After becoming fed up for a high cell phone bill, I researched strategies when issuing a Cellular Call for Change in saving on mobile telephony bills. Granted that people have different needs and one plan does not fit all. But while the notion of economizing on cellular charges has an abstract appeal, many are called but few choose to mitigate mobile communication costs.
It was clear that one impediment from consumers heeding a call for cellular change was the US cycle of receiving subsidized handsets in exchange for an iron clad two year contract. Someone was interested in upgrading their iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5. The cellular customer would likely stay with Verizon because of their excellent coverage but she is pressed to upgrade as there is only a limited period that the “new every two” is applicable.
Sometimes, the desire for a shiny new techno-toy overrides everything. A nephew got tired of using his feature phone to text so he wanted to splurge on a Google Nexus 4 from T-Mobile. But in order to satisfy this techno sweet tooth for Android Jelly Bean meant walking away from a grandfathered $25 per month pre-paid plan through Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) Virgin Mobile. After the sugar rush from Jelly Bean, he may be surprised that not only did his monthly bill double, but he also is responsible for taxes and fees which often add an additional 20%.
Another friend who would be inclined to economize on cellular costs feels that switching cellular providers is impossible because of the family plan. Nights and Weekend and mobile-to-mobile minutes cut down on metered usage. And big buckets of shared data has a mystique. Sprint prides itself on truly unlimited data. But how many cell phone users consistently stream Titanic on a 4" screen? It might well be cheaper to get separate plans with an MVNO but it pays to check your usage yourself first before switching.
As I was migrating to Virgin Mobile , my beloved wife hesitated because of her love of a sliding keyboard smart-phone. Some MVNOs like Boost Mobile and Ting (both running off of the Sprint network) allow for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) but that “white list” can be short list as new phones are excluded. Boost has since rescinded BYOD as it was not popular Alas, sliding keyboard smartphones have gone out of vogue so she will either have to adjust or lovingly cradle her handset for the foreseeable future.
Aside from overcoming the unwarranted bias against prepaid plans, stifling the urge to get new subsidized phones in exchange for a two year contract and feeling that a consumer NEEDS to have unlimited minutes, the wise cell phone shopper should discern what they need based upon experience and inclinations. If you have to have coverage everyone, then pay a premium for Verizon’s excellent cellular coverage. If you find that you unlimited data is sine qua non, then look to Sprint,
Other carriers claim that they have unlimited data but they have different understandings of the concept than a plain reading of the words. For instance, T-Mobile’s base smartphone plan touts “Unlimited Data at 4G speed”. But in smaller print, this unlimited 4G data is only for the first half gig, after that you are governed down to 1G speed (more or less 128kbs). For comparison purposes, think back to dial up internet, where you could surf via telephone at 54 kbs. Today, it might work at a plodding pace for e-mails, but forget about downloading graphics much less video.
There are some new and lesser known cell providers which might be the right choice. Ting is a cellular phone service by Tucows using the Sprint network has a pay for what you use approach and they allow customers to have multiple devices on the same account and to use use old Sprint devices. Another attractive feature is bundling in features like HotSpots gratis, while other carriers charge a premium (e.g. Sprint charges $19.99 for 2 GB Hotspot).
FreedomPop is another prospective MVNO celluar provider which operates on a “Fremium” model. When FreedomPop offers 200 voice minutes, unlimited texting and 500 MB of data for FREE. You can get unlimited calling for $7.99, unlimited calling and texts for $10.99 and for many of their handsets "all you can eat" voice, text and data for $20.00 a month. Moreover, FreedomPop will allow customers to use old Sprint phones.
How can FreedomPop expect to charge nothing and give away their base plan? They have found with their mobile hotspots and wireless home internet that about 40% of their customers pay for some upgrades. FreedomPop’s calls will be made using 3G VOIP, which should have good sound quality. FreedomPop’s Freemium model also relys upon social networking for advertising, so customers can earn more data or minutes by taking surveys or recommending friends. FreedomPop also economizes by not having humans staffing their customer service outreach.
Several parents in “my circle” have considered getting their tween children cell phones to keep in touch after school etc.. For techie involved parents, Kajeet might be a good provider. Kajeet is a Sprint based no contract MVNO created especially with kids in mind with plenty of parental controls. While Kajeet offers pay-as-you-go plans which start at $4.99, a worried parent might want to get the $24.99 plan, which includes 300 anytime minutes a month, unlimited texting along with a GPS locator. The GPS Phone locator allows parents to find their kids at any time, as well as allowing parents to schedule e-mail updates on their childrens’ whereabouts. Kajeet allows for BYOD but only for Sprint phones. The fine print indicates that Kajeet adds a 10% transaction cost to all service plans supposedly to defray administrative costs.
Another approach for kid communication might be thru a PayLo plan from Virgin Mobile, which can be as low as $20 a month for 400 minutes, but texts are 15 cents each and very expensive web access at $1.50 per MB. The PayLo $30 plan has unlimited calling and unlimited messages but the very expensive $1.50 per MB for internet. Frankly, it would make more sense to go with a low end Virgin Mobile plan which offers 300 voice minutes, but unlimited texts and unlimited internet (but after 2.5 GB, the user is throttled back to 3G speed). Virgin Mobile USA does not allow customers to port their phones.
Most of Virgin Mobile’s non-subsidized phones are popularly priced (as they are older handsets) but they are currently offering their non-contract i-Phone 5c and i-Phone 5s as well as the i-Phone 4s (selling for $404.99, $489.99 and $279.99 respectively).
For those who resist joining the Apple cult and still want a stylish new phone from an MVNO cellular provider, Virgin Mobile USA will soon by selling the Sharp Aquos Crystal for $149.99, which is $100 less than thru it's corporate parent Sprint.