Just when you thought cell phone plans couldn’t get any more confusing, Comcast just announced its own wireless service: Xfinity Mobile.
The service will launch in May or June for Xfinity customers and later this year for everyone else. Unlimited plans start at $65 per month, runs Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and gets even cheaper if you buy cable service through Comcast. (Comcast is also selling a pay-as-you-go plan that starts at $12 a month for 1GB of data—more on that in one second.) Don’t freak out quite yet. There are some catches.
Let’s start with the pricing. Paying $65 a month for a single line with unlimited everything is a deal. The same type of plan will cost you $80 a month, if you sign up directly through Verizon—though you can get Verizon service for as little as $55 a month if you’re okay using only 2GB of data. AT&T’s unlimited plans start at $90 a month. Xfinity Mobile also offers a “by the gig” option that charges you $12 for each gigabyte of data you use but also allows you up to five lines without any additional fees. Very simple math shows that customers who use more than 5GB of data per month might as well pay for the unlimited plan.
The Xfinity Mobile deal quickly becomes less of a deal if you want to add more lines, because Comcast isn’t offering discounts on those extra lines. If you want two lines on Xfinity Mobile, that will cost you $130. Three lines is $195. Four lines is $260 and so on. Because Verizon and AT&T do offer discounts on extra lines, you’ll end up paying significantly less for a family plan through those carriers than you would through Xfinity Mobile. Four lines with unlimited everything costs $180 through Verizon costs and $185 through AT&T, plus a line access fee for each extra line. Fees aside, both of those options are nearly $100 less per month than Xfinity Mobile.
As mentioned above, the new Xfinity Wireless will work on the Verizon network. Verizon’s network is very, very good. If you live in a rural area, there’s a good chance that Verizon towers are your only option to get good service, so it’s a boon that Comcast talked Verizon into a partnership for Xfinity Mobile. Comcast is also including access to its 16 million wi-fi hotspots in the price of Xfinity Mobile service which would normally be a good way to save on data charges, except Xfinity Mobile’s main offering already has unlimited data.
Unlike Verizon Wireless, Xfinity Mobile won’t be available in areas that don’t also offer Xfinity cable service. In fact, at the time of launch, the wireless service will only be available to people who buy home internet service through Comcast. So if you’re not already on the Comcast gravy train, don’t expect to get a good deal on the fancy new Xfinity Mobile unless you want Comcast to be your ISP, too. And if you live in an area where Comcast home internet isn’t available, you can’t get Xfinity Mobile period.
Comcast is an infamously ruthless company. The company went to disgusting lengths to kill Google Fiber, falsely advertised its services as “America’s fastest internet,” and got dealt a record-breaking fine from the FCC for shady billing practices. That’s just to name a few of the scandals that have gone down in the past few months.
This history of deception should lead you to second-guess the new Xfinity Mobile program. While we don’t know all of the details about the service just yet, the warning signs are there. For instance, Comcast is offering big discounts on Xfinity wireless service if you pay for the company’s most expensive cable plans. Once you’re paying $150 a month for an Xfinity cable package, the prices per line on Xfinity Mobile drop to $45 a month. Seems like a deal before you realize how much cash you’re shoveling in Comcast’s direction under the guise of a getting good deal. You might be getting fucked in reality.
The Wall Street Journal expressed this tension well by invoking a sort of hostage situation. Xfinity Mobile, the paper said, is “a way for existing Comcast customers to possibly lower what they pay for cellular data by promising not to cut the cord.” In other words, Comcast is using this confusing new pricing structure and good-seeming wireless service to keep people trapped in the Comcast ecosystem.
If that’s the way you like to party, go right ahead. If you’re happy with your current wireless service, there’s no great reason to switch. If you think that Comcast is up to no good, you’re probably right.
Update 4:15 - We’ve added some additional details about Xfinity Mobile’s “by the gig” plan and clarified a couple of points about the fee structure.