Verizon has reached an agreement to buy TracFone, the country's leading prepaid mobile provider and largest reseller of wireless services. TracFone operates a family of value-oriented brands that includes StraightTalk, Net10, Simple Mobile, Total Wireless, PagePlus, Walmart Family Mobile, SafeLink, and ClearWay. As an MVNO, TracFone replies on other mobile networks. Out of 21 million total TracFone customers, 13 million already use the Verizon network. "Following the acquisition, Verizon expects to bring its award-winning 4G LTE and 5G networks and other innovative technologies to Tracfone customers". Verizon already offers its own prepaid service and has a prepaid subsidiary called Visible. Verizon expects to keep all 850 TracFone employees. The $6.25 billion deal is expected to close in about a year.
US carriers have launched a flurry of new entry-level phones from LG and Samsung in recent weeks. The phones include three new models from each of the two manufacturers. They range in price from $60 to $260.
- LG's new most affordable phone goes by many names and ranges in price from $60 to $160. It's offered by just about every carrier except Verizon. T-Mobile, Sprint, and Metro offer it as the Aristo 5. Boost offers it as the Tribute Monarch. U.S. Cellular offers it as the K8x. All of those versions come with 32 GB of storage. Only AT&T's version comes with just 16 GB of storage, which they offer from AT&T Prepaid as the Phoenix 5, or from Cricket as the Fortune 3. Oddly, Cricket also offers this phone as the Risio 4. The Risio 4 and K8x have a front camera that's downgraded from 5 to 3 megapixel. Key specs in common include a 5.7-inch HD display with notch, MediaTek Helio P22 processor, 2 GB RAM, and a 3,000 mAh Battery. It also has a 13-megapixel main camera, dedicated wide-angle camera, and a rear fingerprint reader.
- LG Harmony 4: Currently available only from Cricket (for $140), this step-up model has a larger display (6.1-inch), larger battery (3,500 mAh), and more RAM (3 GB). It also has USB-C and a better front camera. Regulatory filings indicate it may also come to Verizon prepaid and TracFone using the Sprint network.
- LG K51: Already available from T-Mobile, Metro, and Boost, this model is now available from Verizon for $168. Compared to the Harmony 4, it offers an even larger display and battery. It's powered by a MediaTek Helio P22 processor.
- Samsung A01: First launched on Verizon in April, Samsung's most affordable phone is now available from AT&T, Cricket, and Metro, for $115, $60, and $160, respectively. It has USB-C and fast charging, but no fingerprint reader.
- Samsung A11: A big step up from A01, this $180 phone is now available from AT&T and Verizon. It will launch with Boost on July 21st at a limited-time price of $130. It has a 6.4-inch HD display with a hole-punch design, 4,000 mAh battery, fast charging, fingerprint reader, and a dedicated wide-angle camera.
- Samsung A21: Now available from Verizon, T-Mobile, Metro, Sprint, and Boost. While the standard price is $250, Metro is charging $260 while Boost is currently offering it for $200. It has a similar display and battery compared to the A11, but has upgraded cameras, MediaTek Helio P35 processor, 3 GB RAM, and NFC.
Blu Products recently announced the S1, an inexpensive Android smartphone that's available unlocked from Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. One of the chief benefits of the S1 is its wide compatibility with U.S. LTE networks. It supports AT&T and T-Mobile, and, unusually, Sprint, as well as their prepaid services including Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, and MetroPCS. Blu says it also offers SIM kits for the S1 from Tracfone, Net10, and H2O. The S1 features a curved glass front with metallic paint on the smooth rear panel. The 5.2-inch display offers 720p HD resolution in a 16:9 aspect ratio, and the phone is powered by an octa-core 1.5 GHz MediaTek 6750 processor with 2 GB of RAM. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/2.0 and an LED flash, while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Other features include Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS, and WiFi; 16 GB of storage and support for microSD memory cards; front-mounted fingerprint sensor; and a 2,800mAh battery. The Blu S1 runs Android 7 Nougat and is available online for $130 from Amazon and $180 from Best Buy.
ZTE recently released the Cymbal-T, a flip phone that runs Android and includes a 3.5-inch touch screen. The Cymbal-T is a traditional clamshell with physical navigation keys and numerical dial pad. The phone is powered by a 1.1 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210 processor with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 32 GB. It includes a 5-megapixel main camera with flash and autofocus. The user-facing camera is a fixed-focus, 2-megapixel job. Other specs include WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and support for LTE 4G. The phone runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. The ZTE Cymbal-T operates on TracFone's network and is being sold by the Home Shopping Network with a starter kit, including car charger, case, and 1,200 air minutes, for $99.
