EarthLink, an internet service provider founded in 1994, has launched wireless service under the brand name EarthLink Mobile. This isn't the company's first foray into wireless. In 2006, EarthLink in partnership with SK Telecom launched an MVNO called Helio that piggybacked on the Sprint network. According to a previous prepaid report from Wave7 Research, Helio at launch had secured $440 million in funding which enabled it to hire hundreds of employees, air TV commercials, and open five stores. However, early losses caused EarthLink in 2007 to stop providing additional funding to the brand. Helio was ultimately sold off to Virgin Mobile USA in 2008 before being discontinued in 2010.
So Why The Relaunch Into Wireless?
First off, since 2016, EarthLink has been under three different ownership groups. In 2017, it was acquired by Windstream Holdings, Inc for $1.1 billion including debt. In 2019, Trive Capital acquired the brand from Windstream Holdings for $330 million.
EarthLink's current CEO, Glenn Goad, told Fierce Wireless that being a consumer of wireless for 20 odd years, he's observed that “carriers have done a good job of confusing buying a phone and buying a service, and people end up getting bills that end up being $100 a line and they can’t figure out why.” He wants to change that.
Goad also told Fierce, “We want people to buy the right phone and buy the right plan and have the right service....That’s what we’ve built over the last two years in the wired internet space and we’ve sold hundreds of thousands of people home internet because they don’t like the current choices that they have. We believe in mobility that we’ll see the same response – there are people who are looking … for something different.”
Goad also plans to differentiate EarthLink from its rival internet service providers such as Comcast and its Xfinity Mobile brand, and Charter Communications and its Spectrum Mobile brand. Both require their users to also subscribe to their internet plans in order to subscribe to and obtain the best pricing on their mobile plans. EarthLink intends to offer best pricing period without requiring its customers to signup for both of its services.
But how does EarthLink really stack up?
EarthLink Mobile Is Powered By Ultra Mobile/Plum
On the EarthLink Mobile website, there's a logo that shows the brand is powered by Ultra Mobile. That means it's an MVNO of T-Mobile. It also means that they launched the MVNO through a T-Mobile aggregator called Plum. Aggregators can give the option to their MVNO partners to handle everything for them ranging from taking leads and doing sales, to handling fulfillment and all backroom activities. They can also allow the MVNO to perform all of those duties themselves. In the case of Plum, it offers a private white label wireless program to those interested in starting their own MVNO that is ultimately powered by Ultra Mobile.
EarthLink Mobile Phone Plans Details
Although EarthLink is powered by Ultra Mobile, its plans are vastly different, with the only common denominator between the two brands being international calling is offered with each. All of EarthLink's plans include unlimited international calling to over 30 countries. This is dialed back from Ultra Mobile who includes over 80 international countries with its plans. Here's how EarthLink's plans shakeout:
$17.95/month - 500 minutes, 500 texts, 500MB data
$21.95/month - 1GB of high-speed data
$27.95/month - 2GB of high-speed data
$34.95/month - 5GB of high-speed data
$53.95/month - 25GB of high-speed data
Unless specified otherwise, all plans include unlimited talk and text and mobile hotspot usage to the plan's full data allotment. A customer support representative I spoke with over online chat told me they also all include unlimited data at 128Kbps once the plan's high-speed allotment gets exceeded. High-speed data top-ups are available, however, customer chat couldn't tell me pricing. There are no activation charges to signup.
EarthLink Mobile appears to only be available for signups at the moment by calling EarthLink at 1-866-314-0206. According to Fierce Wireless, EarthLink expects to launch in select retail locations in 2022.
BestMVNO finds EarthLink Mobile pricing to be uncompetitive. There are far cheaper options with better value available on the market. Jeff Moore, Principal of Wave7 Research seems to agree and told BestMVNO: "I'm skeptical about EarthLink Mobile. I don't see a clear point of differentiation and there are plenty of carriers that offer more data for the dollar. The EarthLink brand is not strong enough to draw in a huge number of subscribers."