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Recent Entries

Verizon iPhone has GSM/CDMA Chip Inside
Next iPhone May Be GSM/CDMA Hybrid
Virgin Mobile Throttles Unlimited Service
Verizon's iPhone Full of Tradeoffs, Good and Bad
AT&T Issues 4G Plans, 3G Status Update
Verizon Wireless Releases 3G Femtocell
Verizon's Clever iPad/MiFi Mash-Up
T-Mobile's Throttled Limit Didn't Change from 5 GB
T-Mobile Plans Prepaid Data Plans
AT&T Responds to Virgin Mobile with No-Contract Plans

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February 7, 2011

Verizon iPhone has GSM/CDMA Chip Inside

By Glenn Fleishman

The folks at iFixIt found a dual-standard GSM/CDMA chip in the Verizon model of the iPhone 4: In Step 17, the teardown experts note that the Qualcomm MDM6600, which can support GSM standards up to HSPA+ (14.4 Mbps flavor) as well as Qualcomm's traditional CDMA voice and data standards up to EVDO Rev. A (deployed in the US by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel) as well as EVDO Rev. B. There are an enormous number of shared characteristics between the GSM and CDMA standards, and Qualcomm represents a significant minority percentage of all the patents in a pool that's used for UMTS/HSPA.

Apple is spending more to put this dual-mode chip in, of course, than it would for a single-standard chip. But it makes a bloody lot of sense. By having a single chip that can be switched to GSM or CDMA, Apple can switch to a single line of manufacture to supply phones worldwide. They'll save the cost in a higher price for the chip by not having two separate products to make and track. I wouldn't be surprised if we see iPhone 4 models sold for the GSM market that are identical with new antenna locations to the so-called CDMA model.

Does this mean that Apple will offer a world phone for CDMA and GSM markets? Note that the Verizon version of the phone has no SIM slot nor built-in SIM card, so it can't be used on a GSM network in its current form even with a firmware update. Will an iPhone 5 be switchable? It's hard to tell. I imagine Verizon Wireless would prefer the CDMA lock in, but Verizon Wireless is minority-owned by Vodafone, a worldwide GSM provider, which would almost certainly like to sell a single model worldwide that could be easily switched to work in the US or in any of its non-US markets. There's a Droid that does that already.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:54 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Cellular | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 18, 2011

Next iPhone May Be GSM/CDMA Hybrid

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple reported to put GSM/CDMA chip from Qualcomm into next iPhone: It's hard to take rumors too seriously months ahead of the typical June introduction of the next iPhone model, but this is a credible notion. Qualcomm has offered a GSM/CDMA hybrid chip to allow worldwide (and intra-country) roaming for some time. There are few world phones with both GSM and CDMA. Apple could have a big hit by using a combined offering, even as it reduces its costs of maintaining two separate production lines.

Apple's first CDMA will be out 3 February to existing Verizon Wireless customers who signed up to pre-order. Customers new to the carrier can get phones starting 10 February. While worldwide CDMA subscriptions are below a billion, and a relatively modest percentage have 3G access, it's not a market to ignore. Other phone platforms, like Android with Verizon, will fill those niches.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular | No Comments

January 13, 2011

Virgin Mobile Throttles Unlimited Service

By Glenn Fleishman

It was too good to last: Virgin Mobile's remarkable $40 MiFi plan with unlimited service will no longer be so remarkable. That $40 bought you unlimited data on Sprint's core (non-roaming) 3G network. Service lasted 30 days, an neither a contract nor cancellation fees were involved. The revised terms, for new plans activated starting 15 February, will throttle your usage after you pass 5 GB within the 30-day period. (The MiFi is a portable cellular router that shares a mobile broadband connection with up to five devices via Wi-Fi. The plan requires separate purchase of a MiFi from Virgin Mobile for $150.)

Just as T-Mobile implemented with their 5 GB, no overage charge plan several months ago, Virgin Mobile will restrict throughput to a low level (probably 50 to 100 Kbps, based on other carriers' actions worldwide) for the remainder of the period. You can immediately purchase another $40 plan, however, to reset the clock.

