Posted on by Jon Colgan
At CellBreaker, we’re able to see both sides of a customer’s switch decision–where they come from and where they want to go, their old carrier/plan versus their new one. One thing we’ve noticed is that customers typically save 50-65% on cell phone service when (1) they use CellBreaker to escape their contract with no early termination fee and (2) switch to a MVNO (2nd-tier) carrier (i.e. Scratch, Ting, etc.). Yes, 50-65%. This accounts for both switch savings and monthly cell service savings over the standard 2-year plan period. We’re talking about thousands of dollars depending upon the number of lines a given customer has.
With that realization in mind, it becomes really interesting to consider what Sprint’s new “double the data, same price” deal means for consumers. Why? One big reason is that Sprint is the US leader in MVNOs. For those that don’t know, “MVNO” stands for it’s “Mobile Virtual Network Operator,” –a smaller, 2nd-tier carrier. These smaller carriers lease cellular spectrum from one of the Big 4 (Sprint, ATT, Verizon, and T-Mobile). Sprint has the most MVNOs using its network, including the two MVNO examples I gave already: Ting and Scratch. So Sprint customers, more than anyone else, have the easiest path to the 50-65% savings I described, because their devices will work with any carrier using the Sprint network. They can switch from Sprint to a Sprint MVNO without having to buy new devices.
So, the most telling apples-to-apples comparison consumers should be making is Sprint-network carrier to Sprint-network carrier–that is, Sprint compared to all of the MVNOs that run on Sprint. This comparison makes sense because the common thread from carrier-to-carrier would be what we’ll call the “Sprint network cellular experience.” Even with their new double-deal offer, Sprint is not the cheapest carrier running on Sprint.
That leads me to my next Sprint-specific point: Sprint’s network experience is not the best that money can buy (perhaps, everyone knows this already). CellBreaker is in the business of tracking this data in order to identify what we call performance deficiency (i.e. persistent dropped calls, poor connectivity, etc.). So, as Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica confirms, the data fully supports this characterization. Consumers should understand what their money will buy and, in Sprint’s case, what it will not.
For the last two years, Sprint’s network has struggled to keep up with rising cellular data demand as more people adopt smartphones and apps become more complex and data-heavy. It’s been known for sometime that, in most markets, Sprint can’t compete with the other 3 “Big 4″ carriers on performance. So, it’s opted to compete on retail price and wholesale partners (MVNOs). This latest deal, double the data for the same price, fits that pattern. Consumers should realize, however, that more plan data capacity doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to simply tap into that extra data without hassle. Sprint’s network struggled to deliver data before, and now it’s doubled the amount of data promised. So, it’s reasonable to not only expect Sprint’s network to continue to struggle, but to increasingly struggle roughly in proportion to the percentage increase in aggregate data demanded by all Sprint customers. It’s like Sprint hobbled on one leg before, and now they’re threatening to hobble on half a leg. It reminds me of this fried chicken advertisement:
True, Sprint is offering more for less per unit. But the takeaway is, can Sprint’s network deliver? Can customers actually use the additional capacity without additional hassle? Not if Sprint’s network can’t deliver. So I suspect the answer to both questions is no.