announced today that its US prepaid MVNO subsidiary has reached an agreement to acquire all assets of Start Wireless, better known as Page Plus Cellular.
The purchase price wasn't announced but I suspect it was substantial and represents a happy exit for Start Wireless' principals and investors. It remains to be seen what the acquisition means for Page Plus' customers and employees.
Family owned Page Plus was founded in 1993. It started small and grew to 1.4 million subscribers largely by word of month, first on the streets of Toledo and Cleveland and then via online social media.
Tracfone is nearly as old as Page Plus, launching in 1996. In 1999 it was acquired by a predecessor of Mexico based America Movil, the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. Like Page Plus, Tracfone started as a Verizon-only MVNO. It grew quickly to become the largest US prepaid operator and the largest MVNO thanks largely to a national distribution network that put Tracfone devices and airtime cards in virtually every convenience, grocery, big box and drug store in the country. Tracfone currently has 23.2 million subscribers.
America Movil expects the deal to close by the end of June. I don't foresee any immediate changes in Page Plus' service, plans or pricing. But based on last year's American Movil acquisition of Simple Mobile, sometime in the next six months I expect AM will move Page Plus customer support offshore. I expect the support change will be bad news for Page Plus employees and customers alike. Page Plus has a reputation for better than average support. Tracfone support generally gets poor marks, especially when it comes to providing accurate information and solving technical problems quickly and efficiently.
On the other hand, the acquisition could mean better phones and lower pricing for Page Plus. If could even mean a quicker path to Verizon allowing Page Plus customers on its LTE network. Support hassles can probably be avoided by using a full service Page Plus dealer like the well regarded Kitty Wireless. I sincerely hope that Tracfone retains Page Plus robust and customer friendly Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP) processes and policies which lets you activate just about any CDMA phone as long as you know how to program it to work on the Verizon network.
For lots of customer reaction (almost entirely negative) to this news see these threads on HowardForums and the Kitty Wireless Forums.
Related: Prepaid Operator Profile: Page Plus