I assume Virgin Mobile came to the same conclusion that other carriers did. It's likely that up to the 97th percentile of users consumes under 5 GB, that two percent eat 5 to 20 GB per month, and 1 percent consumes tens or even hundreds of GBs. While Virgin Mobile could cancel such accounts, it's not a reliable way of restricting usage and causes hard feelings. Virgin Mobile also certainly did not want to put in overage charges because it's a fully prepaid plan.

Because Virgin Mobile was the lowest cost, I'm also assuming heavy-data users, being mauled with overage fees from Verizon Wireless or Sprint/Clearwire (on the 3G side of the 3G/4G hybrids they offer now), migrated to Virgin Mobile.

Virgin could change the plan's name to "5 GB or 30 days, whichever comes first," which would be like AT&T's iPad plans. But it's perhaps a little kinder than that, offering the throttled rate so you're not suddenly cut off or having to pay the meter right away.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:39 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Financial | No Comments

January 11, 2011

Verizon's iPhone Full of Tradeoffs, Good and Bad

By Glenn Fleishman

So Verizon has an iPhone: Empires (of technology) have risen and fallen since Apple introduced its iPhone in 2007, and the question constantly on everyone's lips: When will Verizon get a model that works on its network? The answer: 3 February for existing customers and 10 February for new ones.

The CDMA-based iPhone has piles of tradeoffs, but these aren't necessarily worse than using a GSM iPhone on AT&T or other networks around the world.

The Downside

The ViPhone doesn't have LTE. No phone has LTE. We're not going to see LTE-based phones with decent battery life and size for several months, and the early ones will be monsters of compromise. There is no agreed-upon voice standard for LTE networks yet, which means Verizon will make compromises in whatever voice option it picks (initially) before later upgrading to something more universally supported. I don't expect an LTE iPhone until 2012, because coverage and other tradeoffs won't make it desirable until then.

You can't talk and use 3G data at the same time. Verizon opted for EVDO (Evolution Data Only), which tells a story with its name. Voice is handled separately and can't be used simultaneously. Wi-Fi and voice can be used at the same time.

It's Verizon Wireless, for cripe's sake. Verizon has a history of offering less-than-forthcoming information about its service plans, and is in the middle of settling a dispute in which it denied for years charging people $1.99 and other fees for inadvertent usage of mobile data without a plan (when pressing a conveniently located button that's on every featurephone). People don't like any carrier, but Verizon didn't make itself any friends with this.

We don't know pricing plans yet. Verizon's 3G service plans aren't bad, but they aren't enormously better than AT&T's unless you use a ton of data each month.

Worldwide roaming isn't an option. Despite being 45-percent owned by GSM carrier Vodafone, the ViPhone won't work on most networks worldwide because it's CDMA only. It's odd that with Vodafone selling many millions of iPhones into other markets, Verizon Wireless, Vodafone, and Apple wouldn't have teamed up to offer both. There are chips, from Qualcomm notably, that allow GSM/CDMA switchover. You won't be able to use your ViPhone in Canada or Mexico, notably, and you can't swap out a SIM in GSM markets for another carrier, something that carriers allow or make easy in some markets, or that you can jailbreak to allow. (Update: Canada and Mexico do have CDMA operators, and Verizon supports roaming. Coverage in Mexico is quite limited for voice and data; in Canada, there's broader availability, but 3G data isn't everywhere.)

AT&T has a path to faster service, with HSPA+ (21 Mbps) overlaying HSPA 7.2 (7.2 Mpbs) as the year goes on. Verizon is stuck at 3.1 Mbps EVDO Rev. A until it has a sufficient LTE footprint to jump its customers to that. (AT&T and Verizon will both require new hardware for faster networks, though. An iPhone 4 will not, to my knowledge, be firmware upgradable to HSPA+.)

The Upside

If you live in an area with poor AT&T coverage and great Verizon coverage, which likely amounts to tens of millions of people's homes and workplaces around the US, then you are suddenly able to own an iPhone of your very own. AT&T's coverage can be sketchy in many parts of the country, notably exurbs and large parts of New England.