Samsung has published details about the Galaxy E5, a low-cost Android handset intended for Tracfone. The E5 has a 5-inch, Super AMOLED 720p HD screen and is powered by a quad-core 1.2 GHz processor with 1.5 GB of RAM. The phone includes an 8-megapixel main camera with flash and full HD video capture, and a 5-megapixel front camera for selfies. The phone ships with 16 GB of storage and supports memory cards up to 64 GB. Connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi, and LTE. It runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. Tracfone has not yet listed the Samsung Galaxy E5 for sale, so pricing and availability are unknown.
Sprint's presence at the nation's largest retailer has dwindled in recent weeks, according to Fierce Wireless. Some 500 Walmart stores across the country continue to sell Spint handsets, but the majority of Walmart's 4,177 brick-and-mortar locations no longer have them in stock. Wave7 Research says T-Mobile prepaid and StraightTalk have replaced Sprint in some Walmart locations, and AT&T and Verizon Wireless are now the only postpaid carriers advertised by Walmart. Sprint declined to comment on Fierce Wireless' story, but it is worth noting that Sprint acquired an equity stake in the majority of RadioShack's retail stores earlier this year, which are now co-branded Sprint/RadioShack. StraightTalk is one of Walmart's two prepaid brands, the other being TracFone.
ZTE today said it is making the ZMax 2 smartphone available to consumers unlocked. The phone was originally sold via TracFone earlier this year, but is now online directly from ZTE. The full price of the phone is $179.99, but ZTE is running a limited sale price of $129.99. The ZMax 2 has a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen; quad-core 1.2GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage; 8-megapixel main camera with full HD vide capture and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera. It includes Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, WiFi, and LTE radios. The phone packs a 3,000 mAh battery. The ZMax 2 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop and is compatible with the networks operated by AT&T, T-Mobile, and their prepaid businesses, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, respectively.
ZTE today announced the ZMax 2, a follow-up to its big-screened phone from early this year. The phone has a 5.5-inch 720p HD screen, which is smaller than the original's 5.7-inch screen. The device is powered by a quad-core 1.2GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The phone supports memory cards up to 32GB. The ZMax 2 features an 8-megapixel main camera with full HD vide capture and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera. It includes Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, WiFi, and LTE radios. The phone packs a 3,000 mAh battery, which is smaller than the original's 3,400 mAh battery. The ZMax 2 runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. It will be sold by AT&T's GoPhone prepaid service (beginning Sept. 25) as well as TracFone.
Samsung today published details about the Galaxy J1, an entry-level handset headed to TracFone. The J1 features a 4.3-inch screen, 1.2GHz quad-core processor, 5-megapixel main camera with LED flash, and 2-megapixel user-facing camera. The J1 can capture 720p HD video. The phone supports Bluetooth and WiFi. It ships with Android 4.4 KitKat. Pricing and availability details weren't immediately released. TracFone is a prepaid provider that sells phones via Walmart stores.
TracFone has reached an agreement with the FCC concerning its policies for unlocking handsets. In February of this year it became mandatory for all carriers to unlock customer handsets and to properly disclose their unlocking policies to customers. TracFone did not have any sort of process for unlocking handsets in place, nor did it inform customers of their rights. Even so, TracFone later told the FCC multiple times that it was in compliance with the law. In order to settle with the FCC, TracFone agreed to transition to unlockable phones. It will allow eligible customers to receive new unlocked handsets, receive credit towards a new handset, or receive a partial cash refund in exchange for an unlocked handset. "Unlocking of cell phones has been widely embraced by the wireless industry and by consumers across the country," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. "Today's agreement ensures that millions of eligible TracFone customers will be able to use their phones on any compatible network they choose." TracFone has about 8 million customers, many of which should be able to benefit from today's enforcement action. TracFone has until September 1 to clearly notify customers about its new policies and when those customers will be eligible for unlocked devices. By May 2016, TracFone will need to launch some unlockable handsets and allow eligible customers to trade-in or receive credit. By December 2016, all phones launched by TracFone must be capable of being unlocked.
