There's another new kid on the cell phone block: republic wireless. Sure, it seems like another MVNO that is offering an unlimited plan that claims to be different, but republic wireless is actually different. It’ll be up to you to decide whether those differences are worth dropping your current provider to make the switch. Find out more after the jump.
Republic wireless is an MVNO that operates on Sprint’s network. Its website is fairly sparse on logistics details, and considering the first round of sign ups slots are already all full, it may be a bit more time until more information emerges about where you can get its service. Since Sprint has service in San Diego, we can assume that at some point you can probably sign up for republic in San Diego. For $19 a month, republic promises unlimited everything: talk, text, and data. This is well below the price point every other carrier out there who provides unlimited everything. But, as many people have pointed out, republic’s “unlimited” isn’t really unlimited. This has to do with how republic defines “unlimited.”
Before we get to that definition, we need to talk about just what makes republic so different. Right now, there is only one phone you can use on its service. Thankfully it’s an Android smartphone and not a cheap little throwaway phone, so you’ll actually be able to use the data on a full-featured browser. The phone contains special “hybrid technology.” What does this fancy hybrid technology do? Offloads your phone use onto the nearest WiFi network.
Republic’s difference is that with the relatively ubiquity of WiFi networks--home, office, Starbucks--you don’t always need to use your cellular connection to talk, text, and surf the web. Any decently fast WiFi connection should be able to handle all these functions. It’s only when you are out of range of a reliable WiFi network should you have to use your cellular connection. Republic’s hybrid technology takes care of this for you, seamlessly switching between WiFi and cellular connections.
Now to Republic’s definition of unlimited. You have unlimited use when you are connected to a WiFi network, but you are capped when you connect to republic’s cellular connection. What’s the cap? Here it is, straight from republic’s website:
How much cellular usage is too much?
It depends. Even assuming 0% wifi usage, for example, you could consume 550 minutes, send 150 texts, and download 300 megabytes of data without crossing the community’s fair use threshold. Everyone's usage patterns will be different, but we're confident you’ll be amazed at how little cellular you actually use when you have a phone that makes it easy to leverage the power of your Wi-Fi networks.
Some blogs and news stories have jumped on the amounts that republic used in its example--550 minutes, 150 texts, 300 MB of data--as a hard and fast rule. Exceed any of these thresholds and republic will first warn you, then remove you from its service.
But it’s not quite so easy as that. I think republic will be relunctant to come up with a hard and fast use threshold because it'll operate less like a traditional wireless carrier and more like a co-operative.
Throughout its website, republic refers to itself as a community. My take is that the $19 a month payment gives you a spot in that community co-op (unless republic elects to remove you from that community for using too much cellular). The pool of money republic has to spend each month on cellular service depends on how many people join the co-op that month. Like any other co-op, the more people who join, the bigger the pool of money for the co-op to spend.
The amount of cellular service you can use in a given month probably will depend on how many other people are on the community co-op and how much cellular service they use that month. If the community as a whole uses a lot of cellular service, republic is going to have to pay Sprint a lot of money to cover the cellular service charges. This reduces the amount of cellular service you can use. On the other hand, if the community as a whole uses mostly WiFi, there will be more money for cellular service and presumably increases the amount of cellular service that one person could use. However, use too much under its Cellular Usage Index and you'll be kicked out of the co-op.
I think republic wireless is breaking new ground by providing a way for consumers to have a seamless transition between WiFi and cellular connections. However, there are many details that need to be clarified before this can be considered a win for consumers. Here's the start of a list--let us know your thoughts in the comments about what you'd like to add to the list.
- How long does the phone’s battery last when it is pumping data through its wifi connection? I don’t know about you, but I generally keep my WiFi disabled because of the huge battery hit I when it is enabled and actively looking for available hotspots.
- What factors go into the CUI?
- What happens when you are on a WiFi connection that block VOIP services?
- Can I port my number to republic wireless?
- Is this a prepaid or am I locked into a contract?
As you may have seen in my blog post the other day, Verizon changed some of its privacy policies. However, to combat this, you have the ability to opt-out of sending Verizon your sensitive and personal information. One of our eagle-eyed members sent in this story from Yahoo Tech that gives you the steps on how to opt out of the marketing reports. It's fairly simple, as all you need to do is log in to Verizon's Privacy Center with your Verizon online credentials and select the option for "Don't use my information for aggregate reports." I just did it on my account and it worked like a charm!
