MetroPCS wiped out all but one of its
unlimited data plans for its LTE service today, capping usage on its three cheapest plans and
leaving only its most expensive rate in place for all-you-can-eat mobile broadband.
Once customers reach their allotted
threshold, they will remain on the prepaid operator’s LTE network but
“receive a reduced speed similar to what they might experience on our 3G
networks,” a company spokesman said.
Even with the downshift in speeds,
“the experience for the majority of what a customer does on a daily
basis… should continue to be solid,” the spokesman said. MetroPCS’ LTE
service is available in 14 markets, and it also operates a CDMA network.
Update: MetroPCS has clarified that there are no changes to its unlimited 3G plans and disagreed with the characterization that it had “wiped out” its unlimited plans. “All of our new 4G LTE plans are still unlimited data, but with reduced speeds after the noted thresholds. So, in essence, we didn’t wipe out unlimited. What we eliminated was the differentiation between the hard-capped streaming multimedia (previously on the $40 and $50 4G LTE plans) and web browsing,” the company said.
The plans used to offer unlimited data
at regular LTE speeds and varying amounts of streaming video and audio.
MetroPCS’ $40 plan now comes with a 250
MB cap, the $50 plan tops out at 2.5 GB and the $60 plan allots 5 GB before
throttling kicks in.
The only plan to still offer unlimited,
full-speed LTE service costs $70 per month.
The changes are similar to the way
T-Mobile USA phased out its unlimited service. It also implemented new plans
that slowed customers’ speeds after they consumed a certain amount of data.
MetroPCS said it changed its rate plans
to “best match our customers’ data usage” and “simplify”
its plans so subscribers didn’t have to distinguish between web browsing and
streaming multimedia, as they did with the old plans.
But BTIG Research Analyst Walter Piecyk
has a different take.
After rumors of the rate plan shakeup
emerged yesterday, Piecyk wrote in a blog post that MetroPCS likely made the changes because “of its constrained spectrum
position and inability to sell to Sprint.”
MetroPCS, reportedly an acquisition
target of Sprint’s, has extremely limited spectrum resources and is using just
5×5 MHz to run its LTE network, half the 10×10 MHz channels used by Verizon
“Operators are running out of
capacity and have little faith that the FCC can source new usable
spectrum,” Piecyk said, linking recent industry price hikes to the failure
of AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile USA, which may have put spectrum on the
market through FCC-mandated divestitures. “MetroPCS and other wireless
operators are likely to simply increase pricing on the limited, remaining
capacity on their networks.”
MetroPCS’ decision to rein in its
customers’ data usage shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. As Piecyk pointed
out, the operator’s finance chief told investors last month that it was
“looking very closely at potentially capping our $60 plan… and then doing an up
charge for true unlimited data.
Even with the “up charge,” MetroPCS’ $60 5 GB plan is still the “lowest price
in the industry,” the company spokesman said.