have been a Ting customer for about 6 months now and it is good. Coverage is a little lacking in some areas that I go, but that is sprints fault, hopefully they will build out more. I just brought my girlfriend over from verizon onto my account. She was grandfathered unlimited until she got a new phone/contract and using 3gb data a month at about $80. Before her charging port broke, I got her weaned down to ~500MB data by usi

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        I would rather not hassle with CDMA at all. Give me a sim and let that be it.

        Ting seems like a good idea, but I am not limiting myself to just sprint devices.

        • The LTE/CDMA phones used by Verizon,Sprint and MVNOs using their networks utilize SIMs for authentication.
          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            Yes, but you can't make a voice call so far without CDMA. The SIM is only used for LTE. This is why you still can't bring a random LTE phone over.

            • by afidel ( 530433 )

              A random LTE device is unlikely to work with Sprint anyways, they're the only people doing LTE on band 25 (1900g) according to a quick google check. Their 800MHz band 26 deployment will give them much better coverage but it's not going to help any with phone selection unless the band 20 processors for Europe are built to include band 26 as well.

            • The SIM authenticates the CDMA side of things too. Switching LTE phones on Verizon now just requires switching SIM cards between phones, no more calling your changing the ESN/MEID on their website. With the explosion of numerous LTE bands on top of the existing legacy voice bands, its going to be difficult to make a true "world phone" these days. Even unlocked GSM/LTE handsets are coming in multiple SKUs to accommodate the various LTE bands.
              • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

                But it means you need a phone that supports CDMA, which if you are importing is pretty rare.

                Hopefully someone will rise to that challenge. Otherwise competition will again be non-existent.

              • Verizon doesn't allow 4G LTE on MVNOs so it doesn't really matter for the purpose of this discussion.
      • Coverage is a little lacking in some areas that I go, but that is sprints fault, hopefully they will build out more.

        The mobile market is always fascinating. Ting piggybacks on Sprint's network (ultimately driving down revenue for Sprint) and does not build any of their own infrastructure, yet their customers point the finger right back at Sprint when coverage becomes an issue.
        The future is pretty straightforward for companies like Ting - once they have a large enough customer base and start taking a measurable chunk of Sprint's revenue, Sprint will either buy them out or lobby for legislation to shut them down. Sure,

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          Better yet we Ting starts building its own towers and offers this service via something like a peering agreement back to sprint. Ideally we would have forced compatible networks onto the providers and your phone would hop onto whatever tower was cheapest for your service provider to buy service from.

          A better free marketish approach would have been to separate infrastructure from service. Let company A sell connectivity to Company B that provides the service. Thus A has no reason not to work with Companies C

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Is TIng taking Sprint's revenue? Or is it taking revenue from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile and sending some of it Sprint's way instead? I just advised my mother-in-law to go to Ting, from T-Mobile. Sprint has better coverage where she is. She wasn't keen on paying $100 a month for a smartphone account though, so Sprint would not otherwise have gotten any share of her business.

          • Just went from P-Tel (used to be Sprint CDMA now is T-Mobile GSM) to Ecomobile (Sprint). T-Mobile has virtually no coverage on their own equipment in my state, so I had to find another MVNO. Thought of trying a Verizon or AT&T MVNO, but I know that Verizon's coverage at my house is crap. Ecomobile's rates are pretty much the same as P-Tel's though. Talk 5/min, Text 2/text, Data 10/mb, MMS 10/mms.
            Works great for someone that uses the phone as a phone, and not as an internet terminal.

        • You're assuming Ting is a net revenue drain on Sprint. Do you have evidence?
          I suspect the situation is like this: Sprint wants customers that bring in, say, a profit margin of $30 per customer per month. Ting resells Sprint's service and brings in customers at, say, a profit margin of $3 per customer per month to Sprint. Sprint would rather have the $30 than $3, but if not for Ting the customer would be using AT&T or Verizon, so Sprint would instead get $0 and in turn Sprint's two biggest compe
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Your post is very informative on the sad, sad state of communications in the US. "You can bring over devices from other carriers that use the same technology" should never be an advantage, because it is assumed you can. Never had a problem with this, anywhere but in the US. Also, why would a network provider "care" about what you flash on your phone? Seriously, you guys put up with way too much crap there.