While you are in there, you might as well tell Verizon not to share your CPNI information and not to use your demographic info for banner ads. It's your information, so you should have the choice on whether to let Verizon use it for its own purposes.
Thanks for the tip, member!
The biggest change has to do with Verizon's business and marketing reports. For detailed information about the reports, you can visit Verizon's site here, but basically Verizon generates these reports based upon the browsing habits of its customers. This isn't so terrible by itself, especially because Verizon claims that these reports won't contain any personally identifiable information. However, Verizon will be tracking things like the websites you visit, various Google searches you performed, and the location of your device.
If we take a step back and think about this seriously, Verizon is now logging every time you are standing in a McDonalds googling the amount of calories in a McFlurry. And they'll know that you do it every Tuesday at 4:30pm! All kidding aside, this is some pretty specific information about how you use your smartphone. Verizon, throughout its FAQs on the business and marketing reports, assert that it will not provide any personally identifiable information in the reports. BUT (and this is a big but), it sounds like Verizon will still have a log of all your browsing on your phone that can personally identify you. It's just that these details won't make it into the business and marketing reports.
Sounds a bit scary, right? What do you think about Verizon tracking the specific websites you visit on your smartphone? Let us know in the comments or by visiting ucan.org on your Verizon smartphone!
To read Verizon's FAQs on business and marketing reports, check out the full page below taken from http://support.verizonwireless.com/faqs/Account%20Management/business_marketing.html on October 13, 2011, at 4:23PM.
Business and Marketing Reports
What are business and marketing reports?
Business and marketing reports contain information about groups or categories of certain Verizon Wireless customers. These reports do not identify you personally. For example, we may prepare a report stating that 10,000 mobile users visited a sports website in a month and 60% were men.
Will I ever be personally identified in a business and marketing report?
No, these reports contain information about groups or categories of our customers, and do not identify you personally.
What kind of data is used to prepare business and marketing reports?
Verizon Wireless will use the following categories of information:
Mobile Usage Information:
- Addresses of websites you visit when using our wireless service. These data strings (or URLs) may include search terms you have used.
- Location of your device
- App and device feature usage
- Information about your use of Verizon products and services (such as data and calling features, device type, and amount of use)
- Demographic and interest categories provided to us by other companies (such as gender, age range, sports fan, or pet owner)
We use this Information in a manner that does not identify you personally to prepare these reports for our own and third party purposes. Verizon Wireless may also share location information with other companies in a way that does not personally identify you so that they can produce limited business and marketing reports.
Will Verizon Wireless read my emails or collect my private information from my online bank account (or other online accounts where I register to perform secure transactions) to prepare these business and marketing reports?
What types of accounts and devices are included in business and marketing reports?
Only information from devices that use our network will be included. This includes basic mobile phones, Smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, netbooks and USB modems. Corporate, government and prepaid accounts are not included.
What is the purpose of business and marketing reports?
The Business & Marketing Reports may be used by our company and third parties to understand the demographics (e.g. age range or gender) of visitors to a website, or of commuters at a location at different times of the day, or to help choose content and services on Web sites that consumers may find more interesting.
If I turn off the location-based services (LBS) settings on my mobile device, will my location information still be collected and used for business and marketing reports?
Yes, the location information used for these reports is not related to the location settings on your device. If you don’t want us to use your mobile usage information for these reports, you can tell us by visitingwww.vzw.com/myprivacy or by calling (866)211-0874.
Note: if you have a Family SharePlan® or multi-line account, you must indicate your privacy choices with respect to each individual line.
Can I refuse permission to use my information for business and marketing reports?
Yes, you have a choice about whether or not we use your information for these reports. If you don’t want us to use your information for these reports, you can tell us by visiting www.vzw.com/myprivacy or by calling (866)211-0874.
Note: if you have a Family SharePlan® or multi-line account, you must indicate your privacy choices with respect to each individual line.
If I decide to allow you to use my information for business and marketing reports, can I change my mind later?
Yes, you can change your privacy choices at any time.