Verizon and Apple are offering a mobile hotspot feature (pricing not yet known), which lets the iPhone be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, just like a MiFi, or Android 2.2 phone, or several other smartphones. This lets up to five devices connect. GSM networks and the GSM iPhone could support this feature, too. Apple has been keeping this in its back pocket, perhaps to save for Verizon. (I don't believe AT&T, unique among the carriers, has any phone with a mobile hotspot feature enabled, nor does it offer a MiFi or similar router to the general public. Correction: AT&T reminded me via email that they had added a MiFi to their product line last November.)

Heavy data users will have an unlimited plan restored to them if Verizon offers its $30/mo unlimited data plan to new iPhone users. AT&T removed that plan for new subscribers in June, and has a 2 GB/mo plan for $25, with $10/GB overage fees (charged by the whole GB for any fraction).

The Upshot

Verizon will sell many millions of its CDMA iPhone to existing customers (upgrading from featurephones and sidegrading from other smartphones) and new customers (who have never owned a smartphone or are fleeing AT&T, cancellation fees be damned).

Verizon has the best and most solid 3G network in the US, proven time and again by independent third parties. AT&T has continually improved its network coverage and speed, and has great plans for 2011.

Can we have some competition now, please?

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 12:31 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Cellular, Deals | 1 Comment

January 5, 2011

AT&T Issues 4G Plans, 3G Status Update

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T offers specifics on its HSPA+ upgrade and LTE deployment: At CES today, AT&T released its timeline for rolling out 4G LTE mobile service, which launches in mid-2011. Verizon Wireless gets bragging rights with several markets lit up in late 2010. However, with few devices, and an odd pricing model for such a fast service, Verizon has very little lead over AT&T.

AT&T and Verizon will likely both complete national urban rollouts by 2013, the stated date by both firms now for that goal. Their various FCC licenses require either geographic or population based completion at four and eight year targets, which will drive LTE service into less-populated areas and small-to-medium-sized towns.

AT&T's current HSPA/HSPA+ network is also measurably faster than Verizon's, which cannot increase its 3G speed at all. AT&T, like T-Mobile, is taking advantage of baby steps with HSPA (to 7.2 Mbps) and HSPA+ (to 21 Mpbs) to have an interim advantage, as well as a better hybrid 3G/4G roaming experience. Verizon is stuck at EVDO Rev. A, about 3.1 Mbps downstream. (All those rates are raw, and Verizon's coverage area remains superior to AT&T's; HSPA+ doesn't offer an advantage if you can't actually pick up a signal.)

Of course, it wouldn't be a telecom announcement without having to pick apart some news. AT&T says that it has HSPA+ available to "virtually 100 percent of its mobile broadband network" but then notes it requires "Ethernet or fiber backhaul." It predicts 2/3rds of its HSPA+ footprint will have such "expanded backhaul" by the end of 2011.

Which means that at the beginning of 2011, substantially less than 2/3rds of AT&T HSPA+ network cannot deliver true HSPA+ speeds, being constrained by the backhaul. If it were more than half, you can believe AT&T would have stated that in the press release.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:50 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Future | No Comments

October 19, 2010

Verizon Wireless Releases 3G Femtocell

By Glenn Fleishman

A chorus of yawns: The $250 femtocell has no calling plan reductions with it, but now it handles 3G voice and data instead of 2G only. Femtocells have a greater impact for carriers than for customers, many of whom could switch to another cellular provider. Femtocells should be a tool for customer retention, but it seems that no carrier has yet gotten the clue.

Verizon may have the best case for charging $250 (and no monthly fee) with the logic that if you can't get a clean Verizon signal, nobody else is going to be serving you any better, so you might as well plug into broadband for indoor cellular service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:35 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | No Comments

October 14, 2010

Verizon's Clever iPad/MiFi Mash-Up

By Glenn Fleishman

Apple is letting Verizon Wireless sell the iPad: The trick? Verizon will only offer through its 2,000-plus stores the Wi-Fi iPad, not the 3G model. The 3G iPad works only over GSM networks (up to HSPA 7.2). Instead, Verizon will sell you a plain Wi-Fi iPad ($500, $600, and $700 for 16, 32, and 64 GB); or, for an extra $130, it'll throw in a MiFi router. That $130 is the same price difference Apple and its partners collect for a 3G iPad over its Wi-Fi–only brethren.

