Expo shines light on major changes in prepaid market — Moore

Jeff Moore Industry Voices

There are some major shifts coming up in the U.S. prepaid market. There are far more changes afoot than I had realized before attending the All Wireless & Prepaid Expo in Las Vegas in August.

The 2022 edition of the All Wireless & Prepaid Expo was the best ever. There were more than 3,000 attendees, up from more than 2,800 in 2021. There were more than 100 exhibitors on the show floor. Both of these numbers were records for the event. Photographs from the Expo are here.

Boost Mobile founder Peter Adderton gave the keynote address. It was standing room only, even after numerous chairs were added. As Conference Director, I had the pleasure of introducing executives from major prepaid carriers, including Lee Mrazek of TracFone and Robert Yap of Dish Wireless/Gen Mobile. The Expo had its first-ever talk from an equity analyst, Grant Joslin, who is VP of US Telecom Equity Research for Credit Suisse. I provided an overview of prepaid competition. There were 20 other speakers as well, representing various parts of the prepaid wireless and payments ecosystems.

What TracFone changes?

Before this summer, the lineup of TracFone brands was the same and plans were mostly unchanged, apart from minor, positive tweaks to plans from Straight Talk and Total Wireless. Between these tweaks and the launch of Metro by T-Mobile at Walmart, prepaid competition at Walmart got modestly better in late 2021.

Now, the TracFone acquisition by Verizon is getting real.

In April, Verizon filed a trademark application for the brand “Total by Verizon.” It would be confusing for Verizon to operate the current Total Wireless band alongside Total by Verizon, so it is likely that a brand transition is afoot. Visible also now is presented as Visible by Verizon, so the carrier likely believes that there is a brand halo. Verizon may believe that its reputation as having a quality network could boost sales. 

TracFone for years operated Total Wireless Stores. Until recently, there were more than 200 in operation, with a solid presence in New York, California, and Florida. It was a supermarket of TracFone brands, giving customers a wide array of network and plan options.

End of Total Wireless stores

In June, dealers operating these stores received a 30-day notice that the Total Wireless Store concept would be ending. Dealers had to reassess their options. Many of them likely still sell TracFone brands. The National Wireless Independent Dealer Association (NWIDA) reported in June that the Total brand would be used for a major retail push with many new stores open by 2025. This seems consistent with what I have heard and with the appearance of the new Total by Verizon brand, I would not be surprised if a new prepaid retail solution emerges that provides competition with more than 16,000 stores operated by top prepaid carriers, including Metro by T-Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Boost Mobile.

Giant new master agent, Wireless Masters, makes debut

Wireless Masters is the name of a new TracFone master agent formed by the merger of RushStar Wireless, Cellucom Group, and MegaTel, which were all TracFone master agents. This was reported by NWIDA in August and a LinkedIn post about it from Wireless Masters is here. The post states that Wireless Masters is now the largest TracFone master agent. The company had a booth at the Expo, which was something of a launch party for the brand. It may not be a coincidence that this merger occurred less than a year after the TracFone acquisition closed.

Debut of new retailer, Beyond Mobile

Beyond Mobile had a strong presence at the Expo and is likely to launch retail stores this fall. Prepaid wireless and electronics will be sold at Beyond Mobile stores. Verizon Prepaid, Simple Mobile, and TracFone are expected to be sold there. The number of stores and the initial markets are unclear. A flyer seen at the Beyond Mobile booth stated that it is “the first and only local-first program developed for neighborhood wireless.”

Boost Infinite planning stores in 25 markets

Celluphone, a master agent for wireless retail stores, had a booth at the Expo. Via a sign and flyers, the company detailed the 25 markets where it is planning to help launch Boost Infinite stores. Boost Infinite is expected to be a postpaid brand for Dish Wireless, which is building a nationwide network. It is unclear whether Boost Mobile prepaid will be sold at these stores.

New MVNOs likely to launch

Mobile X, operated by Peter Adderton, is expected to launch soon. Telispire had a booth at the show, where I learned that this MVNE is in talks with cable companies about possible wireless launches. Plum had a booth and Plum executive Scott Venuti spoke at the conference. The company is working with MVNOs to facilitate launches. At the Expo, I met with a couple of future MVNOs that have been in talks with Plum. An official from ReachNext informed me in August that the company is working with “dozens” of cable companies about potential wireless launches. This summer, cableco WOW launched wireless services in partnership with ReachNext, so the trail has been blazed.

Current MVNOs had booths at the Expo. Among these were Ultra Mobile, H2O Wireless, Boom Mobile, Gen Mobile, and AirVoice Wireless. Cricket Wireless had a large and busy booth, where dealers were being recruited. Boost Mobile master agents like VIP Wireless and Marceco had a strong presence as well.


Calendars marked for 2023

As an analyst, this was the perfect event. I learned more in two days at the Expo than I would have learned in two weeks behind my laptop and visiting wireless stores. Boost Infinite, Wireless Masters, and Beyond Mobile made their debuts. The speakers were informative. NWIDA hosted a dealer event before the show even started.

I think many attendees have marked their calendar for the next edition of the All Wireless & Prepaid Expo. It will be on August 15-16, 2023 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, as seen here.

By then, we will have a sense about how the changes in 2022 have played out. No doubt, there will be more debuts as well.

Jeff Moore is Principal of Wave7 Research, a wireless research firm that covers U.S. postpaid, prepaid, and smartphone competition.  Jeff has 25 years of telecom industry experience, including 13 years of competitive intelligence work for Sprint. Follow him on Twitter @wave7jeff.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of FierceWireless.