Industry Voices — Moore: Mixing and matching of postpaid plans gets entertaining

Jeff Moore Industry Voices

Mixing and matching is a growing trend among postpaid competitors. Verizon and its cable company competitors – Xfinity Mobile and especially Spectrum Mobile – have heavily focused their marketing on the benefits of mixing and matching wireless plans.

But that’s where the comparison ends. There are three schools of thought. 

Verizon believes in mixing and matching unlimited plans with varying benefits, such as the amount of mobile hotspot, 5G, inclusion of the Disney Bundle and cloud storage. However, customers cannot mix unlimited plans with shared data plans. Verizon is currently airing its “Mix and Match 3.0” TV ad, saying that “you only pay for what you need.” This has been emphasized by Verizon since 2018.

The cable companies form the second school of thought. Their subscriber counts are growing rapidly, and I think that their pitch of savings from mixing and matching unlimited plans and “by the gig” plans is working. Older customers on family plans and those usually within range of Wi-Fi can easily get by on low-cost “by the gig” plans, which provide 1GB of data per month for $15/month from Xfinity Mobile and for $14/month from Spectrum Mobile.

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The third school of thought is led by AT&T and T-Mobile. Neither is focused on mixing and matching. Nor was Sprint.

Changes coming?

This might be changing. Wave7 Research recently reported that AT&T has filed for a trademark to “AT&T Unlimited Your Way.”  This is not a guarantee of a launch by AT&T, but no one should be surprised if AT&T starts touting mixing and matching in the coming months. The inclusion of the word “unlimited” in the name suggests that AT&T is considering a shift to Verizon’s school of thought on mixing and matching. 

Welcome to T-Mobile Island. Would T-Mobile remain as the only major postpaid competitor that is not touting mixing and matching? Maybe, but if T-Mobile launches mixing and matching, the carrier likely would mix and match its three unlimited plans. Remember the T-Mobile One “Un-carrier 12.0” initiative in August 2016? T-Mobile has been all-in on unlimited with its postpaid plans ever since. In fact, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint all made major moves in early 2017 to focus on unlimited. This was a major shift in philosophy for Verizon in particular.

Why do only Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile focus on mixing and matching unlimited plans and plans with limited data? They are the challengers, originally starting with zero subscribers, while nearly all postpaid subscribers had plans with one of the “big four” national carriers.

Spectrum Mobile is marketing mixing and matching heavily

This has been a major marketing message for Spectrum Mobile.  My favorite example is the carrier’s “Jones Family: Customize Your Plan” TV ad. The ad pitches savings of $102 per month or 46% for a family of four that chooses a mix of two lines with unlimited data and two lines with “By the Gig.”  The “By the Gig” plan provides 1GB of data for $14/month. As incumbents with huge customer bases, Verizon and AT&T would risk a hit to revenues by mixing low-cost plans with limited plans, so this has not been seen.

This is not an orphaned effort. A Spectrum Mobile radio ad pitching mixing and matching and the Savings Calculator aired 67,000 times during late 2019 and early 2020. There has been outdoor advertising and store signage touting it.  Xfinity Mobile touts the mixing and matching of its unlimited plan and its “By the Gig” plan online, but has not advertised this capability as heavily as Spectrum Mobile.

What’s next?

In July, I wrote in FierceWireless (“Industry Voices — Moore: There’s more to cable MVNO growth than meets the eye”) that the success of the cable companies’ young wireless efforts cannot be credited to beginners’ luck. Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile are adding stores, while the national carriers are closing stores. They have attractive plans and deep marketing budgets. Their BYOP (bring your own phone) efforts have been highly fruitful. Oh, and one other thing. Mixing and matching has worked.

Will AT&T Unlimited Your Way get launched?  How will T-Mobile and others respond?  We shall see, but I’m getting my popcorn ready.

Jeff Moore is Principal of Wave 7 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 represent the opinions of FierceWireless.