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Prepaid Wireless Tracker #115, Jan 2018 - A Forgettable 2017 for Prepaid Wireless!
January 01, 2018
Prepaid Wireless Tracker
- January 2018, Issue #115
A Lack Luster 2017 for Prepaid!I have to say that last year was one of the most uninteresting years for prepaid. Sure, it made further in-roads into the mainstream, further eroding its negative stigma of only being for the credit challenged or criminals. However, overall, there wasn't any notable innovations, or exciting offers. It really felt much like postpaid in years past. That being, price changes (mostly decreases), increasing data allotments, and generally shuffling around offers in an attempt to appeal to new customers.
Here's some highlights that we saw: Lifeline started offering broadband. Verizon woke up from its prepaid coma, and actually offered some "almost competitive" plans. AT&T's GoPhone launched an unlimited plan, and then the entire brand was scrapped. FreedomPop also kicked off family plans, and also entered the retail market (Target). RingPlus MVNO disappeared. Virgin Mobile went iPhone-only, then subsequently backtracked on this idiotic strategy. After about a decade, Boost Mobile came full circle with its all-inclusive taxes and fees plans. After its break-up with T-Mobile Sprint rebounds with a new partnership with Altice on a new, yet-to-be named wireless provider.
In my opinion, this past year was largely forgettable. Even December, which usually has a lot of action in the space, was severely lacking in interesting news to report. Hopefully 2018 will see more compelling and dramatic changes tore-ignite the prepaid space!
It makes sense that smaller carriers are scoring higher than the large incumbents. The big four have long since earned poor reputations based on being "big corporate American out to screw the little guy". Of course, T-Mobile has done an excellent job breaking out of that mold. Consumers have become very wise, and spend a lot more energy researching to get the best deals. Particularly now that phone technology is largely compatible across carriers, and contracts are no longer the norm, trying out smaller carriers carries far less risk than it used to. That said, there's still a much higher risk of even worse customer support with smaller carriers. Simply, they don't have the cash flow to spend. In addition, the prepaid industry is so competitive that unless you're Google Fi, you could be here today, gone tomorrow. And even Google is known for scrapping previously well-funded ventures, as they tend to experiment, and then exit quickly.
So, is smaller really better? I would argue that despite this article, I would say "it depends." If you have an unlocked phone with NO financing, and use Google Voice to host your main phone number, you're extremely flexible to change carriers at any time. The reality is that you'll have a lot more runway with larger carriers in terms of knowing when they're in decline. With smaller carriers, they could literally disappear overnight! Personally, I think consumers should definitely try smaller carriers; just make sure you have a quick exit plan to cover your personal needs.
This Buy-One-Get-One offer works on any T-Mobile plan, however, it's a little more peculiar than the company would have you believe. The standard BOGO offer gives you a statement credit over a period of time. T-Mobile is claiming that by giving you the money for the second phone on a prepaid MasterCard that they're simplifying things. I beg to differ. First, consider how it works. You have to pay for both phones, including a down payment. Then you have to signup for an installment plan. Even at 0% APR, you're going to have a monthly payment for 24 months. It's nice that only one of the phones needs to be activated on a T-Mobile plan (the other phone can be gifted to someone else), however, you're still going to see that payment monthly, which will impact your credit report, and have a negative impact if you default on any payments.
You'll get the MasterCard after 6-8 weeks following submission of the rebate form. However, keep in mind that you'll spend that MasterCard balance, and although, technically, they've paid you for the second phone, having a monthly payment for two years won't feel so great. You could pay your monthly bill with the MasterCard, however, that will run out long before the two years is up. So while you're effectively even financially, emotionally you're going to feel the burden of extra payments, and for a phone you may have gifted to someone else! Lastly, if you're a prepaid customer (which you should be!), you've now essentially locked yourself into a two year contract. I say that due to the fact that if you terminate early they'll bill you for the full amount of that second phone. So how appealing and simple does this sound now?
Lucky offers only 3G speeds, surely to avoid competition with its parent brand offerings. Bell is largely using this brand to compete with Rogers' Chatr, and Telus' Public Mobile. Frankly I think offering this type of new brand is a waste of resources, and never generates sufficient differentiation that makes the cost and corporate distraction worthwhile. It will be interesting to see what happens!
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