Verizon pairs the iPad and MiFi with plans nothing like what the carrier has offered before. These are fixed-price, moderate-use offers with no termination penalty; the terms are just like AT&T's offer for the 3G iPad, but Verizon's prices are better. Verizon will charge $20 for 1 GB ($20 per GB over that) and $35 and $50 for 3 GB and 5 GB (with $10 per GB overage fees).

AT&T charges $15 for 250 MB and $25 for 2 GB for its 3G iPad plans. Additional units of each can be purchased at the same price after the 30-day period expires or you use up all the data. Virgin Mobile offers unlimited Sprint Nextel 3G broadband with a USB modem or MiFi for $40 for a 30-day period.

Because the MiFi can handle up to five devices over Wi-Fi, one could argue that if you don't need an iPad and do need a MiFi, this is a slick deal. Buy the package and sell the iPad without even opening its box. You'll probably get a few dollars under list for it.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:24 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Deals, Gadgets | 2 Comments

T-Mobile's Throttled Limit Didn't Change from 5 GB

By Glenn Fleishman

A series of stories yesterday appeared that said T-Mobile used to allow 10 GB per month of unmetered data use: This is incorrect. In April, T-Mobile switched from the standard U.S. carrier model of charging overage fees of 5¢ to 20¢ per MB for data used above 5 GB on the higher of two metered plans (see "T-Mobile Offers Overage Compromise: Throttling," 27 April 2010). Instead, T-Mobile switched to what European carriers typically employ. After using 5 GB during a billing period, the data connection is throttled to about 64 Kbps. Some customers might like paying $50 to $200 per GB over 5 GB; others might like the soft landing.

Stories yesterday, such as this one from a site devoted to T-Mobile news (TmoNews), stated, "If you may recall, previously the data cap was 10GB/month." I checked with a T-Mobile spokesperson, who confirmed my recollection was correct. I have spoken about this with T-Mobile several times, too, since April, and the cap was always 5 GB.

What may have spurred the confusion is a document that talks about such throttling starting "October 16"; TmoNews has a photo of the internal document meant for T-Mobile sales agents.

This kind of throttling, by the way, won't be mandated nor disallowed by the FCC under new disclosure rules it's imposing on carriers, but it certainly fits within the framework the FCC has set. The FCC wants sticker shock banished, and will force carriers to provide notifications before a customer hits a point at which fees will be charged. Many carriers offer mandatory or optional methods to be notified (at no cost) of such limits. But not all do, and international roaming is especially egregious. It's also difficult to turn off service to prevent such overages from happening accidentally.

T-Mobile, by pursuing throttling, with no extra fees involved, ensures customers on the 5 GB plan never pay an extra cent; they just have to cope with lower bandwidth.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:08 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cluelessness, Regulation | No Comments

October 13, 2010

T-Mobile Plans Prepaid Data Plans

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile will offer new data plans for USB adapters 18 Oct: T-Mobile has made several changes in the last year-and-some to reduce the cost to mobile broadband users with laptop adapters, as well as increase the predictability of the monthly bill. That included adding a no-overage 5 GB monthly plan (throttled, but not charged or cut off), and lower monthly prices for data service. Now, they're taking a page from Virgin Mobile.

Virgin Mobile now has a $40 plan for unlimited data over 30 days with no contract required, that works with either a 3G modem or a MiFi, both of which must be purchased in advance. T-Mobile's deal sounds a bit weaker, although its data network is faster. The three options are $10 for one week and up to 100 MB, $30 for one month and up to 300 MB, and $50 for one month and up to 1 GB. These are prepaid plans like Virgin Mobile's, with no contract or overage fees.

