While home over Thanksgiving it was nearly impossible to avoid the Black Thursday/Friday/Monday boom shakalaka deals shoved in our faces via the mass media. One of the many deals going around was for smartphones; mostly if you wanted to sign-up for a 2-year contract.
Lady M and I currently have Verizon due to being grandfathered in to the unlimited data plan. But when I tried to have our free upgrade, which is available in January, moved up a month early I was declined. This annoyed me since Verizon is the most expensive carrier and I have been a customer for over five years. So, off we will go to better places in January to a new provider. My three concerns while looking for a new provider were PRICE, COVERAGE, and CONTRACT.
This is a quick rundown, no links to plans or exact numbers. For data usage all price estimates are for 2GB per user, I have never run over 2GB in the past two years due to wifi availability. If running solo you can cut the costs in half since I am looking for a plan to cover two users. I am looking at a new phone purchase as well, so contract will make a difference in upfront costs.
Verizon and AT&T
PRICE: Both provide a 15% discount for DoD, but be careful, it is only for the actual plan not the several fees and taxes. Savings is still about 8-10% of total bill depending on city taxes. Average monthly cost: $155
COVERAGE: Best data coverage hands down. This was my reasoning for sticking with Verizon, if you visit military bases in the middle of no where often, the extra $10-25 a month ($120-300 year) is worth it in my opinion.
CONTRACT: While both companies have a pay as you go, it is not a major savings. With a 2-year contract there is a major subsidy in purchasing a new phone. One can buy a high end phone for about $200 that costs $800 otherwise. Does this savings in upfront cost balance out with higher monthly fees? I will calculate later.
T-Mobile and Sprint
PRICE: Same discount for DoD. Just a nudge cheaper than the leaders at $135, but unlimited data from Sprint if it matters.
COVERAGE: If you are in a city the coverage is likely just fine. Even in most military towns, one of these two will provide ample data coverage. The only down side is lack of 4G outside of major cities. I don’t know the difference since my current phone is a 3G only phone.
CONTRACT: T-mobile is a no contract plan, which means phone needs to be paid for upfront or through a monthly payment. This is great if you have a phone already or can buy a phone on sale that is unlocked. Sprint runs both types of plans, but the pricing is almost identical. For the contract, Sprint also subsidizes phone prices.
Boost and Virgin
PRICE: The best deal in my opinion, as less expensive regional providers usually don’t have solid coverage. Boost’s unlimited plan is runs $50 and decreases $5 every 6 months down to $35 a month. For two users over two years it averages out to about $100 month (remember all the fees). Virgin’s plan limits voice to 300 minutes, but you can just call over data with Skype or Google Voice. This is the cheapest plan at $35 month, or $85 for two users including fees. Virgin currently provides a $5 discount to iPhone users selecting auto pay.
COVERAGE: Both providers run on Sprint’s network, so coverage is essentially the same as Sprint for a lower price.
CONTRACT: No contracts, you need to purchase the phone through the provider though which I will explain below. The good news is, devices are discounted, just not at the mass subsidy a 2-year contract provides.
Contract vs No Contract: Paying $200 vs $600 is a big difference. However, the $200 phone comes with a contract that is often a more expensive monthly plan. Paying $600 upfront is clearly cheaper over two years if you separate the $400 difference over two years, it is equivalent to adding $17 a month to your contract. Virgin’s plan is still significantly lower if you include the cost of phone.
Switching Carriers: Recently all carriers agreed to unlock customers phones which in theory allows you to move between carriers. However, not all phones are created equal due to the majority of US carriers run on CDMA instead of GSM. Read PCMag’s recent article on the differences, link. The problem is with CDMA switching is more difficult and many CDMA carriers won’t accept outside phones, Virgin being one of them.
Unlocking: This is almost pointless. As I mentioned above, it is difficult, if not impossible to move phones between CDMA carriers. However, for overseas traveling it is great when you can insert your SIM and use the same phone. Hint: There is a reason the iPhone 5S has five different model numbers.
As of now we will be switching over to Virgin Mobile in January. The total savings will depend on which phone, but no matter the phone, just the annual savings will cover the upfront costs.
Current Plan: Verizon family plan (2 users) 700 minutes, 1000 texts, 2GB data
Monthly – $154 ($170 w/o discount)
Annually – $1848 ($2040 w/o discount)
Virgin Mobile – Prepaid 300 min, unlimited text and data (x2) using auto pay for $5 discount (x2)
Monthly – $76 (estimate same taxes as current plan $16)
Annually – $912
Trade-in our current phones – $150 each (x2)
New phone – $550 (x2)
Estimated upfront costs – $800
Total annual savings – $936
Savings after upfront costs – $136
As you can see Verizon is over twice as expensive for slightly better coverage. Given Virgin’s (Sprint) coverage in the DC area is decent, it would be a waste of money not to switch. I am fairly certain New Year’s sales will help lower the upfront costs making the total savings well worth switching carriers.
Have a great new year and remember there is always a way to save.
Until next time, Keep on Truckin’… Watson