Tuesday, May 20, 2008

MetroPCS Intros Kyocera S4000 Mako...CricKet to be next?

Take a Motorola Razr (you know, the original one, or maybe the relatively new v3a now being sold) or maybe the Original Sanyo Katana. Now change the styling to something more flat, add a little bit to its profile and stick the Kyocera name on it. You now have the Kyocera S4000 Mako. Introduced at CTIA 2008 (CTIA is short for "crazy huge electronics show" or something like that) this low-cost rather-thin no-frills handset is now available on MetroPCS for $139, and (if Kyocera's website is correct) will be on CricKet soon. Yaknow, people on unlimited service could stand for some better phones, but at $139 you can't complain too loudly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cricket Lowers Plan Cost for Mobile Web

Looks like, in response to Sprint's continued promotion of their unlimited plans, CricKet has messed with the features available on their $45 plan. It now includes unlimited calling, messaging and web, plus messaging to Mexico. It is the plan now featured on the landing page on their website, instead of the $50 plan, in comparison to Sprint's $89, and Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T's $99 plans. The thing is that CricKet is leaving themselves open to an awesome ad campaign on the part of, say, Alltel: "Real unlimited with half the coverage". No, seriously. CricKet is today what Sprint et al were in, oh, 1998...just enough coverage to sign up customers looking for a good deal. Sprint did it with 300 minutes for $30, and now Cricket is doing it with unlimited for $45.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MetroPCS Pledges to Expand AWS, CricKet and Pocket Discount Phones

First off, it looks like MetroPCS is going to expand its AWS service not only to areas where it can't get PCS spectrum, but also to places where it has current service. This has got to be for ramping up capacity, so MetroPCS can get even more customers in the areas it serves without running into the technical limits that a limited amount of wireless spectrum imposes. By the way, note to PhoneScoop: AWS-capable phones are tri-band (cellular/AWS/PCS), not dual-band.

Second, CricKet has discontinued rebates on its higher-end phones, but still has $50 mail-in rebates on their lowest-end, non-camera phones. This means you can get the Samsung Spex for a mere $49.99 after rebates (but before CricKet's $15 activation fee) and three phones (UTStarCom's 7026 and 7126, and Kyocera's K132) for $69.99 after the discounts.

Meanwhile, Pocket has put some of their phones on clearance and is offering rebates of varying sizes on newer ones. Nothing on the older Kyocera Strobe (aka Switch_Back) but the newer M1000 "Lingo" gets $30 off, for an ending price of $169 (plus tax on $199). The Kyocera K132 is $15 off, for an ending price of $65ish. The Kyocera K342 is still $99 after a $40 rebate.

By the way, the Motorola w385 that Pocket sells looks most like the Motorola w37o's and w375's on Tracfone of all of the various models that can be seen on the likes of Boost Mobile "UNLTD" and (formerly) MetroPCS. Interesting bit of trivia there...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

CricKet Enters South Texas, Puts AWS Data Card Online

CricKet hasn't been standing by either; they're out in full force in south Texas, and they've put their newest wireless modem online for anyone to buy who wants it...anyone, that is, who lives in an EvDO-enabled area (San Antonio and, it seems, South Texas, aren't).

First of, they're now everywhere Pocket is (or so says their map), reaching down into the Brownsville area, up through Corpus Christi, out to Laredo, into San Antonio, to Austin, Houston...as I said, they've got all the bases covered. No matter what meaningless gobbledygook they're saying, their target is Pocket. Their plans are comparable, they list Pocket as an eligible carrier for which you'll get $30 back on your new CricKet phone purchase if you bring in one of their old phones, people are switching because they can save $6 a month on service (which I doubt, unless CricKet rolls taxes into their monthly fee...no wait...they don't), etc. Sure, CricKet wants to compete with the unlimited plans of the "big boys" who charge $90-$100 per month versus CricKet's $50 or less, but the fact remains that they just moved into an area where Pocket is currently king. Let's see who blinks first...I foresee either crazy price wars on phones and service or Pocket overlaying its network with EvDO before CricKet does the same in the area.

Speaking of overlays, I was incorrect in stating that CricKet's spectrum in south Texas is 1900MHz, like all of their older markets. It's 1700MHz AWS, which might (but probably isn't) be slightly better in terms of reception than the PCS frequencies they normally use (and Pocket uses exclusively for the present) but, more importantly, places CricKet at a disadvantage for the near future when it comes to phone availability and variety in the area. In order for them to offer comparable coverage to Pocket, you have to buy one of three phones. Sure, if you bring in your Pocket phone they're cheaper, but Pocket has 16+ different phone models to choose from across its network, including the Razr v3m (and v3a) as well as the high-end Rokr z6m slider. CricKet probably won't get that calibre of phone for nearly a year. At any rate, things will be quite interesting...