On the phone side, T-Mobile is switching to an AT&T-style data plan, with two unlimited voice and text plans. The $50/mo flavor includes 100 MB of data; for $70/mo you get 2 GB. A minimal plan includes 1,500 voice minutes or messages (any combination) and 30 MB of data.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:29 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | No Comments

September 20, 2010

AT&T Responds to Virgin Mobile with No-Contract Plans

By Glenn Fleishman

Virgin Mobile's unlimited, no-contract data plan seems to have rattled AT&T's cage: Virgin back on 23 August announced a change in its no-contract plan options. Instead of four tiered plans, the highest offering up to 5 GB used within 30 days (on Sprint's network) for $60, there would be two: a $10/10-day/100 MB option and unlimited 30-day usage for $40.

That so undercut the rest of the market, I was wondering if there would be any response. Verizon has long offered a one-day $15 data pass, which always seemed overpriced to me since the market it was trying to reach were those with otherwise inactive 3G cards or MiFis.

AT&T's response appears to be a modest rejoinder. Three tiers: $15 for 100 MB used within a day, $30 for 300 MB used within a week, and $50 for 1 GB used within a month.

What AT&T doesn't seem to still realize is that Virgin Mobile's deal can be paired with a $100 MiFi (no contract), meaning that a few months of AT&T-priced usage would be outweighed by cost savings and flexibility. AT&T doesn't offer a MiFi-like device, and thus service is limited to laptop cards and notebooks.

It's a step in the right direction, as was AT&T's change to metered 3G broadband with reasonable overage charges for heavier users.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:37 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Financial, Road Warrior | No Comments

August 23, 2010

Virgin Mobile Adds Unlimited 30-Day Usage Plan

By Glenn Fleishman

Virgin Mobile has upped the ante on cellular data: Despite being owned by Sprint Nextel, Virgin Mobile is challenging all four major US carriers with an as-you-need-it, no-contract $40 unlimited 3G data plan. The plan lasts for 30 days. Virgin previously had four levels of service topping out at 5 GB for $60 used within 30 days. The new tiers are $10 for 100 MB over 10 days or $40 for unlimited data during a 30-day period.

Because Virgin Mobile also offers the MiFi cellular router for a low price ($150, no commitment), it now has a killer offering. Use a MiFi with an unlimited plan and avoid the overage fees or throttling from every other competitor.

This also guts tethering plans. I'm an AT&T customer with an iPhone 4, and I also own a 3G iPad (with no current active service plan). I typically now travel with the iPad and activate a plan on the road. I had figured on my next trip in which I needed a laptop, I would switch to tethering on my iPhone 4 (from a $15/200 MB plan to a required $25/2 GB plan plus $20 for tethering). That now seems unappealing.

Instead, I should pay the $150 for the Virgin Mobile MiFi, and pay $40 whenever I'm traveling. Then my iPhone and laptop can both use Wi-Fi to access Sprint's 3G network, and if I'm traveling with colleagues, I can share access with them as well.

Sprint recently dropped its MiFi offering (so far as I can tell) in favor of the Overdrive 3G/4G, which works on its Clearwire division's 4G WiMax network (no limits on use) and the 3G CDMA network with a 5 GB cap. (It's $350 upfront or $100 with a two-year contract at $60/mo.) You can also go to Clearwire and buy a similar product (the Spot 4G+) with a $55/mo service plan for the same terms.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:45 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, Cellular, Road Warrior | No Comments

Sprint Ships 3G EV-DO Femtocells

By Glenn Fleishman

Sprint puts 3G in femtocells at last: Sprint had the first entry in the femtocell market, those tiny cell base station that a subscriber installs in the home and plugs into his or her own broadband connection. But Sprint and later Verizon's femtos were 2G (1xRTT) only. For calls, that was no problem, but the data side would run at 2G, or a phone would make a weak 3G connection and reduce the macro cell base station's spectrum efficiency. If you had a CDMA phone with Wi-Fi, of course, your phone would simply use your local network for data.

