As the critical fourth quarter holiday shopping season gets underway, the nation's biggest 5G providers are mostly sticking with their existing strategies when it comes to promotions and discounts.
That's noteworthy considering some financial analysts had worried that network operators might engage in a financially worrisome pricing war as they battle over customers.
However, there are a few new elements in play, including possible smartphone shortages and a competitive discount from Dish Network's Boost Mobile.
"Holiday promotions? It's mostly more of the same," summarized analyst Jeff Moore of Wave7 Research, a research and consulting firm that closely tracks promotions and pricing in the US wireless industry.
AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all announced their "Black Friday" promotions and discounts this week. The offerings are important considering November 26 – the day after Thanksgiving – is often the biggest shopping day of the year. Further, the fourth quarter is often the most lucrative – and therefore competitive – period in the US wireless industry, as network operators fight over customers looking for the best deals.
In general, the new promotions from the nation's biggest 5G providers either tweak or extend their existing offerings. For example, Wave7's Moore pointed out that AT&T is basically increasing the credit it will offer on some trade-in devices from $800 to $1,000. Verizon, meantime, eliminated its requirement for customers to select its most expensive unlimited plans – but it is still requiring customers who receive its discounts to sign up for a new line of service using one of its unlimited plans. And T-Mobile is offering discounts on a wide variety of gadgets – from wireless earphones to tablets – but is mostly adhering to its existing discounts and offers.
However, as always, each carrier's promotions include a wide variety of caveats contained in the fine print – making apples-to-apples comparisons only possible for professional economists with plenty of time on their hands. Here's Moore's take on each operator's holiday offerings:
- Verizon: "The carrier is offering an $800 credit on flagship smartphones, but a new line and unlimited are required. However, premium unlimited is not required, so Verizon appears to have its game face on in need of [customer] adds."
- AT&T: "At present, with trade-in of a device worth $35+, there is a credit of up to $800 on iPhone 13 variants and on select Android devices (Z Fold3 5G, GS21, GS21 Ultra, Pixel 6 Pro). The credit is $1K with the Z Flip3 5G. As of tomorrow, the maximum iPhone credit moves to $1K on the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, making the iPhone 13 Pro $0/month, assuming the customer signs up for unlimited for 36 months."
- T-Mobile: "The lead offer of 'iPhone 13 Pro on us' will continue, but the offer requires a new line of service on T-Mobile's high-end Magenta Max plan. To get the full $1K credit, trade-in of a recent top-end iPhone (iPhone 12 Pro/Max, iPhone 11 Pro/Max) is required. The credit is $800 with trade-in of most recent devices (GS20 or newer and iPhone X or newer, mostly), and there are $400 and $200 tiers also with older devices. The top Galaxy offer is $800 off the GS21 series, but that requires Magenta Max (new or upgrade) and trade-in of a recent device."
Beyond the competitive jockeying, there's another big theme affecting this year's holiday promotions, according to Moore. "One thing new and different about this year is that there is a smartphone shortage, leading to less incentive to have discounts," he wrote, noting that a recent Wave7 survey of operators' retail stores showed all of them reporting shortages of some kind.
Finally, the nation's top carriers aren't the only ones hoping to cash in on Americans' holiday shopping. Dish Network – which counts around 9 million Boost Mobile subscribers – said it will offer a full year of unlimited talking and texting, plus 1GB of data per month, for a total of $100.
"This is the first of many 'Carrier Crusher' plans that Boost will launch throughout the holiday season," the company boasted in a release.
As it said it would, Dish is also overhauling its Republic Wireless MVNO brand. "Look for enhanced service, coverage and even more plans and phones for every budget coming soon," the company noted on its website.
The moves come after T-Mobile took aim at Dish with a recent price cut on its prepaid service.
- Dish's Stephen Stokols hints at what's next for Boost Mobile
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- T-Mobile thumbs nose at Dish with new prepaid promotion