Is Verizon Wireless now going to start selling my personal information to third parties?
No, we will not sell your personal information to third parties.
In 2010, when the FCC began discussing government mandates that would allow consumers to avoid overages, Verizon said they had it under control. There have been a slew of reports on the internet lately about Verizon customers receiving overage charges without receiving an alert from Verizon. Verizon lobbyists filed comments specifically stating that customers receive alerts on the 20th day of their billing cycle if they are set to go over their allowances for that month.
However, there’s been a recent slew of backlash on the internet from customers who have, in fact, NOT received these alerts. Most notably was Consumer Reports writer Jeff Blyskal, who incurred $70 in overage charges without so much as a peep from Verizon, if you are going to pick and choose who you send your alerts to, an employee of the biggest organization dedicated to consumer protection is not a good account to skip.
We’ve had consumers tell us they are experiencing similar problems, especially with international roaming. Just a few days ago we were contacted by a gentleman who incurred a $500 international roaming bill. Verizon alleges they sent him text alerts, but he reports that he never received them.
Failing to send promised alerts is bad enough, but we’re also questioning the efficacy of a text message alert system. Is it sufficient to alert customers of overage charges?
Specifically in the case of international data roaming, a text alert doesn’t make much sense. The horror story we usually here is the of the customer that dutifully buries his smart phone away in his luggage, for fear of accidentally placing a call or reading a text and receiving a roaming charge. Little does he know that his smartphone is accessing data and updating without his knowledge or intent.
In cases like this, where customers see opening their phone as anathema, is it useful to send them a text message? How about an email alert instead? This same customer that ignores his phone while abroad is probably still checking his email through an internet café or through a wifi connection on his laptop.
UPDATE: After hashing out a few of the most egregious overage issues with Verizon, we're finding an interesting trend. When aggreived customers reach the first one or two tiers of customer service, they are being offered paltry credits of 15% to 30% off the fees. That may seem like an okay resolution at first glance, but when you're looking at $1500 in fees, knocking $300 off still leaves you with a crippling bill to pay. However, once escalataed to the highest levels of customer service, companies like Verizon and T-Mobile get considerably more generous - - we're seeing 100% credits for cases where customers couldn't access the notifications and made a legitimate effort to not use the network. Even on iffy cases where customers saw the alerts and didn't change their behavior, executive customer service is willing to fork over a 50% credit.
It's good that escalated cases are getting refunds, but it's troubling that wireless companies are forcing consumers to go to these lengths for credits. For the time being, if you're bowled over with overage bill shock and getting nowhere with customer service, get that bill escalated. The easiest way to do so? File a online complaint with your state's public utilities commission or with the Federal Communications Commission. It's the quickest way to get your issue up to the wireless company's top dogs.
Have you incurred overage charges at home or abroad without an alert from Verizon? If so, we want to know. Fill out our online complaint form and we’ll investigate on your behalf.
In what could only be characterized as a desperate move to reverse the recent trend of cable subscribers cutting the cord (over a million customers have left over the last 12 months). Cable providers, including the two largest Comcast and Time Warner Cable, have been secretly working on a plan to provide cable channels on an individual basis, according to Reuters.
While UCAN would ordinarily applaud a move that would give consumers more freedom and choice in their cable channel selection, we have serious doubts that any plan offered by the cable companies will actually offer complete a-la-carte offerings. Rather, look for the cable providers to eliminate the most expensive channels, such as ESPN, from their cable packages and instead charge consumers a premium for the channel. You will likely still have to pay for X number of undesirable channels in order to receive even a few of the basic channels you desire.
Cable providers will also likely receive serious push back from network owners, such as Viacom and Fox, who would rather continue to bundle their package of channels, rather then let cable operators pick and choose which they purchase, a serious hindrance to the development of an a-la-carte option. In response, we could see cable providers requiring consumers to subscribe to a minimum number of channels, forcing consumers to pick more channels then they actually want, while passing along the increased costs of the network owners for individual channels.
This is the real concern and motivation of the cable providers. They would like to purchase channels a-la-carte from the network owners or at least receive a bundle of channels for a lower total price. And when consumers have a preference for a very expensive channel allow the customer to have access only if the consumers are willing to pay for it individually.