RadioShack today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and signed an agreement to sell approximately 1,750 of its stores to Sprint. Under the terms of RadioShack's Chapter 11 filing, RadioShack will sell the stores to Sprint and General Wireless, a subsidiary of one of RadioShack's major investors. Moving forward, these stores will be co-branded Sprint and RadioShack, with Sprint being the primary brand. Sprint will own about 30% of the real estate within each store to sell Sprint, Boost Mobile, and Virgin Mobile USA products. The remaining 70% will be set aside for RadioShack to sell its own branded gear and other electronics. Sprint did not say what will happen to the AT&T, GoPhone, Net10 Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Tracfone phones that are currently offered by RadioShack. Presumably they will be no longer be sold. Sprint currently has more than 1,100 company-owned retail stores, which would more than double if the transaction is approved. RadioShack listed about $1.2 billion in assets and $1.39 billion in debts. A bankruptcy court will have to approve RadioShack's plans before Sprint can make its purchase official.
TracFone has agreed to pay customers $40 million to reimburse them for what the FTC labeled as deceptive advertising. From 2009 to 2013, TracFone advertised "unlimited data" plans for $45 per month. Despite the promise of unlimited monthly data, TracFone throttled customers who surpassed 3GB of data and cut off entirely some customers who surpassed 5GB of data. "The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. TracFone began to disclose the data limits and throttling policies in 2013, but the FTC said, "In many cases, the disclosures were in very small print or on the back of packages or cards where consumers were likely to miss them." Millions of customers were throttled, according to the FTC. TracFone will refund an unknown number of customers $40 million and more clearly spell out its network management policies.
Alcatel revealed two new Android smartphones headed to Tracfone later this year, the Pop Mega and the Pop Star. Here are a few thoughts on these low-cost cell phones.
AT&T plans to sell off its entire remaining stake in America Movil to Carlos Slim for about $5.6 billion. AT&T holds 8.3% of America Movil stock, but garners 24% of the company's voting rights. Carlos Slim's holding company, Inmobiliaria Carso, will pay AT&T $4.57 billion when the deal closes, followed by an addition $1 billion 60 days after closing. AT&T sold about half its stake in America Movil last June and already removed its designees from American Movil's board of directors. AT&T tipped the divestiture when it announced plans to acquire DirecTV earlier this year. AT&T hopes the sell off will improve its chances of gaining regulatory approval for its DirecTV acquisition. America Movil owns and operates TracFone wireless, the largest MVNO operating in the U.S. with 25 million customers.
The Federal Communications Commission is levying fines against a handful of network operators that it says violated rules governing the Lifeline program. According to the FCC, Assist Wireless, Easy Wireless, Icon Telecom, TracFone, and UTPhone all allowed some consumers to obtain more than a single Lifeline subscription. Consumers are allowed only one line, and the FCC believes the carriers in question knew, or should have known, that the duplicate lines were being given to ineligible people. The Lifeline program provides free phones and service to low-income Americans. The FCC is taking the action in order to reduce waste. The five carriers are being fined a total of $14.4 million, with the damages ranging between $1.23 million and $4.8 million per carrier. TracFone responded to the FCC's punishment, claiming that fewer than 850 of its customers were involved, who totaled only $8,000 in duplicate billing. "With almost 4 million Lifeline customers, obviously this is a very small percent. We do not believe that our conduct violated any rules or that the proposed FCC action is warranted."
TracFone today provided some clarity on its data throttling policies for its StraighTalk and Net10 brands. According to TracFone, both its $45 and $60 unlimited plans for StraightTalk include 2.5GB of high-speed data. Customers who surpass the 2.5GB soft cap during a 30-day billing cycle will see their data reduced to 2G speeds for the remainder of the billing cycle. High-speed data will be restored when the customer re-ups for another 30 days. Similar limits apply to TracFone's $50 and $65 Net10 plans. TracFone was recently sued by consumers in California over falsely advertising StraightTalk's service as "unlimited" without defining the 2.5GB soft cap for throttling. TracFone is an MVNO owned by America Movil, and uses the networks of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. The StraighTalk brand is sold at Walmart stores.
Huawei today announced that the W1, its first Windows Phone 8 smartphone, will be available at Walmart stores in the U.S. beginning later this month. The W1 is known as the Ascend W1 in other markets. It features a 4-inch LCD screen with 800 x 480 pixels, a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, a 5-megapixel camera with 720p video capture, 1.7GB of internal storage, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. Huawei did not say which carrier will provide service for the W1, but Walmart sells TracFone devices, and the W1 is compatible with TracFone's network. Pricing was not provided, nor was the exact release date.
