By Aaron Pressman
August 9, 2018

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Back in the old days in New York City there was this rapper from Brooklyn who went by the name Professor Louie. He was a political dude with a sharp sense of humor, and he used to start his performances by saying he had a Ph.D in IRT, IND, and BMT—a joking reference to the city’s three original subway companies. After this week in telecom world, you may need some kind of street savvy graduate degree to pick a mobile phone plan.

Everything was cool two years ago when Sprint and T-Mobile flipped the status quo on its head and introduced affordable unlimited data plans. Verizon and AT&T eventually followed suit, leading to one of my favorite, Godfather-inspired headlines: Why Your Next Wireless Plan Will Be an Unlimited Plan. But for the past few months, things have been getting increasingly complicated and, for some, more expensive.

AT&T started off in June creating two plans called Unlimited & More and Unlimited & More Premium, which started at $70 and $80 per month for one line respectively. Its old Unlimited Choice plan had started at $65 while the prior premium Unlimited Plus plan started at $80. Then Verizon announced it was adding a third unlimited plan called Above Unlimited at $95, more than its existing Go Unlimited plan at $75 and Beyond Unlimited plan at $85.

Still with me? A month later, Sprint complicated its lineup with a grab bag of plans. Suffice to say that to get good video and plentiful mobile hotspot usage, customers had to pay $70 a month, a $10 hike from the prior plan. Then this week, T-Mobile revamped its line up with a cheaper Essentials plan, which starts at $60, but also raised the price of its existing One Plus plan to $85. The carrier’s most basic One plan stayed at $70.

The issue, of course, is that the industry overall has seen its revenue falling since the introduction of unlimited plans and the demise of the hated but lucrative overage fees. If you’re looking for a common thread, newly introduced cheaper plans have fewer features, so more data hogs, fans of high-quality video, and frequent travelers will likely upgrade to the higher priced plans.

On the flip side, the carriers are still adding more media deals, a bonanza that started when T-Mobile added free Netflix to all its plans last fall (but, oh wait, not to its new Essentials plan). AT&T invented a whole cable TV-like bundle in an app called WatchTV to entice mobile customers. And just this week, Verizon added six months of free Apple Music to its three unlimited plans, double the free trial Apple usually offers. Now T-Mobile CEO John Legere is teasing the next chapter in his Uncarrier strategy which will be unveiled next week (and hats off to the Raiders of the Lost Ark final scene homage in Legere’s promo video). Hopefully, it will be something simpler and cheaper for customers, not more of the same mess we’ve seen lately.

Aaron Pressman


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