UCAN will continue to monitor the situation and if the FCC opens a rulemaking to create a-la-carte rules, UCAN will let the public know how to comment to encourage the Commission to adopt rules that ensure consumers will have a true a-la-carte option, allowing them to build their own cable packages.
In the meantime, if you are unhappy with the cost of cable services, UCAN encourages you to follow in the footsteps of millions of other consumers and simply cut the cord. Network owners have been putting more and more of their content (TV shows and movies) online. Not to mention that there is nearly an unlimited amount of original content on the internet that consumers can explore for free.
As cable companies continue to fight with network owners over programming costs, consumers continue to suffer. This may be just another gambit by cable companies to get their costs reduced. Consumers often get caught in the middle of these fights and in many instances have been left without the programming they paid for.
While UCAN hopes that this latest move by the cable companies will lead to more control and lower costs for consumers, we also remind consumers that if they are already paying for internet, that they can find most if not all of the content they watch on TV online legally (you can find it for download illegally to, but we don't encourage that) and you can always dust off the rabbit ears and put them back on your TV. Following the digital transition your reception should be crystal clear (we know that receptions in some area is still horrible, but the channels you do get should come in clear).
Be an informed consumer. Explore your video entertainment options. And le'ts hope that cable companies actually do start providing a-la-carte offerings, so as a consumer you can pick your favorite channels to pay for and eliminate those channels you've never watched.
Our recent blackout has brought to light how much of our communication relies on our personal power systems. Some UCAN members that thought their phones would suffice during a blackout found themselves without a dial tone. Let’s rate your blackout communication options and examine how they are affected by a blackout:
1. Cell phones: B-. Power wise, a basic cell phone could stay charged for several days. But the new fancy smart phones are notoriously power hungry and may only last for a couple of hours after an unexpected black out occurs. Another hindrance is the tendency of cell phone networks to get overloaded in an emergency - - during the latest blackout, about 1 in 3 of my phone calls on the Verizon network patched through. This is an issue that the industry is aware of and hopefully we will see investment to create more robust networks during catastrophes.
If a cell phone is your main form of communication, consider investing in backup battery pack to hold you over in the case of an emergency. And if you do lose power, be sure to “battery optimize” your settings - - e.i., turn off GPS, Wi-Fi, lower the screen brightness, kill unnecessary programs, and temporarily remove active screen widgets. Keep in mind you can put your cell phone into airplane mode for optimal battery life, although you can’t receive calls or check email in this mode.
2. Cordless phones: F. Regardless of what type of phone connection you have, cordless phones rely on your personal electricity and will not function during a blackout.
3. Corded phone with traditional landline service: A+. The perk of traditional landline service is that it is absolutely the most reliable option in an emergency. That’s because with a traditional landline, it’s not your power that keeps the phone going, it’s generators of the phone company, which typically have a stellar backup system. Nowadays your only traditional landline option is AT&T.
But be warned: telecom companies are averse to shelling out the cash to maintain these copper landline wires. They view it as a dying technology. They’re pushing to reinvest that money in making other communication services more reliable. So it’s the best option in an emergency for now, but we can’t guarantee how long that will stay true.
4. Corded phone with VOIP: B+. If you have a VOIP setup, your phone is connected through your modem and runs over your internet connection. Although this is dependent on your power, cable companies (like Cox and Time Warner) will stock your modem with a battery backup. The downside is that unlike the traditional landline in which you will rarely ever lose your dial tone, this battery backup only gives you 8 hours of standby or 4 hours of talk time. Realistically this should last you through most blackouts and you make and receive calls more reliably then on an overcrowded cell phone network.
5. Corded phone with a standard phone port: F. If you have a phone package with Cox or Time Warner, don’t automatically assume that you are in the clear: while most customers have VOIP service, some have a standard phone connection. In this setup the phone company utilizes the phone wiring within your home and places an analog to digital converter box outside your home. Cox has confirmed that there is no battery backup for this. So if you have a standard phone connection, you’re in as bad of a situation as if you had a cordless phone.
If you have a phone through Cox or Time Warner and you don’t have a modem inside of your home, you most likely have a standard phone connection. Cox told us that their goal is to transfer everyone over to VOIP but that you cannot request a transfer at this time.
