Google Pixel 6 debuts alongside carrier promotions

Google’s new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro smartphones debuted this week alongside promotions from the three largest U.S. carriers.

AT&T and Verizon just recently pulled back on aggressive smartphone deals and look to have tampered down offers for the latest Android-based Pixel compared to T-Mobile.

There is one model of the Pixel 6 Pro, which all three carriers are offering and supports both millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz bands for 5G. AT&T and Verizon are selling Pixel 6 models that also support both mmWave and sub-6 GHz (including key C-band spectrum that each plan to start deploying soon).T-Mobile has a lower cost Pixel 6 model that can’t tap the higher band mmWave spectrum but supports sub-6 GHz including the operator’s 2.5 GHz spectrum.

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The latest Pixels also are the first to sport an “Ultra Capacity 5G” icon for T-Mobile subscribers, meant to indicate the mid-band flavor of 5G is active. As of Wednesday T-Mobile said 2.5 GHz 5G covered 186 million people.  

Promotions come with fine print and caveats but at a high-level here’s what the big three are offering:

AT&T: Offers apply to new and existing customers and any unlimited plan.              

             Up to $700 off Pixel 6 Pro with eligible trade-in (Monthly credit over 36-month installment plan. Trade-ins with a minimum $95 value).

             $15 per month for Pixel 6 after bill credits on 36-month installment plan, no trade-in required. That comes to around $540 (or about $160 off the retail price).

T-Mobile: Offers apply to new and existing customers.

              Up to the full cost of the device (up to $600 for Pixel 6 or up to $900 for Pixel 6 Pro) with an eligible trade-in and on the premium tier Magenta Max unlimited plan.

              Up to $450 off with trade-in on any T-Mobile plan. Bill credits over 24 months. (There’s a long list of eligible trade-ins including iPhone 12 series and Samsung’s S20 and S21 models).

              Or customers can get $500 off either Pixel device with 2-years of monthly bill credits by adding a line on any plan.

Verizon: New customers can get up to $700 off a new Pixel if they switch to Verizon, with a trade-in and get a select unlimited plans – credit applied over 24 or 30 months.

               Existing customers offered up to $350 off either Pixel 6 with select trade-in and on certain unlimited plans.

Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, thinks T-Mobile’s Pixel 6 promotions have to do with Samsung’s device supply. Last month T-Mobile CFO Peter Osvaldik singled Samsung out as falling behind relative to other OEMs in terms of smartphone supply. The operator’s customer base historically has skewed more toward mid- and higher-end Samsung devices versus other carriers.

“I believe that T-Mobile realized that when Samsung had supply issues that the company needed to diversify its device base more,” Sag told Fierce. “That's why I think we're seeing more aggressive promos on the iPhone and Pixel Pro.”

Sag also pointed to Pixel 6 model sold by T-Mobile, noting it’s the only carrier shipping with a $599 version (compared to AT&T and Verizon’s which retail for $699.99)

“That’s a lower price and most consumers won't be aware of the mmWave component and why Verizon and AT&T are more expensive,” he said, noting that outside of the U.S. only Japan and Australia are getting a Pixel Pro 6 with both sub-6 GHz and mmWave capabilities.

RELATED: T-Mobile wins some in 5G ad spat with Verizon

In the U.S. Verizon’s 5G mmWave (dubbed Ultra Wideband) is limited to parts of 87 cities, while AT&T has mmWave (under a 5G+ moniker) in select zones and some venues in 20 states. T-Mobile has touted a layer cake strategy for 5G, but largely focused on low-band 600 MHz and more recently mid-band 2.5 GHz since merging with Sprint.

Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg commented on promos Wednesday during the carrier’s third-quarter earnings call saying “right now, we feel very good on how we compete in the market” after dropping a $1,000 Apple iPhone promo. AT&T, which had been leading the charge on smartphone promos, reports Q3 results Thursday and T-Mobile reports November 2.

Aside from each other, carriers are also competing with cable on the mobile front, such as MVNOs from Comcast and Charter which recently introducing new unlimited wireless pricing.

Google uses its own chip for Pixel

In terms of 5G performance, the Google Pixel is the first smartphone with the Android 12 operating system which Sag said makes “it inherently a better 5G device” – though pointed out features will be available to other OEMs that upgrade to Android 12 in the future.

Google’s flagship Pixel smartphones also notably uses its own Tensor chip. GlobalData senior analyst Anisha Bhatia said it’s taking a cue from Apple “towards end-to-end control of the user experience” and “Google’s first foray into reverse engineering the smartphone” which would allow it to better compete in the handset space.  

RELATED: Does Google’s Pixel move signal negative tide for Qualcomm?

“Industry interest in this phone is high, as Tensor will focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, providing a foundation for future innovations,” said Bhatia. “It’s a significant move by Google because making a chip is a complex and expensive process, and Google, a company that isn’t strong in smartphones, is investing money and resources into this process.”

It also adds a new Pixel to the mix of 5G adoption handsets.

GlobalData expects the mobile 5G services market to reach $644.6 billion by 2026, representing 64% of total mobile service revenue globally.  

The Google Pixel lineup is available from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon October 28 with pre-orders starting this week.