        • The thing is Network providers love installing bundles of " we either got paid for the ap or we get paid when the ap gets used" things so if folks decide to flash vanilla images they get cut out of that money.

          on another note does anybody know (as in has done it themselves) how to flash the recovery image on an HTC thunderbolt that has the latest V firmware?? (im wanting to root it so i can evict the V aps).

          Oh btw i do not want to lose the data so nothing that does a hard reset.

      • I second that. What's interesting is that Sprint's data rates are pretty bad, but their voice quality is pretty good. I can still hold conversations with very weak signal. Ting's customer service is located in the USA and is the best I've ever had to deal with. Someone picks up almost menu systems to deal with EVER. The reps are have all been extremely nice, will and able to help out with almost any issue (within their power to handle, anyway. I bought an HTC One used and didn't reali
        • by afidel ( 530433 )

          Once an area has been upgraded to Network Vision data rates are fine, I got 15278 down 8673 up on one of the first 4g cells to go live in my market the other day (we're legacy Motorola so we're fairly late for a major market and only a few isolated cells have been turned up)

      • We went from $140 a month for 2 lines on T-Mobile to ~$50 month for the same 2 lines on Ting. If you are mostly in WiFi rich areas during the day or just don't use a lot of data it is an excellent value. And their customer service is top notch. For anyone who's been on the internet for a while they will know the company since Ting is a TUCOWS endeavor. I'd be happier if they were on a GSM/LTE carrier but I haven't found a better value. I've already recouped the cost of the 2 phones we bought in saving and r
    • I'm hoping Cricket dies, because... I mean I get the small operator thing and competition and whatnot, but I've seen their "You can pay $10 or $20!" commercials like ... I'll see 18 cricket commercials in a row, and then some gay ass Bud Light commercial when I'm watching YouTube videos. I checked? Costs the same as T-Mobile for greatly reduced service, not half as god damn much as anything.

      T-Mobile isn't even half as much as Verizon, and they're claiming they cost half as much. I pay $60/mo on T-Mobi

    • by Builder ( 103701 )

      We just call that 'normal'.

      The whole idea of your cell provider choosing your hardware or not letting you use a phone on their network is really confusing to most of the world.

  • happens with everything. new product/service comes out and people are first willing to pay a premium. a few years later once everyone uses it people start looking to save money since its now a commodity

    same with smartphones. the cheapo ones are more than good enough for most people so there is no reason to buy the newest iphone or galaxy s4

    i'm planning to keep my iphone 5 for 3-4 years and move to t-mobile to save money. t-mobile gets this. AT&T and Verizon are trying to fight for the customers willing

  • by metalmaster ( 1005171 ) on Thursday August 29, 2013 @08:46AM (#44705883)

    You often get the coverage and reach of the leased carrier for maybe half the cost. A typical "all you can eat" from a MVNO will cost $50-60 compared to a $80-100+ bill from the leased counterpart. The caveat here is that you're going to pay closer to retail for your handset

    Contract carriers are beginning to do some interesting things to their plan structure and handset pricing like abolishing contracts and handset "lock in" but they still want you to pay an arm and a leg for such services. T-Mobile has done the best as far as price goes....they'll lower your recurring monthly charge to $50, but then you have to tack on a $20-30 fee for a handset that youre basically financing

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      You can just buy a phone outright, you know that right? Then there is no $20 fee at all.

      If you cannot afford $250-$800 for a smartphone you can't afford to be spending $50+/month on service.

      • Oh, i know. I paid outright for my GS3 last year and through some trade-in magic I got a HTC One a few months back all to keep my plan as cheap as possible
      • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <> on Thursday August 29, 2013 @09:31AM (#44706327) Homepage

        This is only viable on T-Mobile.

