Before the Thanksgiving turkeys are cooked and the next round of holiday festivities begin, wireless carriers are unveiling their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to dial up customers and keep them on the line.
T-Mobile unveiled a bunch of “un-carrier” deals last week, including “The Ultimate Bundle” that promises “holiday savings of over $1,300.”
Not to be outdone, Verizon is offering “savings” of $1,800 or $1,900, respectively, for people who trade in old Samsung or Pixel models for new ones. In September, Verizon offered to replace any old iPhone with the new iPhone 15 Pro for customers adding a new line on the Unlimited Ultimate plan.
Moving on up
“The common denominator here is carriers are trying to get customers to upgrade to premium unlimited plans,” said Jeff Moore, principal of Wave7 Research, which closely tracks prepaid and postpaid wireless price plans.
While T-Mobile is “heavily pushing” its Go5G Next plan, Verizon is reeling customers in with the trade-in offer. As for AT&T, “it’s pretty much steady sailing for them,” he said, adding that the “best deals for all” and other offers appear to be fairly standard but packaged for the holidays.
In addition, the Big 3 carriers are ramping up their holiday advertising. “All three are now among the top 10 brands in the United States in terms of national TV ad spending,” he said.
Cable gains market share
While the fourth quarter historically is the biggest quarter for wireless carriers’ retail sales, cable companies – namely Comcast and Charter Communications – are increasingly becoming a formidable competitor. In fact, cable represented nearly half of all phone net additions in the U.S. in Q3, by far the highest level ever for a third quarter, said the Wall Street analyst firm MoffettNathanson in a November 16 report.
The report – titled “Wireless: Are Things Really Getting Better?” – paints a bleak picture for the Big 3, noting that the subscriber growth rate slowed much more sharply, to just 1.3% in Q3, down by roughly half from the post-Covid peak set in late 2021.
Last week, Comcast said it was kicking off the holiday season early by giving customers “another reason to break free from the industry’s ‘big three,’” with deals for new and existing Xfinity Mobile customers. It’s offering two lines of Unlimited for $30/month, which it says is “saving customers hundreds of dollars per year when they switch from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.”
Dish: Odd one out
Dish Network is undergoing a number of changes to improve its balance sheet, including becoming a subsidiary of sister company EchoStar. Its mission is to be the No. 4 facilities-based wireless carrier going up against the Big 3, but it’s not there yet.
Asked about the prospects for Dish Network’s Boost Mobile and Boost Infinite brands this holiday season, Moore said he recently saw a post on X depicting an image of a dumpster fire, and “I don’t think that’s inaccurate.”
Part of the problem is how Dish is trying to sell Boost Infinite, the postpaid brand. Boost Infinite is “sort of like going with Kmart Elite,” or a high-end Kmart brand, and “it just doesn’t work,” Moore said. Boost Infinite is marketed in a few Boost Mobile stores, but “they never bothered to launch postpaid retail” for the postpaid Infinite brand, he said.
“Putting up a poster in a handful of Boost Mobile stores – that doesn’t cut it,” Moore said. “They need the stores.”
In Dish’s defense, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said during the company’s Q3 earnings call that they’re pursuing an online retail strategy for Boost Infinite with Amazon. While they could have hit the ground running a lot faster in postpaid if they had 5,000 stores out of the gate, that wasn’t the case.
On the other hand, “if you make the online process better, you're going to wish you didn't have 5,000 stores. Talk to the bookstores of the world about that, right?,” Ergen said.
Big box brands
Although holiday deals are starting much earlier than they used to, Black Friday remains a big day for big box retailers like Target, Walmart and Best Buy. Interestingly, Wave7 has been reporting that Best Buy is retreating in the wireless space, whereas Walmart seems to be doing the opposite.
Walmart has closed some stores, but its store count remains substantial, with more than 4,000 nationwide. When it comes to wireless, “they’re all in,” Moore said.
Recently, Moore said they’ve noticed wireless ads on TVs in some Walmart electronics departments, including ads starring actor and comedian Jim Gaffigan for Verizon’s Straight Talk prepaid brand.
Verizon’s Straight Talk prepaid brand is exclusive to Walmart. Despite other carriers’ prepaid brands increasing their presence at Walmart – including the Verizon MVNO MobileX – Verizon Value President Angie Klein told Fierce last month that Straight Talk has a great partnership with Walmart and Straight Talk will remain the biggest prepaid brand in its stores. “We are confident in that,” she said.