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Cellular Carriers and Plans

In this day and age you have a choice of a fair number of cellular carriers… actually there aren’t that many carriers in any one geographic area, but there are quite a few resellers.

Nation wide the big cellular carriers are:

  • Verizon (CDMA)
  • AT&T (GSM)
  • Sprint (CDMA)
  • T-Mobile

Regionally there are a number of others:

  • AllTel

And of course there are a number of resellers:

  • MetroPCS (limited areas, unlimited plans, resells Sprint)
  • Boost (pre-pay, resells Verizon)
  • TracPhone (pre-pay, resells Sprint)
  • Virgin Mobile (pre-pay, resells Sprint)

And a new kid on the block:

  • Helios (I believe they actually resell Sprint, but I’m not sure)

The question is always which carrier and plan is best for me?

That’s a difficult decision, let me illustrate some things to consider by characterizing the service I have and why…

I have an AllTel PDA phone (Motorola Q) because AllTel offers a very competative price on PDA service, unlimitd nights and weekends (nights start at 7pm), free in-network service (important because most of my relatives have AllTel service), and provides lots of free features (unlimited text, unlimited data, ability to tether to my laptop, no charge for roaming — you do tend to roam on Sprint, but do roam on Verizon and other carriers when there’s no AllTel or Sprint service).  And AllTel provides “MyCircle”, which is a group of number (on any network or land lines), the plan I have provides for 10 numbers.

Essentially, this service saves me a great deal of money by making most of my calls airtime free because of the nights-and-weekends, in-network, and designated airtime free numbers.

 

In addition I also have a Verizon cell phone because I have so many friends nationwide that have Verizon numbers (it saves them airtime charges, and allows me to carry an account that has a very low number of minutes).  Verizon, though, charges for just about every additional feature — so the plan always ends up costing more than you expect.  Of course I also get a 19% discount on my services (because of a Corporate Discount program I was able to take advantage of).

 

My point in going into the above, is there’s a lot of details you need to consider other than just the number of minutes… who do you call, when do you call — are there any special features that you can take advantage or — are there enhanced services you need or want — do you travel…

My advice would be “profile” how, when, and how much you use your current service, then look at all the carriers and figure out what service would cost.

For instance, if you rarely travel and don’t want to have a landline you might find that MetroPCS gives you the absolute lowest cost service…

Whereas, if you only use your cell phone very rarely, you might find that one of the pre-paid plans give you the absolute lowest cost service (the major carriers also offer pre-pay; but selecting a pre-paid plan requires you understand minute expire and charges, and most pre-pay providers offer more than one pre-pay option).

Lastly, remember that there are taxes charged to your cell phone based on where you specify your billing address and primary useage area.  Many pre-pay providers don’t charge extra for the taxes (they obviously build it into their billing model)… but other carries do.

There’s no way you’re going to avoid the federal taxes on your phone; but your cellular company might be charging you a number portability fee (consider that when comparing carriers), and the location you base your service and billing address greatly effect the local taxes (for instance, the City/County of San Francisco access an $8.00 cell phone tax per line).  You’ll often find you can save a substantial amount of money by using an alternate service / billing address.

 

Let me know if there are any glaring omissions or mistakes!

Originally posted 2008-05-12 12:53:27.

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