If you had an odd experience with your phone that doesn’t match up with these categories, let us know! Fill out our online complaint form and we’ll get to the bottom of it.
If you are a Cox subscriber, you will probably receive an email from Cox explaining a nifty new tool for its customers. Called the Data Usage Meter, Cox believes this tool will help its customers make informed decisions about their internet data consumption. And here at UCAN we're all for giving customers information and tools to help them make informed decisions. But tacked at the end of the second paragraph of the e-mail (see the PDF copy attached at the bottom of this post) was a startling piece of information: Cox gives you a data alottment that depends on your Internet package. Surprise!
Digging further into this, it seems that at least since June 16, 2011, Cox has put limitations on the amount of downloading and uploading you can do each month. If you subscribe to Cox's lowest tier internet package, you get a measly 30 GB. If you subscribe to Cox's highest tier Internet package, you get a whopping 400 GB.
Interestingly enough, even though Cox considers each of its Internet packages to have a data allowance, there is no penalty for exceeding your allowance. From Cox's Data Usage Allowance FAQs:
What happens if I go over my monthly data usage allowed by Cox?
Cox notifies customers if they exceed their data usage allowance -- and works with them proactively to resolve the problem. In some cases, customers do not even know they are exceeding the allowance because their computers are infected with a virus that is spewing spam or otherwise consuming data. In others, customers choose to reduce their data consumption or select a different Cox High Speed Internet package that better fits their needs.
Other than the mildly distrubing mental image of your computer spewing spam, this seems fairly straight forward. Cox wants to make sure that the data consumed from your account isn't from some malicious piece of software. But if you exceeded the data usage allowance because you actually use your internet connection, Cox will suggest that you upgrade to another Internet package. Since there is no penalty for exceeding the data allowance, you will be paying Cox more money to access the same amount of bandwidth. Cox can argue that you'll have faster download and upload speeds on a higher-tier plan; but, at the end of the day you will still be consuming the same amount of total bandwidth and paying Cox more money. That's a kind of math you didn't learn in grade school.
Even though Cox doesn't charge any penalty for exceeding your data allowance right now, that doesn't mean it won't in the future. What do the FAQs have to say about the issue:
Will I be billed if I exceed these allowances?
Cox does not currently charge you an additional fee if you exceed your allowance. If you determine that your Internet data usage consistently increases, we recommend that you consider a Cox High Speed Internet package that more closely matches your use of the service.
Cox won't charge you right now if you exceed your data allowance, but that word "currently" worries me. Does it mean that something is brewing in Cox's cauldrons, with that something being a fixed data cap that is trendy among many telecommunications companies (e.g. AT&T). Anything that restricts or limits a consumer's ability to choose is not a good thing in our book.
30 GB (and of course 400 GB) sounds like a lot of downloading and uploading, and it actually is. But it is a lot based upon the way people use their Internet connection today. Although video streaming services are wildly popular, there are still a good deal of people who watch TV through a cable box or using rabbit ears. But as the video streaming moves out of infancy and into teenagerdom, more and more people will be canceling their cable subscription and switching to an online video service. Additionally, more and more cloud-based and streaming services are launching every day, with music services like Grooveshark and Spotify and video telephony services like Fring and FaceTime. The more consumers adopt online services for their media consumption and communication needs, the quicker consumers will use up their bandwidth allowance.
It is our hope that telecommunications companies have the foresight to see that we need to be planning for the future of online services, not just increasing its own quarterly profits. Companies who implement data caps may end up making more money, but it may be at the cost of innovation and adoption of high-bandwidth online technologies.
What do you think about Cox's data allowances? Will you change your consumption habits if you get a warning from Cox that you exceeded your plan's allowance? Does this make you want to switch from Cox to another Internet Service Provider? Let us know in the comments.
|Cox High Speed Internet -- Data Usage Meter Notification.pdf||69.49 KB|
And now, for T-Mobile's next trick, making an entire prepaid cell phone plan disappear! But where did the plan really go? Was it a trick or all part of another devious plan? Time to put on our sleuth hats, boys and girls, for this is the case of the missing plan.
