Metro by T-Mobile drops PCS, adds Amazon Prime


“Prepaid wireless” hasn’t always carried the best reputation. Often, what leaps to mind is less-than-stellar coverage, cheap flip phones, or consumers with lousy credit.

MetroPCS is hoping to alter what it insists is an outdated perception with a name change announced Monday, coupled with two new tiered unlimited wireless plans that feature benefits through Amazon Prime and Google One.

Beginning Oct. 8, MetroPCS becomes Metro by T-Mobile, reflecting not only that the prepaid carrier has been owned by the nation’s No. 3 wireless provider since 2013 but that its customers get cell service from the very same network as regular T-Mobile customers and have access to top brand handsets, too, including the latest iPhones.


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What the new plans offer

Under the cheapest of Metro’s newly announced unlimited plans, you’ll pay $50 for a single line, $80 for two lines or $140 for four. Taxes and fees are included in this prices, and the deal comes with 100 GB of cloud storage and mobile backup through Google One. You’ll also be able to share up to 5 GB of higher-speed LTE with other devices as a mobile hotspot. No contract is required.


The second plan, also contract-free, ups the price by $10. So you instead pay $60 for a single line, $90 for two, or $150 for four. That buys you triple the LTE allotment for a mobile hotspot, and also gets you free Amazon Prime, including access to all the Prime video and music available to other Prime members, plus free one- or two-day shipping on some of the produces you purchase on Amazon. It typically costs $119 a year for Prime.

The fine print: These rate plans are U.S.-only, ruling out and Canada or other overseas locales. 

HD video streams are limited to lower-resolution 480p. During periods of network congestion, customers who use more than 35 GB of data during a month may be throttled, or slowed down, until the next billing cycle.


Metro by T-Mobile is keeping existing Metro plans in the lineup, though they don't include unlimited data or the Google One or Amazon Prime benefits. Starting price: $30 for a single line with 2 GB of data.

Prepaid versus postpaid

Metro's big brother, T-Mobile, as well as rival (mainly) postpaid wireless carriers offer aggressively priced plans and bonus content as well, which sometimes masks higher priced plans or adds to consumer confusion. Some T-Mobile deals come with free Netflix, for example, some AT&T deals come with HBO or DirecTV and some Sprint deals come with Hulu. Confusion often reigns in the wireless space. 


More: Here's what the new unlimited data plans will do for prices

Along the way, the distinctions between prepaid and postpaid phone service are getting fuzzier as well. In general, prepaid plans tend to cater to more budget-conscious consumers who prefer paying in advance for the airtime they think they’ll use. MetroPCS, and Sprint-owned Boost Mobile USA and Virgin Mobile USA epitomize such brands, though there are others.


Tom Keys, president, Metro by T-Mobile (Photo: T-Mobile)

Metro by T-Mobile president Tom Keys acknowledges the challenges he faces. He says about 7 out of 10 people who are in Metro’s backyard do not even consider its service these days, a statistic he finds “sobering.” Metro only has about a 5.5 percent market share in areas where it supplies coverage. 

These people “view prepaid wireless as missing something, as a thing that you have to compromise with,” Keys says. He concedes that MetroPCS was at least partly responsible for such a negative view, given its early 2000s roots as a regional carrier that operated in just a dozen cities. 


“Quite honestly, we didn’t have all the good stuff,” Keys says. “We didn’t have content in our rate plans. We didn’t have handsets people wanted to go get. And we never talked about the network because (it) only operated on a thinner set of frequencies.”

That began to change after the T-Mobile acquisition in 2013. That year, the T-Mobile network coverage area numbered 103 million people. Today, that sum has more than tripled to 323 million, or 99 percent of the U.S. population. Metro itself now has 18 million customers and more than 10,000 retail outlets – a larger number of stores, Keys points out, than Walmart, Target and Costco put together.

The impact of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger

One major question hanging over Metro is what happens if the impending T-Mobile-Sprint merger receives government approval?

Boost Mobile founder and ex-CEO Peter Adderton comes out strongly against the T-Mobile-Sprint merger. (Photo: Boost Global)


More: Boost Mobile founder is against the T-Mobile-Sprint merger: Here's why.

Boost Mobile USA founder and former CEO Peter Adderton is adamantly against the merger and has expressed concern about the future of so-called MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), the mobile companies that negotiate wholesale rates with all the major carriers, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, then resell service under their own brand names.

“Given that Sprint and T-Mobile are a dominant force in prepaid, they will have a significant incentive to restrict network access to competing MVNOs,” Adderton says. “If the Boost Mobile and MetroPCS  brands are included in this merger, it would be bad for the overall competitive landscape, bad for the prepaid market, bad for our country’s MVNOs and bad for the economy.”

Adderton believes a combined T-Mobile and Sprint would lead to higher prices and fewer jobs, something T-Mobile CEO John Legere and his Sprint counterpart Marcelo Claure dispute.

Keys punted when asked, saying the Metro name change and such was in the works prior to any T-Mobile-Sprint announcement. 

“This is about our brand (and) what we think we can do today and in the future,” he said, noting a wireless landscape that includes connected cars and appliances, and next-generation 5G wireless. “This really isn’t the time that I want to speculate on anything else.”

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter