AT&T beats T-Mobile in latest J.D. Power network quality rankings

J.D. Power released a report on Thursday looking at which of the big four major U.S. carriers provide cellular service with the fewest lost calls, slow downloads, failed texts and other common issues.

As usual, the survey says Verizon has the highest mobile network quality. Verizon’s network had the fewest connection problems among the big four carriers in all six geographical regions that J.D. Power looks at. AT&T came in second place, taking the runner-up spot in all six regions.

Last year, T-Mobile started to take the second-place slot from AT&T in areas such as the Northeast and West. This year, though, AT&T reclaimed it in those regions. One way to explain that: Last summer, when the previous report came out, T-Mobile had been in the process of building a massive network expansion. However, T-Mobile’s been adding millions of subscribers since then, and the reduced network quality could be because its network is starting to show signs of saturation.

JD Power Northeast 2015 Q1

In the northeast region, for instance, Verizon subscribers can expect to see 11 problems per 100 connections; AT&T subscribers will see 13 problems per 100 connections; and T-Mobile lags behind with 16 problems per 100 connections. Last summer’s J.D. Power report suggested that T-Mobile only had 12, and AT&T had 14. Verizon stayed steady with 11 problems per 100 mobile interactions.

In the other five regions, the situation is similar. Verizon even improved its mid-Atlantic performance to take the top spot back from AT&T there. Overall, there have been more issues with network quality in the past six months than before. Out of every 100 network connection, across all four carriers, there is a problem with 13 of them. Last year saw an average of 12 issues per 100 connections.

Network quality isn’t the be-all and end-all for carriers, though. J.D. Power administers surveys looking at customer service as well, and T-Mobile came out on top of that last summer.

Charts for all six regions are available from J.D. Power.

Ting makes it easier to connect an unlocked phone on the cheap

If you’ve got an unlocked T-Mobile or AT&T smartphone and need cheap cellular service for it, mobile virtual network operator Ting is now accepting your business.

Ting announced that its GSM network service is now in “open beta,” which means customers don’t need a invite to sign up. GSM support means that Ting is far more likely to support the devices consumers already have or want. The $9 Ting GSM SIM card allows Ting to work with most devices sold in the United States — not just with devices originally sold for GSM carriers AT&T and T-Mobile, but also many of the LTE smartphones from Verizon and Sprint that support T-Mobile frequencies.

You simply have to make sure the device you want to bring to Ting is unlocked. Here’s a quick guide to making that happen. If you don’t have an old device, or don’t want to buy one from a third-party retailer like Amazon or Best Buy, Ting sells new phones, including the iPhone 6.

Previously, Ting used Sprint’s networks exclusively, which restricted users to old Sprint devices. For its GSM network, Ting is buying capacity from T-Mobile, as Gigaom reported earlier this month. Ting is keeping its CDMA network around and users will be able to tap into speedy LTE data on both networks — although not on the same device at the same time. CDMA and GSM devices can share a single Ting account.

Ting is an interesting and inexpensive carrier even among MVNOs. Its pay-for-what-you-use plans don’t bundle services like data and minutes. So if you find yourself using lots of text messages but you’re always on Wi-Fi, or are a data fiend but never text, Ting could save you money by only charging for what you use.

Ting warns that its service on GSM networks is “not quite perfect yet.” It doesn’t support international roaming or international dialing, for instance, but since your device has to be unlocked if it’s on Ting, when you travel you can simply slip a local SIM card in. If you’re interested in trying Ting out, first take a look at its tool that checks if your device will work on its networks.

Report: The refurbished smartphone market is booming

One major factor that’s driven the explosive growth of the global smartphone market is its short, roughly two-year upgrade cycle. But now that that even three and four-year old smartphones are powerful enough for most people’s daily use, there’s about to be an big jump in sales of secondhand and refurbished smartphones, according to a new report from Gartner.

Gartner expects the worldwide market for refurbished smartphones to hit 120 million units by 2017, for a projected $14 billion in wholesale revenue. That will be up from 56 million refurbished phones shipped in 2014. Often, refurbished devices are “good as new” for the consumer. Although they might not come in original packaging, they usually have been tested for defects and arrive scratch- and dent-free, sometimes with a new battery.

