Recently, I wrote "A Cellular Call for Change” to consider how the mobile telephony industry in America is on the cusp of shifting away from highly subsidized handsets with expensive iron clad two year contracts to more of a BYOD marketplace which offers lower rates if you foot the bill for your phone. The article urged the savvy consumer to know yourself and investigate thoroughly. Well, I took my own advice. I dug deep into a spreadsheet about my household’s cell-phone usage while doing an intense analysis of cellular providers plans and quirks. The results were somewhat surprising.
My household has been with Sprint for nearly six years. We are well out of contract with our current smart-phones (a HTC Evo and a Samsung Epic) but we have been happy with the service, aside from the cost. Since our handsets are in excellent condition, there is neither a need nor desire to upgrade phones, especially in return for a costly 24 month contract.
Even though we were initially sold on Sprint because of the 7PM Nights and Weekends, a hard nosed analysis of usage showed the most of the minutes used stemmed from free Mobile-to-Mobile calling. Yet including the Anytime, Nights and Weekends as well as Mobile-to-Mobile minutes, we never broke the 1000 minute total threshold (and one of the handsets consistently used most of the minutes). Our texts were under 1000 total. Data was the variable. While it was nice to have the certainty of Unlimited Minutes, my household was not a data hog. There were a few times over the course of the year when we used 3 Gig of data a month between the phones, most months hovered just over 2 Gigs combined. There were few months when mobile data usage was above 3 Gig and one month at 4 Gig.
Most of our time is in the District of Calamity (sic) or Between the Beltways. But much of our travel takes us to southwestern Virginia where cellular service can be persnickety, and 4G coverage is virtually non-existent. Our experience is that Sprint Network voice and data in the destination area is good for us without paying the high fees for Verizon’s stellar coverage.
My research led me to two potential choices–a sweet young Ting (sic) or a Virgin Mobile. Ting.com is a MVNO owned by Tucows which operates off of the CDMA Sprint Network. While Ting has only been offering prepaid cellular service since February 2012, their parent company Tucows has been around since 1994 which gives it some credence of stability. Ting’s distinctive feature is use what you pay for billing. Ting's pricing is given in tiers from XS to XXL for voice, texting and data and consumers can mix and match on a monthly basis.
For our household's purposes, the other cellular player is Virgin Mobile. Virgin Mobile is a quasi-MVNO which is owned by Sprint and is their mid-ranged prepaid cellular service. Virgin Mobile does not have the sexiest and newest smart-phones but their plans are quite attractively priced. Virgin Mobile rates have three tiers.
Thomas Sowell once opined that “There are no such thing as solutions, but only trade offs.” So to make the right choice, a savvy consumer should run the numbers themselves, determine if their carrier gives good reception where the phone will be used the most and determine how he will use cellular service. If you are just texting, Ting charges $9 a month with 1000 texts or an SMS happy user $17 a month for 4000 texts.
Virgin Mobile hypnotically suggests that one should "retrain your brain." Some might find all of the choices confusing and headache inducing. But think about all of the aspirin one can easily afford from your monthly cell phone savings!
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