        With AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, you pay that fee whether or not you paid for your phone outright.

        With the Nexus 4 at $199 now, paying outright isn't exactly a bad thing.

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          Small correction because it applies to me, right now I must pay full price for phones on VZW or they will take my unlimited plan away and charge me for many more minutes I do not want.

          Also you can do what I describe on AT&T via a MVNO like Straight Talk.

          • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

            To be clear, I meant that it's only viable on a major carrier with T-Mo.

            MVNOs are a whole other story, although the primaries are now trying to crack down.

            For example, you can no longer get Straight Talk SIMs on AT&T. Net10 SIMs are limited to 1.5GB/month if on AT&T, and it's EXTREMELY difficult to get one on AT&T. If T-Mobile has ANY coverage in the area code you input (even if only EDGE), you only are offered T-Mobile SIMs.

            Red Pocket is more expensive ($60 for 3GB/mo) but at least it's not d

        • by afidel ( 530433 )

          The Sprint owned MVNO's are basically the same as T-Mobile, you buy the phone up front and pay a significantly reduced monthly cost $35/45/55 for Virgin Mobile (300/1200/unlimited minutes with 2.5GB of data and unlimited SMS/MMS)

    • In particular, MVNOs often have very restricted or non-existent roaming in areas where the underlying carrier doesn't have any towers. Even if roaming is available for talk and text, it will often be shut off for data. This is even common on prepaid plans by the carriers themselves, or captive MVNOs like Virgin Mobile USA and Boost, both owned by Sprint.

      Also, carriers give priority to direct subscribers over MVNO customers (which makes sense to me).

      On the plus side, though, you can get usable service on the

    • My experience with Amp'd some years back was not great. I paid $100-$200 (I forget) to get started and they went out of business a few weeks later.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Where can I find a cell phone plan that works like my calling card? I put 300 minutes on my calling card, oh 10 years ago. I've used about 80 of them. The minutes are still there. Every prepaid cell phone plan I can find expires minutes on an annual basis (at best) but requires me to buy far, far more minutes than I need.

      What's the right cell phone plan for someone who expects to never ever use his cell phone, but wants one for emergencies and emergencies only?

      • If you ever figure that out let us know. I have been looking for a while and haven't found one. Although if you want a cellphone for real emergencies (911 service only) then just get a cellphone that works and keep it charged.
        • by JazzLad ( 935151 )
          Sorry for the dupe post, but I don't know if you'll go back to look - I replied to Hatta - Page Plus is the cheapest MVNO out there from a purely $/mo perspective - I pay $2.50/mo (that's literally it, no taxes, etc) for a line for my daughter. Scroll up for more details :)
      • by JazzLad ( 935151 )
        $10/4 months/100 minutes [] Gotta remember to pay the $10 3 times a year, but close to what you want.

        I have used it for my 9 year old daughter's line since she turned 8, it's perfect for emergency use & minutes roll-over, so when she actually starts to use the phone more often, she'll have minutes banked.

        Service is VZW, I use the $80/yr plan & am on track to get a whole year out of it (2000 minutes, I use voip when on wifi). I can recommend a dealer if anyone wants, he has taken really good care of
        • by Hatta ( 162192 )

          Gotta remember to pay the $10 3 times a year, but close to what you want

          That's just ridiculous. Why can't they let me pay $30 once a year? No, they've got to jack it up to $80. Hell, I'll pay $300 for 10 years, just don't expire the fucking minutes. What a scam.

          • by JazzLad ( 935151 )
            Well, the $80 is for 2000 minutes, not 300, so there's that, and they never claimed to be a 'cell phone plan that works like [a] calling card' but are closer to one than anyone else is in the US (I have investigated every MVNO registered in the US). I agree that it would be useful, but I suspect that if there was enough (actual) demand for a line like that, there would be a plan for it.

