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  • Some Casual Comments About Wireless Phone Plans

    January 15th, 2014

    I have to tell you that I've been tempted to switch carriers from AT&T to T-Mobile for reasons of cost, though I have a few concerns. But before I ponder my decision, let me tell you about my search for the perfect wireless experience.

    When I first got a cell phone, I signed up with a small local carrier, Qwest, the local phone company that has since been acquired by CenturyLink. My deal essentially locked me into local service, with higher prices for interstate phone calls. That was so yesterday, so I happily switched to a national carrier, Sprint, when my contract was up.

    In the early 2000s, Sprint's customer support wasn't so warm and fuzzy, and most any time I had a problem — and there were more than a few just staying connected in my neighborhood — I ended up sorely tempted to shout at the support person for offering such terrible service. In retrospect, taking advantage of a great deal didn't give me great service. Sprint, under CEO Daniel Hesse (who took the position in 2007), has become a far better company, though the network's capacity is nowhere near market leaders Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

    Those old Verizon TV ads featuring the tech announcing, "Can you hear me now?," resonated when I sought better service, so the expiration of my Sprint contract meant that I switched as fast as I could. True to the promise of those ads, connection quality was far superior. It wasn't a cheap deal by any means, but I was willing to pay a fair price for great service, or at least very good service. There were still areas near my Arizona home where I experienced dropped calls, though the symptoms were not quite as severe as Sprint.

    Segue to 2007 and the announcement that the iPhone would only be sold by AT&T, formerly Cingular Wireless. I knew, also, that AT&T's network wasn't ready for the onslaught, and connection problems were legion, although things got better over time. By late 2007, in anticipation of buying my first iPhone, I signed up with AT&T. Indeed, connection quality wasn't altogether different from Verizon for the most part except for a slightly larger number of dropped calls. But it seemed that voice quality on AT&T's GSM network was somewhat less digital than Verizon's CDMA network.

    I still have family members on Verizon, and I continue to find AT&T's voice quality superior, but they don't have an iPhone, so it's not really a fair comparison.

    But you don't have to do the math to know that AT&T is not cheap, particularly with a couple of iPhones on the family plan, so I've sought a superior pricing structure, but I won't endure the poor quality connections that were legion in the days I had Sprint.

    But if I left AT&T, where would I go?

    Verizon isn't offering a better deal, and current iPhones have a problem handling voice and data simultaneously, since voice is handled on their CDMA network, and data goes LTE when the higher speed service is available. However, T-Mobile is making an aggressive pitch to take customers from rival systems. The latest is an offer to give you up to $650 in trade for each line on your current account if you sign up with T-Mobile, in order to cover your early termination fee from the losing carrier.

    Of course, you do have to trade in your old handsets and buy new gear to take advantage of this deal, and send your final bill to T-Mobile. But the carrier's aggressive pricing plans should cut your bills considerably. Or at least that's the promise.

    Now there's no magic in what T-Mobile is doing. Your old handset will be sold off and T-Mobile will use the revenue to cover its losses on acquiring your account. Obviously, the bean counters at the company believe that the cost of getting new postpaid customers will be more than covered by the new business generated.

    It's tempting, but that doesn't mean that a move to T-Mobile is worth the bother, even if you save money in the end. It all depends on where you live. Although T-Mobile is rapidly expanding their LTE network across the U.S., there are areas where coverage isn't so good. If you live in a rural area, there may be little or no coverage even at a slower speed.

    A company's service maps may help, but you may just want to ask your friends who are using T-Mobile, if you know any, what sort of experiences they have. You may even want to see if they will volunteer to take a short road trip with you, with them driving of course, so you can check out their phone, make a few calls, and see if you are satisfied with connection quality.

    As with rival carriers, T-Mobile offers a 14-day return policy in the event you aren't satisfied with the service. So if you make the switch, you'll want to give your new handsets a thorough test.

    As for me, yes I'm tempted, but I am still concerned about the coverage issues, and how they will impact me on my travels through Arizona and elsewhere. A lower price isn't helpful if you can't use the service to your satisfaction.



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    2 Responses to “Some Casual Comments About Wireless Phone Plans”

    1. Monotonous Langor says:

      Yes, I'd love to ditch AT&T, but T-Mobile provides 2G(!) service where I live, and I ain't a gonna go from LTE down to the bottom of the molasses barrel. Still, AT&T's prices for service are high, and I hate how the personnel in their store push Android crap phones on unsuspecting customers. I always cringe when I hear friends and acquaintances have purchased their iPhones at the AT&T Store, and I gently suggest they go to the nearest Apple Store, roughly an hour's drive away, because of Apple's superior service. If it were up to AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers, we'd all be using shit-phones and paying a fortune for the 'privilege'.

    2. EB says:

      I have been an AT&T customer for a long time (I was with AT&T before Cingular bought them and then changed their name back to AT&T). I have found that if you are a long term customer, and they can see that, they work very hard to keep you. I have managed to negotiate my monthly bill down at this point to pretty much unlimited everything for ~60 month with all fees while subsidizing a phone - and here is my example: as soon as T-Mobile announced last spring that they were switching to a model where the subsidy was broken out and a paid for iPhone (or a full price iPhone) would no longer need to pay a subsidy, I called up AT&T. Within an hour I was no longer paying the subsidy. I was down to just over 40 a month with all expenses. I opted to get my latest iPhone subsidized again, bringing me back (to an already well negotiated $60, that includes unlimited texting and Unlimited Data still grandfathered in). When I finish paying off the phone, I know their new policies (again, aping AT&T) will get me back down to the mid 40s...

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