T-Mobile commits to phone unlocking policy amid Mint delays

'T-Mobile commits to implement an unlocking policy,' the operator told the FCC in an apparent effort to convince regulators to approve its $1.3 billion move on MVNOs Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 25, 2024

3 Min Read
3D illustration. Security padlock being broken for unauthorized access by computer hackers. LED screen being destroyed pixel by pixel.
(Source: Kiyoshi Takahase Segundo/Alamy Stock Photo)

T-Mobile laid out a new phone unlocking policy for Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile customers in what looks like a bid to convince regulators to approve the company's proposed $1.3 billion purchase of the two MVNOs.

"Within 60 days of the closing of the transaction, T-Mobile commits to implement an unlocking policy applicable to all Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile devices activated on the T-Mobile network both pre- and post-closing," T-Mobile wrote in a new filing with the FCC.

Among the company's promises, T-Mobile said it would automatically unlock existing Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile devices "that are capable of automatic unlocking if they have been activated on the T-Mobile network for at least 60 days and are not currently on a device financing plan."

The company also said it would provide Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile customers with a manual way to unlock their phones as long as they're on a device financing plan and their phones aren't capable of automatic unlocking. And T-Mobile said it would notify Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile customers of its new unlocking policy via text message, within 60 days of closing its purchase of the two MVNOs.

T-Mobile officials had hoped to close the company's proposed acquisition of Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile and their estimated 3 million customers in the first quarter of 2024 – but that didn't happen. That's the second delay to the deal as the FCC continues to evaluate the proposed acquisition.

Ongoing debate

T-Mobile's new phone unlocking commitment comes after multiple public interest groups called on the FCC to impose phone unlocking requirements on T-Mobile as a condition of its proposed purchase of Mint Mobile.

For its part, Verizon made similar promises in order to obtain regulatory approval for its $7 billion acquisition of MVNO TracFone, which closed in 2021.

Verizon also made a filing into the FCC's review of T-Mobile's proposed purchase of Mint Mobile and Ultra Mobile, but the company did not voice any opinion on the transaction. Instead, Verizon charged the FCC with "piecemeal policy making" and "asymmetric regulation" that has resulted in a "haphazard" approach to the process of phone unlocking in the US. The company called on the agency to straighten things out.

'Serious concerns'

T-Mobile's new unlocking promises come days after T-Mobile MVNO Lycamobile submitted a fiery new filing with the FCC. The company accused T-Mobile of a variety of anti-competitive practices, including withholding key technologies from its US business.

In its filing, Lycamobile also urged regulators to block T-Mobile's proposed $1.35 billion purchase of Mint Mobile, which is backed by Hollywood actor and producer Ryan Reynolds.

"T-Mobile already provides more favorable terms to Lyca's competitors, and this situation will predictably deteriorate for independent MVNOs if T-Mobile is permitted to acquire ... Mint," Lycamobile wrote. "Lyca has serious concerns that this acquisition will only further incent T-Mobile to disadvantage Lyca so as to eliminate competition for its in-house MVNOs."

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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