Sprint's new 3G EV-DO device won't be sold or available for sale. Qualifying customers who have reception problems indoors will be offered the device. Sprint's cover is about 75 percent of the US population versus Verizon's over 95 percent. Sprint leans on Verizon's network and pays roaming fees--and cancels customers who roam too much.

A 3G femtocell could preserve Sprint customers who normally have good service except at home or in an office.

Fierce Wireless reports that there's no special plan or fee for the 3G femtocell. The 2G cell that Sprint offers for sale comes with a $5 monthly usage fee, and an optional $10 unlimited US calling plan for a single line or $20 for a family plan.

AT&T released its 3G MicroCell in limited markets for its GSM network earlier in the year. It's $150 upfront and no monthly fee for coverage improvement, or $50 with a rebate if you sign up for a pricey $20-per-line unlimited calling plan. The calling plan is so spendy, that it likely makes more sense to get a better overall plan than the femtocell.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:38 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular | No Comments

July 26, 2010

AT&T Expands Hotzone Test to Charlotte, NC

By Glenn Fleishman

AT&T has added a second location in its outdoor hotzone pilot program: Charlotte, NC's downtown is the second area to get an AT&T hotzone designed to offload network traffic from the company's 3G network and boost performance for customers. The first such hotzone was lit up in Times Square in Manhattan; a third zone is coming to Chicago soon.

The idea of a hotzone makes perfect sense for a firm that's getting criticism for being unable to meet the data needs of subscribers in some cities and neighborhoods. Wi-Fi cells can be quite small, and have much higher capacity than cell channels, while being enormously cheaper to run, partly because there's no opportunity cost related to expensive cellular spectrum licenses.

These AT&T hotzones differ from municipal Wi-Fi efforts started in 2005 and mostly abandoned by 2007. Municipal networks were typically designed to require private investment by firms to provide indoor and outdoor network coverage to 90–95 percent of a city.

AT&T hotzones will cover outdoor areas of high traffic, and work only for customers. There's no specific municipal benefit involved, and AT&T will control its deployments entirely.

It's a smart move. AT&T could likely spend less a tenth as much in high-traffic areas to add Wi-Fi as to beef up cellular. And there's only so much spectrum available, meaning that in many areas there may be no real way to enhance the 3G data side.

This is Wi-Fi as a 3G network heat sink.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Hot Spot, Metro-Scale Networks | No Comments

June 30, 2010

Femtocells In Depth

By Glenn Fleishman

At Ars Technica, I explain femtocells: In a long article at Ars Technica, I explain what makes femtocells tick, and whether they wind up as a good deal or not for consumers. I've been skeptical for years about femtocells because they are a tricky value proposition for carriers to explain.

"Our network is great, but because it's not, pay us extra money for this thing that we've advertised we can already do."

Not a great sale. Verizon, with the best network for voice in the US, sells its femto for $250, and it's just intended for improving reception. I don't hear complaints about it. People who live in places with poor coverage know that they get great coverage elsewhere, I suppose, and suck it up.

Sprint splits the difference, selling it ($100) for both unlimited calling (with a monthly fee of $10-$20/mo) and pure coverage ($5/mo). Its deal is best.

AT&T charges a relatively low price ($150), but because of complaints about its network coverage and quality in some urban areas, gets the most criticism as it's not precisely what people want. If AT&T coupled the femto with a decent calling plan, it would be more of a sell. AT&T wants $20/mo for unlimited North American family plan calling, which is only slightly cheaper than unlimited calling without being tethered to a femto.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:26 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Cellular, Residential | No Comments

June 28, 2010

Virgin Offers MiFi without Contract

By Glenn Fleishman

Virgin Mobile will sell you a MiFi for $150 to use with pay-as-you-need mobile broadband: Virgin is pairing the MiFi with its existing Broadband2Go plan in which you pay for time-limited pools of broadband as you need them. The plans range from $10 for 100 MB used within 10 days to $60 for 5 GB used within 30 days.

Because there's no plan commitment for the MiFi or recurring fees for broadband usage, and because the rate charged by Virgin is as low as its competitors (and lower when you consider overage fees of $50 per GB from Verizon Wireless and Sprint), Virgin has an insanely competitive offering.