To make sure we are sniffing down the right path, this case starts way back in the days of yore: November 2010. Around this time, T-Mobile announced that its customers (current and potential) could no longer purchase the ever-popular Even More Plus plans from T-Mobile's website. Customers could still purchase the plans through retail stores and through T-Mobile's phone sales line so T-Mobile could focus its website on two-year agreement plans (read: the moneymakers).
This news understandly caused a bit of an uproar, which is why the news that T-Mobile would be unveiling--for a limited time--an Even More Plus plan that offered unlimited talk, text, and data (throttled after 2GB) for $59.99. The great part about this plan? No contract! That's right, an "unlimited" plan for $59.99 a month, no contract. And on April 12, the day before the expected April 13 drop date for the plan, T-Mobile released this apt press realese.
But then it was gone. Vanished. Where did it go?
T-Mobile told tech blog Endgadget that it never sent out a press release detailing the $59.99 Even More Plus plan and never intended to release the rumoed Even More Plus plan. T-Mobile did drop a press release on April 13, but it was for the Even More plan that required a two-year agreement and was $20 more a month.
The troubling thing is that the Even More plan offered the exact same features as the Even More Plus plan for the lovely premium of a two-year agreement and $20 more per month. A person on the Even More plan does have access to a wider selection of smartphones, but that doesn't seem to outweigh the additional $480 over the life of the two-year agreement and the ETF you would pay if you wanted to cancel. For the $480 you could by the smartphone of your choice outright and not be in the crosshairs of a looming ETF.
Currentl,y T-Mobile has completely different nomenclature for its plans, calling its prepaid plans that mimic postpaid plans Monthly 4G and calling its post-paid two-year agreement plans Classic. The Monthly 4G plans do include two attractive looking plans, but it is easy to see a void that could easily be filled by the Even More Plus plan.
UCAN first found out about the missing case when a T-Mobile customer contacted the Fraud Squad to investigate her missing plan. She signed up for the Even More Plus plan online and had the screenshots to prove it. According to the consumer, T-Mobile changed her plan from the Even More Plus to the Even More plan. This unilateral action locked her into a two-year agreement and obligated her to an additional $20 a month for the same plan. I'll repeat that for emphasis: for the same plan!
When we followed up with T-Mobile about this consumer's issue, we were able to work out an agreement that satisfied the customer. But that didn't include putting the customer on the plan she initially signed up for because T-Mobile informed us that the plan didn't exist. We are still awaiting a follow up response from T-Mobile about the circumstances surrounding the missing plan.
Now, super sleuths, it's time for you to do a little investigation. Did you try to sign up for the Even More Plus plan? Did you successfully sign up for the plan? Were you able to stay on the plan? Or did T-Mobile shift you to the Even More plan? Let us know in the comments or fill out an online complaint form.
Amidst the cannon ball shots and catapulting rocks in the battle that is the potential AT&T - T-Mobile merger lies a potential victim: consumers who want choice. There are many arguments about why the merger is not beneficial to consumers that revolve around a consumer's ability to choose. One casualty of the crossfire may be having a smartphone that doesn't require a data plan.
Smartphones have exploded onto the scene within the past five years ago, thanks largely in part to the iPhone. One of the attractive features to many smartphone users is having a mobile internet connection, allowing you to email, check sports scores, and download music and movies wherever you are (as long as there is an available connection). But, many smartphones--in addition to having a cellular data connection--have the ability to hook up to the wirless network at your home, at work, or at the local Starbucks. By connecting to these often-free or already paid for internet connections (dubbed WiFi hot spots), you can avoid connecting to you wireless carrier's cellular data connection. The hope is also to avoid paying for the cellular data connection, which can be $30 a month or more.
However, it's been the trend of wireless carriers to require a data connection with all smart phones. We've fought against Verizon with this issue, who stuck to its guns and wouldn't budge on the issue. AT&T, the first carrier to have the iPhone, requires a data plan for "certain devices." AT&T's Wireless Customer agreement doesn't define all the devices, but specifically lists two types: "An eligible tiered pricing data plan is required for certain Devices, including iPhones and other designated Smartphones." http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/legal/index.jsp?q_termsKe...
