Now more than ever we can be thankful that the U.S. government shot down AT&T’s intentions to acquire T-Mobile, and Sprint/SoftBank’s decision to back away from a similar bid. Industry pundits like myself and others had long argued that these sorts of acquisitions aren’t good for consumers. Marketplace competition is always better for the public. It’s why I still think the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger is still a bad idea. The carrier wars and the constant flow of smack-talking has benefited us all.
One only needs to look at what happened yesterday to see why. Early in the morning sources I spoke to in the industry had suggested that Sprint was going to unveil lower cost plans. This wasn’t much of a secret, Sprint’s new CEO Marcelo Claure promised price cuts were coming just last week. T-Mobile knew it was coming, too.
Yesterday morning, before Sprint’s announcement of a new $60 unlimited plan even crossed the wire, T-Mobile introduced yet another incentive to attract consumers to its network. You can learn all about it in a post I wrote yesterday, but T-Mobile is now promising unlimited 4G LTE data for one year to referral customers and the existing subscribers who referred them. You don’t have to take advantage of the deal, but it’s a new option that’s a complete pro for consumers. The more options the better.
I don’t know for certain that T-Mobile was proactively reacting to Sprint’s new price plan, but it certainly looks that way. T-Mobile’s headline announcing the story targeted Sprint in particular: “T-Mobile Urges Its Customers to Rescue Beleaguered Sprint Customers,” it said. Sprint’s announcement fired back, not only at T-Mobile but at the rest of the industry. It’s plans are $20 cheaper than T-Mobile’s unlimited 4G LTE option and it highlighted that neither AT&T nor Verizon are offering unlimited plans.
I’ve seen the benefits of the wireless carrier wars on my own bill. I subscribe to AT&T and have four lines on a single Mobile Share plan. The prices have dropped substantially for me as carriers compete on lowering the prices of data buckets. In December of last year my monthly cost dropped by $50 on AT&T, for example, which saves me about $600 a year on my Mobile Share plan.
You can look at a the first-class speed tests from PCMag for an idea of what networks perform best near you – I’ve always found the coverage from AT&T and Verizon to be the best around the country – but T-Mobile is catching up and offers some of the fastest speeds available in some areas. It still has issues dropping to EDGE in pockets where it doesn’t yet offer LTE, and it has more of those pockets than AT&T and Verizon, but I think its offers of free global roaming and, on some plans, unlimited music streaming, are enough for some consumers to overlook those pockets.
While the tone across the industry is clearly more cutthroat than cordial, at times uncomfortably so, the consumers are winning in this battle across the board. When one carrier gets even a sniff that another is gearing up to launch a new weapon to attract consumers, another carrier – sometimes several – start to prepare their own new weaponry. And that weaponry ends up in savings across the board for everyone, all of us who are looking to buy new smartphones and sign up for new data plans. In some cases, it’s proactively applied to existing mobile bills – which means you don’t even have to do anything to save money. Just watch the fight rage on.
I’ve been covering the wireless industry professionally since about 2007 and I’ve never seen as many changes as I have in the past couple of years, and I don’t just mean on a hardware front. Data services are huge revenue drivers for wireless carriers, and they want us gobbling up as much of it as possible across phones, tablets, LTE-enabled computers and, soon, in our cars. The earlier they can get us on their network and pleased with their services, the better.
I don’t suspect we’ll see a slowdown in the pricing wars anytime soon. T-Mobile wants to overtake Sprint as the third wireless largest carrier in the U.S., and I don’t doubt it’s going to stop its efforts if that happens. Sprint’s going to do everything it can to prevent that from occuring, and Verizon and AT&T don’t want to lose consumers either.
There’s a lot that can still be changed for the better in the U.S. wireless market, but this is a battle I don’t think any of us consumers need to pick a side on. The more Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon fight, the more we win.