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Fed up with locked phones, MobileX starts selling its own devices

If customers don't like MobileX's service, they can take their unlocked devices to another service provider. (Art by Midjourney for Fierce Network)

  • MobileX is an MVNO that uses Verizon's network 

  • MobileX is now offering a variety of iOS and Android devices – unlocked

  • If a consumer doesn’t like what MobileX is selling, they can take their unlocked phone elsewhere

MobileX CEO Peter Adderton acknowledges that he’s been out of the MVNO business for a while. Adderton founded Boost Mobile – which is now under Dish Network ownership – and later tried to make a go of it with Amp’d Mobile, which shut its doors in 2007.

So, when he returned to the MVNO business with last year’s launch of MobileX, he was surprised at how many locked devices, especially Android, are out there. Oftentimes, customers aren’t aware their devices are locked to a carrier’s network.

Launched on a BYOD model, MobileX offers a way for customers at Walmart stores across the country to use a QR code to check to see if their phone is compatible with MobileX’s service. That’s when they saw the extent of the problem.

“I knew it was there, but I didn’t realize how bad it was,” he said. “We couldn’t believe the numbers that we were seeing.”

That inspired the company to start offering a variety of new and used iOS and Android devices, including popular models from Apple, Samsung and Motorola. Consumers can buy them direct from MobileX’s website; devices will ship with a MobileX SIM kit.

“All our devices are unlocked. If you don’t like us, you don’t have to stay with us,” he said.

Customized vs. unlimited

MobileX’s model is an app-based service that uses AI to predict how much data customers need. After a learning period of up to 10 days, MobileX’s AI-guided data forecaster comes up with a customized plan to provide maximum savings.

MobileX’s customized plans start from $4.08/month. It also offers a Basic Unlimited 5 plan for $14.88/month with 5 GB of high-speed data and a Basic Unlimited 30 plan for 30 GB of high-speed data for $24.88/month. MobileX is working with Affirm, which provides checkout and device financing.

The majority of MobileX customers are taking the customized plans rather than the unlimited versions, which is somewhat surprising, he said.

“I think people are just not used to having the customization and flexibility to be able to change when you want to change,” he said. “My bill is like $16 to $18 a month and I haven’t changed anything. I’m doing the exact same thing I was doing when I was paying $100. The difference is that I’m not putting the fuel in the AT&T jet so I feel a little bit better about that.”

Because it’s a smaller provider, MobileX doesn’t have to publish a broadband “nutrition” label until October 10, but Adderton has seen the labels that service providers are publishing and he wants to be more transparent when it comes time for MobileX to do the same.

The FCC-mandated labels include prices, terms and broadband speeds, but many service providers are showing a range of speed “as wide as the Grand Canyon,” according to Adderton. The label for Verizon’s Visible prepaid brand, for example, shows a typical download speed from 34-149 Mbps for a 5G plan and a range of 9-69 Mbps for a 4G LTE plan.

Adderton said he and his team are working on how they can get a more precise analysis so they can give prospective customers a better idea of the real speeds they can expect.

Tough out there

Interestingly, under an MVNO contract, MobileX uses Verizon’s network and also competes with Verizon’s prepaid brands, most of which are the result of Verizon’s acquisition of TracFone. But Verizon has been steadily losing prepaid customers and executives have said they need a couple more quarters to right that ship.

Adderton admits it’s “a tough business.” On the postpaid side, it’s more and more difficult to find subscribers new to wireless, so a lot of activity is customers moving from one operator to another. There’s also some migration from prepaid to postpaid, and cable companies increasingly are taking market share.

However, Adderton said MobileX doesn’t have an existing base to protect and it’s coming at it with the unique AI-driven data forecaster. And MVNOs take a long time to scale.

“You’ve just got to be patient,” he concluded. “We’re a startup. We’re new and we’ve just got to be patient.”

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