            I'm with you, I would prefer what you describe; my PP dealer will let me put the $10 on 'auto-pay' but the 'auto' part
  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday August 29, 2013 @08:46AM (#44705889) Homepage

    I couple of months back, I picked up an unlocked GSM Pre3, and I haven't had a chance yet to really dig into which of the pre-paid companies offer good terms for smartphones for my usage pattern.

    I know that Phone Scoop [] has a list, but it doesn't mention the 4 virtual carriers mentioned in the article summary.

  • These companies need the newest iPhones, Galaxies (Galaxys?), and whatever else from Moto/HTC in order to be taken seriously. No one wants to pick up a new phone that came straight out of last year.

    Also stop charging for text messages. Everyone knows it's bullcrap.

    • As anonymous coward said above, read the article. Some of the MVNOs DO offer the latest phones. The service uses Sprint's infrastructure - and in some places that sucks - but you can get a Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, or an HTC One. They don't have an iPhone yet, so Apple fans are out of luck. But otherwise, that's the best Android currently has to offer other than maybe the latest from LG.
      • by emjames ( 66836 )

        Yes, sprint isn't the greatest in all areas, but I drove from VA to FL to TX and we had pretty decent service the whole time, I think we lost it a few times in the middle of nowhere MS and AK, but voice roams on Verizon, so it's decent for emergencies. But around town and in all the places I've been it works great (3G is a little pokey sometimes). If you're using 4-5+GB of data a month, it's not for you, and that's why the VZWs and ATTs exist. I rarely go over 1GB of data a month (2 phones). But there a

        • I don't care about data, I almost never use it unless I'm on wifi anyway. But I do like to reliably send and receive phone calls, and my phone, and my Virgin Mobile phone before it (Virgin Mobile also uses the Sprint network) have awful reception around my house. My wife's Verizon phone works flawlessly - at literally four times the monthly cost.
  • what the hell a mobile virtual network is:

    A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) (or mobile other licensed operator (MOLO) in the United Kingdom) is a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which the MVNO provides services to its customers.

    so....headline reads: "wireless resellers are cash cows"

    • In other words, a middleman.

      Yea, we could build a straight road that takes you from A to B directly. But it's just so much nicer to build one that goes via C: the driver gets great views, C can build a tollbooth or service station, and the tire and petroleum guys gotta get their cut somehow!

  • by msk ( 6205 ) on Thursday August 29, 2013 @10:48AM (#44707079)

    Sprint won't let Virgin Mobile phones be moved to Ting. I am a Ting customer but would like to have my old Virgin Mobile phone as a backup or even as an optional third number. Sprint has already gotten the revenue from me for that phone and won't give a palatable answer for why they won't allow it to be used.

    "They don't allow it" is a wholly unacceptable answer and it's the best I've received.

    • "They don't allow it" is a wholly unacceptable answer and it's the best I've received.

      How about "We ran the numbers and allowing Virgin Mobile users to move to Ting would cost us $10M in additional system integration charges while not doing so would cost $2M in potentially lost customers. I think the company made the right decision there, don't you?" More acceptable or comforting? Maybe not, but probably closer to the truth.

  • I live in a predominantly ATT area and a couple of years ago tried one of the ATT MVNOs for a month. What I found was worse coverage, a lot of dropped calls, (more) unreliabe data and generally sucky service. I reinstalled the ATT SIM and reset the phone in less than a week. About 2 weeks later I came across an article (I think here on /.) that pretty much said that MVNOs were treated as "2nd class citizens" on the respective network so it pretty much made sense. I haven't seen anything to support the no

  • i recently switched from sprint to ting and it was painless. kept my two smartphones, ported the numbers, and my monthly bill dropped from $135/month to $33/month (for two lines). the customer account section of their website is a model of simplicity and effectiveness. the only downside is that it's not unlimited - the more you use the more you pay, especially for data. but texts are cheap and if you're like us and have wifi most of the time it's a killer deal. HIGHLY recommended.

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