Speaking of EvDO (see the paragraph above the paragraph above this one) CricKet is now allowing people to go online and purchase their new, USB, tri-band (Oklahoma City compatible) aircard, the UTStarCom UM100C. It's a bit bulkier than some other new modems, like Sprint's Sierra Compass (which will work with the Macbook Air's close-quarters port), but it does support Rev. A data speeds (better latency, slightly better downloads, less speed variation, significantly better uploads) and it is compatible with whatever network CricKet will throw at it (namely 1900MHz and 1700MHz).

The only disadvantage of this new modem over the older Kyocera PC card is price: while the Kyocera ends up being $59, the UTStarCom unit is $180, minus $31 if you order online, minus another $50 for a mail-in rebate, for an ending price of $99. Keep in mind that the rebate needs to e sent in before your first month of service is up, and will be processed after you've stayed with CricKet for a month and a half. Just sayin'. By the way, the rebate (and, I assume, data card service at the moment) is limited to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Nashville, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Spokane, Fresno, Modesto/Merced and Visalla. In short, you can't pick up a data card from anywhere CricKet is sold and expect it, or the rebate, to work as advertised...one of the big regions where this is the case is Texas. How interesting...

MetroPCS 's Family Plan Rocks

It seems as though unlimited carriers are getting in on the family plan bandwagon. Granted, there's no minute sharing (try dividing by zero if you think that this is possible), but it's easier to bill two, three, four or five customers together instead of separately, especially if they're all on your service, hence the discounts Pocket, CricKet and now MetroPCS are handing out to customers for setting up multiple lines of service as a "family plan" on their network.

The spotlight is on MetroPCS because their family plan is just plain sweet, especially when you get four or five people on it.

Granted, local + long distance + text messaging + calling features (Caller ID, Call Waiting, Voicemail) for $40 per month may seem a bit high if you're spoiled by Pocket, or CricKet competing with Pocket, but the story changes when you add lines to the mix. You don't just get a discount on the additional line...for the second, third and fourth lines on a plan, each line takes $5 off the tab for ALL lines. So two lines are $35 apiece, or $70 total. Three lines add up to $90, four for $100, five for $125. When I saw the 4-lines-for-$100-per-month pitch I thought there had to have been a typo somewhere; even Pocket would charge $35 per month for that sort of plan, though Pocket comes with picture messaging. Their family plan, though admittedly higher-spec than MetroPCS's, gets you three lines for $100, not four.

So the effective cost for the second line on the plan is $30, the third line $20 and the fourth line a crazy-low $10, the price of an add-a-line feature on contract plans, where minutes have to be shared. Apologies for overreacting, but that's just insane if you can get four people on one bill, or a whole family using the service.

Pocket Intros Online Account Viewer, Partners to "Unlock" phones

Looks like Pocket has introduced two relatively cool (though relatively needed) things to their service: online account access and phone migration...

First off, you can now change your plan, your customer information (though not who the phone's "primary owner" is) and check your "Value Pocket" balance on the web. You can even pay your bill via credit card or set up their autopay service. You can also see a breakdown of taxes and fees being charged to your plan (when I looked at a friend's account...a friend who bought the phone from me  when I used to use Pocket...there were about $7.35 in taxes on his $40 plan) and you can buy ringtones and such, though you could do that already from Pocket's media portal that has been up for months now. Really, that's all you need as far as online account managment goes, and it's easy to navigate...no need for complex bills or multipage call reports; everything's unlimited so it doesn't matter!

Second, Pocket is partnering with the folks at keepmyphone.com to bring phones from other carriers onto Pocket's network. My guess is that, with the variety of phone models shown on the site, the company is probably not "flashing" the phones to Pocket (read: generic, the last time I checked) software so the only things that will work are voice and text messaging, at least for the most part, but then again I could be wrong and if you've got a perfectly good phone from Verizon, Sprint or whoever else that runs CDMA, that may be all you need. I'm guessing there will be a small fee for the service, plus having to buy your first month of service outright rather than it being included with the phone...the fee I'm guessing will be $10-$30 per phone. I'll get more details on this when I get back to Texas this weekend (yes, I'm finally finished with school!).

These are improvements to be sure...let's see how they impact Pocket's customer base..they now have big competition from CricKet...