Sadly, that's not the worst part. Two lines letter, we find this gem: "If it is determined that you are using a voice-capable Device without a voice plan, or that you are using an iPhone or designated Smartphone without an eligible voice and tiered data plan, AT&T reserves the right to switch you to the required plan or plans and bill you the appropriate monthly fees. In the case of the tiered data plan, you will be placed on the data plan which provides you with the greatest monthly data usage allowance." That's right, if AT&T finds out that you have a smartphone without a data plan, it will be kind enough to add one on for you. So your sweet little grandma who only wanted a smartphone so she could play Angry Birds on a nice big screen is forced to have a data plan.
We can contrast this with T-Mobile's take on data plans. Here's what T-Mobile's Terms and Conditions say about data plans: "You will be charged for data usage on a pay per use basis unless you are required to maintain a data plan (“Data Plan”) as part of your Service, or as otherwise provided by your Rate Plan or prepaid data pass." http://www.t-mobile.com/Templates/Popup.aspx?PAsset=Ftr_Ftr_TermsAndCond...
It's not a free and clear pass from a data plan, but it does mean some interesting things. First, it appears that T-Mobile can force you to have a data plan on certain phones if it is required by your Service. How does T-Mobile require it? By making the data plan requirement a part of your contract. How do you get locked into a contract? Purchasing a subsidized phone from T-Mobile.
This doesn't sound much different than what the other carriers require--it isn't. But the interesting part comes up when you don't have a phone under contract. Since T-Mobile is a GSM provider (for now), the phones used on its network use SIM cards. Unlike its CDMA opponents, it's relatively easy to change your phone on a GSM network: simply pop your SIM card out and place it in a phone thats unlocked for T-Mobile's network. Simple as that. You can find many many many many unlocked smartphones on Craiglist and Ebay for under a couple hundred bucks. You can buy one of these smartphones, sign up for a T-Mobile voice plan, and avoid any data charges. Want the latest and greatest smart phone? While we haven't confirmed this, it sounds like if you buy a new phone outright (no subsidies) you should be able to have the phone of your choice with no contract and no data plan. It's a pricey way to do it, but at least you still have the choice.
This choice may not be there if the merger goes through. Sure, AT&T could keep T-Mobile as what it is--a low cost alternative carrier that serves the needs of a certain marget segment. Or, AT&T could do what it does best and consumer T-Mobile and all its customers in one giant mouthful.
Do you have a smartphone on T-Mobile with no data plan? On AT&T with no data plan? Let us know how you did it in the comments.
Here's quick tip: use a phone forwarding service to make switching cell phone providers a breeze!
If you've been following our coverage of prepaid cell phones, you've discovered how easy it can be to switch prepaid providers--simply go buy a new phone. While this is extremely convenient, there is unfortunately one obstacle that can get in your way when making these quick switches: your phone number.
Each time you get a new prepaid phone, you get a new phone number. Carriers do allow you the option of porting your number, but this takes time and effort. It's also a pain of having to notify everyone in your phonebook of your new phone number, especially if you are change carriers often. The benefit of prepaid cell phone service is that you can switch carriers on a whim without incurring additional costs or headache. So what's a savy consumer to do? Simple - use a phone forwarding service.
A phone forwarding service gives you one telephone number that you can give out to friends and family. When someone calls the number, the service forwards the call to any phone number you have. Think of the service as a nifty assistant who always knows where you are. Many services have great features, such as ringing multiple phones, ringing certain phones at certain times of the day, and blocking calls from unwanted numbers.
One of the most popular free services out there is Google Voice. While this blog isn't an endorsement or a recommendation of Google's product, Google Voice is a great free tool to use. It does have its limitations, but it is great for someone who wants to change the freedom to change prepaid carriers as they please.
To use it, you simply sign up for Google Voice, get a Google Voice number, and use this as the main contact number you give out. On Google Voice's web interface, you can enter in your prepaid cell phone number so all your calls will be forwarded to that particular phone. If you switch carriers, simply change the number online and you are good to go!
This trick isn't just for prepaid cell phone users. I've switched between multiple carriers over the past couple of years and having a Google Voice number really helped me stay in touch with anyone. I didn't have tell people a new phone number, since Google Voice took care of all the forwarding for me.
Using your favorite search engine, you can find many phone forwarding services out there--both free and paid. What tips and tricks have you used to help reduce headaches with your cell phone? Let us know in the comments.