The MiFi from Virgin suddenly also becomes an effective competitor to AT&T's iPad plans. AT&T is charging $25 for each 2 GB unit of broadband over a 30-day period. Virgin charges $20 for 300 MB or $40 for 1 GB, which is far higher, of course. But if you want to pay out for 5 GB and allow multiple devices access, $60 for 5 GB is cheaper than the $75 you'd pay for 6 GB (three 2 GB units) from AT&T.

It's a very interesting set of tradeoffs.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:44 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Road Warrior, Roaming | 2 Comments

June 15, 2010

T-Mobile Expands HSPA+ Markets

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile now covers 75m people in 25 U.S. markets with 21 Mbps HSPA+: T-Mobile said this morning it's pushed its faster HSPA+ 3G network into a number of metro areas, large and small. L.A., Dallas, Seattle, Houston, Atlanta are notably large additions.

HSPA+ in T-Mobile's flavor has a raw data rate of 21 Mbps, and can deliver something like 5 to 8 Mbps (with 10 Mbps peaks) in third-party testing.

The webConnect Rocket USB modem is the only mobile broadband laptop connection device so far, and is available for purchase in all of these HSPA+ markets. T-Mobile says it has 15 HSPA 7.2 Mbps devices, with one smartphone able to use a 10 Mbps flavor. HSPA+ networks are backwards compatible down to the slowest HSPA speeds.

The firm has pushed aggressively on 3G data pricing, and currently lets you purchase a mobile broadband modem at full cost and then pay $40 per month for 5 GB of usage, including the ability to cancel without penalty. The 5 GB plan has no limits, but can be throttled by T-Mobile when you exceed 5 GB in a given month.

T-Mobile says it will cover 185m people with HSPA+ by the end of 2010, and has 210m people covered today with its HSPA 7.2 service. That's close on the heels of Sprint and AT&T, which claims slightly larger footprints, but still far shy of Verizon's dominance of 2G and 3G service coverage in the US.

The only comparable service alleging raw rates this high is Sprint/Clearwire's Clear offering, which plans to reach 120m people in the US during 2010.

[Note: This article originally stated HSPA+ 2010 coverage (185m people) as T-Mobile's current U.S. 3G coverage. It's been fixed.]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:01 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | No Comments

May 17, 2010

AT&T Changes Plan: HSPA+ by End of 2010

By Glenn Fleishman

The mouse roared, the elephant lumbers forth: T-Mobile, as the distant fourth-largest carrier in the US by subscribers and revenue, needs to have a gimmick. It chose to use its limited 3G network allocation to push for the fastest possible flavor available right now. The firm went to HSPA 7.2 network wide (including backhaul support) before AT&T; AT&T is using HSPA 7.2 but says it hasn't lit it up nationally due to backhaul issues.

T-Mobile several months ago put HSPA+ (21 Mbps raw downstream) on the table, and early this year said it would have the coasts deployed by summer, most of the rest of its coverage area (which is approaching AT&T's and Sprint's) by the end of 2010. AT&T seems stuck on its HSPA 7.2 upgrade with LTE looming as the next network refresh. AT&T even said last year it wouldn't deploy HSPA+.

I guess the future revenue of LTE seems too far in the future, and AT&'s CEO said on Friday (official press release not yet on its site) that it would roll out HSPA+ apparently the 14.4 Mbps flavor) on its US network to cover locations serving 250m people by year's end.

Sprint covers north of 230m people with 3G; Verizon somewhere over 280m; T-Mobile's 3G network passes more than 200m at last check, but it has licenses to allow coverage as large as Verizon (whether that's a good return on investment is a separate question).