Obviously, anyone who purchases a secondhand smartphone is significantly less likely to purchase a new smartphone, which could affect the revenue not only of smartphone makers like [company]Apple[/company] and Samsung, but also the demand for parts in the supply chain. It could also affect companies that focus on mid-range devices, like Xiaomi. Instead of purchasing a phone that’s a “good value,” an older premium device for the same price could be very attractive.

Gartner points out there’s an opportunity for United States companies to send old devices overseas — or, into the “worldwide market.” The iPhone 4S might be seen as an older, unattractive device in rich markets, but given Apple’s premium brand recognition, refurbished units could be more desirable than a similarly priced new phone in developing markets.

Manufacturers also use refurbished units as warranty trade-ins. When you get a new iPhone from an Apple Store because your old one wasn’t working, it’s probably a refurb unit.

Where are these secondhand devices coming from? Gartner surveyed consumers in the United States and Germany — two mature and rich smartphone markets — and found that nearly 64 percent of devices found a second life, usually through private sales and trade-in programs, like the ones your carrier offers when you upgrade your device. Twenty-three percent of devices were handed down to a friend or family member. According to the survey, only 15 percent of devices languished unused, and only seven percent were officially recycled.

Of all the American carriers, Sprint might be in the best position to take advantage of the global market for refurbished smartphones. Its CEO, Marcelo Claure, cut his teeth at Brightstar, which does a lot of smartphone refurbishing business. Plus, its new leasing programs mean that in about two years, the company is going to have a lot of used iPads, iPhones, and other high-end devices on hand. Many of those devices could stay in the United States, because Sprint’s roster of smaller prepaid operators need phones that work on Sprint’s CDMA network.


Sprint entices T-Mobile switchers with up to $550 in credit

In December, Sprint rolled out a promotion called “Cut Your Bill In Half” meant to attract AT&T and Verizon customers by offering them bill credits. Sprint extended the program to T-Mobile subscribers on Friday. Here’s how it works: Any T-Mobile subscriber can receive credit — at least $200 — for trading in a working and activated T-Mobile smartphone, in addition to a contract buy-out credit worth up to $350 per line. The credit comes in the form of a prepaid Visa card and the deal runs through April 9. These kind of promotions are one big reason that Sprint is once again adding postpaid subcribers.

In surprise FCC filing, Sprint endorses net neutrality

Supporters of net neutrality got a boost from an unlikely source on Friday as telecom giant Sprint stated in a letter to the FCC that it would support so-called “Title II” regulation, which is the only legal tool that the agency can use to ensure internet providers can’t favor some websites over others.

The filing is significant because, until now, the telecom industry has been largely opposed to the use of Title II. Here is the key passage from the letter (my emphasis):

So long as the FCC continues to allow wireless carriers to manage our networks and differentiate our products, Sprint will continue to invest in data networks regardless of whether they are regulated by Title II, Section 706, or some other light touch regulatory regime.

This position stands in stark contrast to what other carriers, including [company]Verizon[/company] and [company]AT&T[/company], have espoused. In particular, the carriers have warned that Title II would provide a major disincentive to invest in upgrades to their internet offerings.

Sprint’s letter, which can be read in full below, comes before an important FCC meeting on February 26 at which the agency is expected to vote on new rules for the internet. The process became necessary after a major court decision one year ago that struck down a prior version of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

While wireless data providers like [company]Sprint[/company] were not covered by the earlier net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted strongly that they will be included in whatever new regime the agency imposes.

The letter from Sprint also represents an ongoing shift in momentum in favor of Title II, which appeared to be a long shot at the outset of the process.

Last spring, FCC Chairman floated a plan that would have allowed internet providers to offer special “fast lanes” to preferred websites, but soon reversed course. Meanwhile, companies like Netflix and comedian John Oliver also helped to increase consumers’ support for net neutrality.

Letter – Bye to FCC

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HTC’s Windows Phone now available from AT&T and T-Mobile, too

If you’re loyal to Windows Phone and looking for a new device this holiday season, there aren’t many high-end options to choose from. One of the best is HTC’s One M8 for Windows, which has the same body and build-quality as its Android sibling, but running Microsoft’s mobile operating system instead. It was only available from Verizon to start, but now other big carriers are carrying it as well. Prices vary. Verizon sells it for $99 with a contract, but AT&T, for instance, is charging $199 with a 2-year commitment.