Practically every day, people complain to me about their cellular provider or tell me how they can’t wait until their contract is up so that they can switch. I have the same news for you as I have for them, chances are, you will have the same sentiments about your new provider if you switch. The reason is that no provider (or any company for that matter) is perfect. However, you can definitely figure out which is the best one for you and stick to it until something else better comes along.
Cell phone carriers are huge corporations interested primarily in making a buck and have little concern for you personally or your needs other than to squeeze as much money from you as well as millions of others in order to satisfy their shareholders. Yet, hate them as you may, they have become a necessary evil. Having said that, the more you know, the better equipped you will be to get the best service for you and at the best price.
Generically speaking, the “best” provider, rates and plans aside, is the one that has the best service – perhaps not perfect service but the best service – where you personally happen to use the phone. Who cares if Verizon has the most extensive coverage of them all if you can’t get a signal in your living room? And who cares if you have an unlimited data plan for $20 a month if it’s throttled (slowed down) halfway into your bill cycle? What you need to do is to arm yourself with the facts and, whenever possible, try them out.
Everyone Has Specific Needs
I have access and discounted rates to the latest and greatest cell phones available not just in the United States but internationally yet, I use a Blackberry Bold, which for my specific needs, is the perfect tool. A lot of my friends and colleagues question why I don’t have the latest Android handset or an iPhone. I use my phone for three things. Making and receiving phone calls, emailing and taking pictures. For everything else, I use my computer where I (unfortunately) and in front of for the majority of the time. If I happened to travel a lot and needed a mobile office, I probably would be using a Samsung Galaxy or another Android phone. In addition, my Blackberry is small enough to fit in my pocket. In terms of the service provider, I use T-Mobile. Why T-Mobile? First, I pay $50 for unlimited everything (well, the data isn’t truly unlimited but I barely use it so it doesn’t matter) and second, and this is an important second, for $19 a month I get unlimited international email access. Sounds really great, doesn’t it? Surely, I am enamored with T-Mobile, right? Not exactly.
While T-Mobile works great at home, if I am on the phone from my office all the way back home, I can expect the line to drop 2 or 3 times. Usually I am talking to friends or family so this is acceptable. And besides, the other carriers along that route have comparable service and dropped calls. So all in all, in terms of rates, coverage and functionality, I am happy with my T-Mobile/Blackberry combination. My problem with T-Mobile is that recently, they billed one of our business accounts $19,000 for 3 days of usage in Australia. Long story and for another blog but still, the reason I don’t hate them is that inherently, one can and will almost certainly have issues with any provider. Quick example, AT&T, when it was still Cingular, erroneously billed me $2,000 but then only offered me a $200 courtesy credit (I left them for T-Mobile the very same day T-Mobile became available in California, which was around 2002). I also had a major, much more serious issue with another carrier, which I cannot talk about as per the terms of the settlement. The only carrier I haven’t had any issues with is Sprint, which I have never used.
To make a long story short, if you only make and receive phone calls, no need to focus on an expensive cell phone that does everything. If, on the other hand, you need a phone that does everything and has unlimited data, maybe you do need a Galaxy phone and a Sprint data plan, the only carrier that currently does offer unlimited data.
But Doesn’t Verizon Have the Best Coverage?
First and foremost, even if Verizon has more coverage in more areas, who cares unless you travel to those areas. What matters most is the coverage they have in the areas that matter to you. If you are a business travelers who travels extensively in rural areas, chances are Verizon or Sprint will give you better service than say AT&T or T-Mobile. In addition, and I use this analogy a lot, Verizon uses the CDMA technology for transmitting the signal. AT&T and T-Mobile uses GSM. CDMA uses a spectrum that uses a larger bandwith spectrum and thus, while the signal travels further, the quality is not as crystal clear as that of GSM. A comparison would be AM radio as opposed to FM radio. You get AM radio even out in rural areas but the quality is not as good as it is with FM radio.
Pay As You Go
I like pay as you go. In some European countries, up to 90% of all the users use pay as you go. I think that as more people adopt the European preference of pay as you go cellular service, the carriers will be focused on the rates and the quality of the service rather than focusing on alluring you into a 2 year contract. After all, with pay as you go, if the carrier isn’t up to your expectations, you can easily try someone else.
While I personally do not have a pay as you go service, if for any reason I wanted to dump T-Mobile, I would get pay as you go through another carrier
AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint Are Not the Only Carriers Out There
There are actually probably about 10-15 other carriers, called MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), that use the big guys’ towers but rebrand the service. A new one worth mentioning is called Lyca Mobile. They offer unlimited voice, text and data for $29 and incredibly affordable rates to make calls internationally. Their website is http://www.lycamobile.us. Cellular Abroad has sold Lyca Mobile in the past for travelers going to France (although we currently use Lebara for France cellular service). The main advantage of using an MVNO is that you get better, often significantly better, rates and the service is the same in terms of reception. What may vary considerably is the customer service. Oftentimes the customer service is offshore and their grasp of the English language or culture may effect your experience.
More About the Cell Phone
From my experience, many phones that tend to do everything have a difficult time doing some things great. For example, I get great reception at my house with T-Mobile but my wife’s iPhone 4s doesn’t. Yes, her phone blows mine away when it comes to watching video and looking at pictures but that is way down the list in terms of what I want my phone to do. Our number one phone that we sell here at Cellular Abroad, and the one that we typically recommend (and the one we make the least profit one by the way) is the least expensive phone. Most of our users are travelers going abroad for just a couple of weeks. Most people do not want go through the learning curve of figuring out how a phone that does everything works while they are trying to enjoy their vacation. Be conscientious of what you need. If you have problems hearing or seeing, get a phone that has a good display. If you are on the phone for many hours during the day, make sure that the battery life is good. If you need a ton of data, make sure your plan offers that. I have a place in Italy where there is practically no coverage. However, I discovered that one of the phones that we used to sell about 10 years ago with a large external antenna works great.
OK, So My Provider isn’t All That Bad
I remember when cell phones first came out and, even at a couple of dollars a minute, people were ecstatic to actually be able to talk without being tethered to a wall. Nowadays, at the first dropped call, some people are tempted to hurl their cell phone against a brick wall. When I recently got that $19,000 bill from T-Mobile I certainly did not feel to much love for them, and I still don’t – at least for that particular issue. Ultimately, arm yourself with as much information as you can and think about what your really need from a phone and possibly test an account or get a pay as you go so that you can switch when and if the relationship turns sour. Following these precautions, hopefully you can find the plan and the phone you have always been looking for.