Samsung recently revealed details about the S275G, a simple flip phone for TracFone. The S275 has two displays; the main display measures 1.75 inches and has 128 x 180 pixels, while the external display measures 1 inch and has 96 x 96 pixels. The S275G also includes a 1.3-megapixel camera with video capture and a dedicated camera button, basic music/video players, a WAP browser, and Bluetooth. TracFone has yet to add the Samsung S275G to its online store, so pricing and availability are not yet known.
LG and TracFone today revealed the Optimus Zip, a new sideways slider that includes Android 2.3 Gingerbread and a full QWERTY keyboard. The Optimus Zip (also branded as the LG Enlighten / Optimus Slider) offers a 3.2-inch touch display with 320 x 480 pixels. Other features include a 3.2-megapixel camera with video capture, and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0+EDR, and CDMA-EVDO 3G. The Optimus Zip is powered by an 800MHz processor, and supports microSD cards up to 32GB. TracFone has not yet announced pricing or availability for the Optimus Zip.
Tracfone Wireless, Inc. today announced that it has completed its previously-announced acquisition of Simple Mobile. Simple Mobile provides no-contract, SIM-only service on T-Mobile's GSM/HSPA+ network. Tracfone already offers SIM-only options under its Straight Talk and Net10 brands. Tracfone is a subsidiary of America Movil S.A.B. de C.V.
Samsung today revealed the S125G, an entry-level bar-style phone for prepaid provider TracFone. The S125G has a 1.52-inch display and focuses on simple voice features. It includes a speakerphone and a large numeric dialpad. Pricing and availability of the S125G have not been disclosed.
Samsung today revealed the S425G for TracFone, a sideways slider that includes a full QWERTY keyboard in addition to a standard numerical keypad. The S425G offers a 2.4-inch display with 240 x 320 pixels and runs a Java-based operating system. Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging applications are installed for keeping in touch. Other features of the S425G include a 2-megapixel camera with video capture, Bluetooth, speakerphone, music and video players, and support for microSD cards up to 32GB. Pricing and availability have yet to be announced.
Prepaid MVNO TracFone today announced an agreement to acquire SIM-only prepaid MVNO Simple Mobile. Simple Mobile operates a SIM-card-only service where customers bring their own GSM phones. Simple uses T-Mobile USA's network. TracFone is also an MVNO, using a mix of other national carrier's networks. TracFone is owned by America Movil, which has operations across the Americas. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter. The purchase price and other terms were not disclosed.
Samsung recently published information about the SCH-R375c, a mono-block QWERTY phone that is intended for TracFone's network. According to Samsung, the r375 is based on a Java operating system and includes a full keyboard for messaging, a 1.3 megapixel camera, and stereo Bluetooth. TracFone has yet to list this device, and pricing has not been disclosed.
Samsung recently published information about the T404, a sideways slider feature phone that has a full QWERTY keyboard for messaging. The T404 features a 2.2-inch display with 240 x 320 pixels, a 2-megapixel camera with video capture, 40MB of internal storage, and support for microSD cards up to 16GB. Other features include Bluetooth, speakerphone, messaging software, and vibrate alerts. The T404 is sold by TracFone for $59.99.
Straight Talk recently added the LG Optimus Q to its lineup, the pre-paid carrier's second Android smartphone. The Optimus Q will cost $179.99 and require a $45 monthly plan. Straight Talk is operated by TracFone, and its Android devies run on Sprint's network.
Samsung today published details about a new flip phone for TracFone. The T245G is an entry-level clamshall that has a basic feature set. It includes dual displays, a camera, and messaging functions. The T245G is not yet listed for sale on TracFone's web site.
Sprint has confirmed that the Android devices sold by TracFone through its Straight Talk service will run on the Sprint network, rather than the networks of AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless. TracFone already has wholesale relationships with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, but Sprint appears to have scored an exclusive with respect to Android-based smartphones. The first such device is the recently announced Samsung Precedent, which sells for $149.99. TracFone's Straight Talk brand is sold through Wal-Mart stores, though it is owned by America Movil.
Samsung has published details about a phone called the SGH-T528g. This bar-style touch phone has a 3-inch display and runs Samsung's TouchWiz 2.0 user interface. According to both Samsung and documents recently spotted on the Federal Communications Commission web site, it supports 850/1900MHz GSM/EDGE/WCDMA, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. The T528 also sports a 2 megapixel camera with video capture and a full array of messaging and web-based applications. The device is sold by Tracfone.