Verizon continues to have the short stick in this 3G/3.5G/4G competition. It's EVDO Rev. A service tops out at 3.1 Mbps, and while it will have a super-fast LTE network running with several Mbps downstream service in late 2010, comparable coverage to T-Mobile or AT&T's HSPA+ network won't come until perhaps 2012. Sprint comes in third with Clearwire planning just 120m people covered with 4G WiMax service in 2010.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:57 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, 4G, WiMAX | No Comments

May 13, 2010

Android Update Adds Tethering and Hotspot

By Glenn Fleishman

TechCrunch reports that the Android 2.2 mobile operating system update brings a couple terrific features to capable phones: The release will add USB tethering, in which a phone acts like a 3G modem for a laptop over USB, and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot, which lets a phone share a 3G connection to nearby devices over Wi-Fi.

Of course, providing these options in the OS isn't the same as carriers enabling them. Verizon allows hotspot use from the Palm Pro models (Pre and Pixi), dropping the price for the feature to $0 recently. And Verizon and Sprint allow tethering at various costs for phones.

But AT&T doesn't allow tethering or mobile hotspots, presumably because the network can't support the additional usage at any price. AT&T's network buildout is at a fever pitch this year, and one expects the iPad deployment will push the needle into the red even more.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:24 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Roaming | No Comments

May 12, 2010

Trustive Unleashes Worldwide Pay-As-You-Go 3G, Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

Trustive has released a fascinating worldwide connectivity plan that charges per MB for 3G and per minute for Wi-Fi: I've seen variants of this before, but I believe Trustive has the only service with this scope.

It works this way: you sign up for €99, which includes a €54 credit for service and a Trustive SIM card. If you don't have an unlocked USB 3G modem, Trustive offers one for €150. There's a €15 shipping fee, too. Trustive confirmed that shipping covers international transit.

With that in hand, you can connect to Wi-Fi and 3G network in over 70 countries (Trustive provides a list). All Wi-Fi access is billed at 9 euro cents (€0.09) per minute, with no minimum, regardless of data transferred.

3G use is tiered: Zone A countries, which include the United States, most European nations, India, and China (but not Canada or Mexico), cost €1.50 per MB. Zone B countries are a whopping €15 per MB.

Trustive has some bugs to work out in its explanation, however. The USA, Canada and other countries appear in both Zone A and Zone B lists with no explanation. And there are typos and some confusing information around the site.

The prices are extraordinarily steep, but in the universe of international roaming, may appear perfectly reasonable.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G, Aggregators, International, Roaming | No Comments

April 27, 2010

T-Mobile Offers Overage Compromise: Throttling

By Glenn Fleishman

T-Mobile takes a unique approach to 5 GB monthly limits on 3G service: Instead of charging overage fees, T-Mobile throttles your data rate after you pass 5 GB. This isn't a penalty, but it eliminates any excess charges. The company didn't reveal how low throughput will drop to, and there's apparently no way to opt to pay such fees and use data until you break the bank.

This is a fascinating move. Carriers used to have a soft 5 GB limit and then canceled service or warned customers or throttled. After Verizon's brush with New York's attorney general over the term "unlimited," carriers started to expose the 5 GB cap; in the last year or so, each carrier decided to let customers exceed it for per MB fee from 5 to 20 cents per MB.

T-Mobile's approach cuts the baby in two, just a bit. You can go over 5 GB, but you won't be charged for it, but you won't get 3G speeds. Apparently. It's possible T-Mobile is reserving the right to throttle, and will only engage in congested areas, or it's using this to study what happens when you remove price sensitivity.

This clearly makes T-Mobile the right carrier if you want to have 3G service and share it among multiple devices via Wi-Fi, like Apple's iPad.

This is in addition to previous price changes from T-Mobile, which reduced its 3G service costs. If you purchase hardware at full retail, you pay $20/mo for 200 MB and $50/mo for 5 GB (no overage); it's $10 more per month if you opt for a subsidized broadband modem. There's no contract required for the cheaper price, either. Rather remarkable.

T-Mobile has also reduced the egregious $0.20/MB overage fee it previously charged--$200/GB--on that 200 MB monthly plan; the overage rate is now $0.10/MB, which is in line with competitors.

New customers can get $10 off the 5 GB monthly price, while existing customers with multiple lines or who add a line get $5 off the 200 MB plan and $10 off the 5 GB plan.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:30 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: 2.5G and 3G | No Comments

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