AT&T boosts data, adds Mexico calling to GoPhone plans

Customers on AT&T’s GoPhone plans will see a substantial increase in their monthly data allotments starting Friday, and those who subscribe to the $60 prepaid plan can also start making calls to Mexico for free.

On February 20, the $45 GoPhone plan’s data bucket will increase from 1GB to 1.5GB a month, and the $60 plan’s bucket will grow from 2.5GB to 4GB. Customers on both plans already get unlimited texting to Mexico and other countries, but starting Friday $60 plan subscribers will also get unlimited calls to landline and mobile numbers in Mexico.

[company]AT&T[/company] has been upping the benefits offer by both its prepaid service brands recently. In January, Cricket Wireless boosted data allotments across its cheaper service tiers and began offering a limited-time 20GB plan for $60 a month. It also made unrestricted voice calls to Mexico standard on Cricket plans of $50 or more.

Ma Bell’s addition of cross-border calling to the mix is a direct result of its acquisition spree in Mexico and its subsequent promise to create a unified North American mobile footprint. AT&T still hasn’t made Mexico features standard on its regular contract and family plans, though it does offer a $5 a month add-on that will give unlimited voice calls to that country.

AT&T begins building a unified US-Mexico footprint with Cricket

AT&T promised it would create the first pan-North American service area when it bought Mexico’s Iusacell last month, and it’s wasting no time getting started on the multinational footprint. On Tuesday, Ma Bell announced its prepaid arm Cricket Wireless will make unlimited calls to Mexico part of its standard $50 and $60 plans.

Cricket is already a brand used by many foreign nationals — it offers unlimited texting to 35 countries on those same plans – so it makes sense [company]AT&T[/company] would start its cross-border feature expansion with its prepaid service. Today customers can buy a $5 add-on that will give you free calls to international landlines or $15 add-on that will give you 1000 minutes to mobile numbers. But when the new rates kick in on Wednesday, customers on any Cricket plan with 5 GBs of data or more will no longer have to pay extra for calls to any Mexico wireline or wireless phone.

Of course, this isn’t the same thing as created a unified mobile footprint where customers can wander back and forth between countries under a single rate plan –it’s only good for calls you make from the U.S. If you want to take your phone to Mexico without getting hit with big roaming charges, then you have to sign up for a $10 add-on and that only gives you a measly 100 minutes and 100 texts to use within Mexico each month.

I suspect we’ll see those policies change as AT&T completes its network integration work, which will include not just Iusacell but also Nextel Mexico – assuming its acquisition of that carrier is approved. I really doubt AT&T is just going to include Mexico and the U.S. in one giant “home” network where all voice, text and data remains part of your regular service plan, but it could definitely lower the mobile barriers that sit astride those geographic borders.

My bet is that Ma Bell will soon make calls from the U.S. to Mexico a standard part of its main AT&T Mobility plans – or at least an extremely cheap add on to its postpaid plans – and will do the same for Mexico-to-U.S. calls for Iusacell and Nextel customers. Then I suspect it will drastically lower the roaming rates it charges customers from either the U.S. or Mexico when they venture north or south of their respective borders.

As for a true multinational plan – say, a 5 GB monthly data bucket with unlimited voice and text that can be used in either country – AT&T may one day offer it, but likely at a premium price to customers who travel frequently between Mexico and the U.S.

AT&T goes pan American, closing its $2.5B Iusacell deal

AT&T is now officially the first North American mobile carrier to run networks on both sides of Rio Grande. On Friday, Ma Bell announced it has finalized its $2.5 billion acquisition of Mexico’s Iusacell from Gurpo Salinas.

The deal doesn’t bring that many new subscribers to its network – Iusacell’s 9.2 million subscribers puts it in a distant third place to Mexican wireless giant América Móvil — but it gains access to a GSM and CDMA network covering 120 million people. AT&T is promising to create a unified network covering 400 million people in North America, though I doubt that will mean the in-network coverage on a standard AT&T plan will suddenly extend to Mexico City and Oaxaca.

Chances are AT&T will start marketing specific plans for frequent cross-border travelers in both countries as well as sell calling features that make it cheap or free to call Mexican landlines and mobile numbers from the U.S. and vice versa. América Móvil does much the same thing through its U.S. mobile virtual network operator TracFone. For instance, one of TracFone’s brands Telcel América is named after Móvil’s primary brand Telcel in Mexico, an it offers a $60 plan that includes 1,000 calling minutes to mobile numbers in Mexico and unrestricted calling to landlines in Mexico along with unlimited talk and text inside of U.S. borders.

AT&T appointed a 19-year Ma Bell vet Thaddeus Arroyo as CEO of Iusacell, and he will be assisted former CEO Adrian Stickel in the transition. I suspect they’ll have a big integration task ahead of them. It takes a lot more than just duct tape and superglue to fully combine two national networks, though the fact those networks are in completely different geographies helps. Iusacell is also in the process of transition from CDMA technology to GSM, which will make roaming between the two countries a lot easier.

AT&T has also committed to bring LTE services to Mexico, which Ma Bell helps will be key to growing Iusacell’s customer base. Mexico has a rapidly growing middle class, but its smartphone penetration is roughly half that of the U.S. LTE and smartphones go hand and hand, so 4G represents a big opportunity for the combined carrier, AT&T said in a statement.

Tycoon Carlos Slim breaks up his Mexican telecom empire under regulatory pressure

You may think the U.S. fell short on telecom competition, but in Mexico a single company has long dominated the communications landscape: América Móvil(s amx). It services 70 percent of all mobile connections and 80 percent of all landline phone links in the country. But billionaire Carlos Slim, the carrier’s controlling owner, is bowing to regulator pressure and is divesting substantial portions of Slim’s empire, according to Bloomberg. The sales and spin offs will reduce América Móvil’s market share in mobile and wireline to below 50 percent, as well as remove it from the communications tower and satellite TV businesses. It doesn’t look as if América Móvil’s substantial operations in Latin America or the U.S. (where it owns prepaid giant TracFone) will be affected.

Enter Telcel América: A Straight Talk for Mexican nationals

Mexico’s biggest mobile brand launched in the U.S. but as an MVNO. Owned by América Móvil, Telcel América resembles its sister operator Straight Talk in that its plans include unlimited everything. In Telcel’s case they also include unlimited calling to mobile phones in Mexico.

How a Mormon VC ended up betting everything on Mexico

What’s a Mormon white guy from Southern California doing running a tech fund in Mexico? Paul Ahlstrom, the founding partner of one of Mexico’s rare venture capital firms, Alta Ventures, says he gets that question all the time.

Nokia factories shift to Asia: Did it have any choice?

Embattled Nokia is hoping it can become faster and more competitive by shifting the heart of its manufacturing operations to Asia, a move which will see 4,000 jobs cut in Finland, Hungary and Mexico but will be seen as long overdue.