Understanding the way carriers and retailers are changing the way phone plans are being sold these days is a little cumbersome. However, with the right information you can easily navigate what is going to be best for you. With working in a phone store for many years has given me the ability to remember almost every single carrier and what they offer. Besides that I really enjoy explaining the way us Americans choose cell phone service, because no other country does it quite this way.
The biggest hurdle is understanding that there are three different tiers of cell phone service. Naturally I’ll start with number one, the most expensive and most polarizing to many Americans. This tier consists of what you call “Post Paid” service. The reason being is that you get your device and service first and essentially pay your bill thirty days later. It’s a weird concept to use something first and then pay for it later. Being weird or not either way this is the only way they do business unless you ask to prepay an amount. As much as most people hate dealing with the “Big Four” (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobilie) these carriers offer the best service within their perspective areas. These are the owners of all cell phone networks within the United States. Which should explain why they charge as much as they do. The interesting thing is that most of them are completely incompatible with each other’s service. Something that makes it difficult to move in between each carrier. In turn makes it more difficult to be move between the next two tiers. While this tier has the best service the other thing offered is high end hardware to the consumer. Nowadays it has come down to installment plans instead of the old way of doing business with a two year contract. And most of you that read this will be familiar with that process.
Next is one of the more compelling tiers of service. Prepaid service is where we’ll stick to the rest of the time. But the way it works is different in certain scenarios. This tier is the “Brand Name” prepaid service. What that means is that the big four are providing you with a prepaid plan that comes directly from them. Which means that you get a little bit of preferential service. However, the people that pay more on post paid unfortunately get first dibs on quality of service. With that being said there is still a lot to like about prepaid. The plans have been getting better and better every year which then makes it hard to stay on post paid. The prices usually range between $30-$65 depending on how much data you need. Anything unlimited will unfortunately be limited by a certain amount of fast data then the unlimited part comes in at very slow speeds. Again, you get what you pay for but don’t forget that you do get quite a good bit for your hard earned money. The most polarizing part of the prepaid experience is buying the phone outright. There’s no installment plans to help with the full cost of the phone. Credit cards as well as financing through the retail business are going to be your most solid options if you don’t want to pay that full cost up front. Prepaid just does not carry the full selection of devices that post paid does. Everything is designed to be at full cost and up front. Quite the opposite of post paid, which can be good for those of us on a budget.
Last would be the third tier which begs the question, what do I lose by going down so far? Before I answer that I want say that this tier is the most confusing of all three. This one being reserved for the Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) or Wireless Resalers. These companies take wireless spectrum (towers) from the big four and rebrand it as a new service. This is where you get Ting, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, Net 10, Simple Mobile, H20, Cricket, Metro PCS among many others that are not directly branded as the prepaid version of the big four. The exception to that rule is Boost Mobile which is second tier since Sprint owns and operates them as their prepaid service. They tried to make a Sprint Prepaid option for customers and it went down in flames. So what are you losing? Well the biggest being reliability. Sorry folks this bottom of the barrel penny pincher phone service is not good at all. The price may be right for you, but when it comes to issues with towers or congestion you are the first to get booted off. I’ve seen it before when all Cricket customers were without service for an entire day. We had quite a bit of customers that day that switched services. It’s a little scary when that happens, but if its too good to be true it probably is. That leads me to my next point, getting these people on the phone or trying to swap your phone number usually becomes more hassle than it’s worth. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it just happens to not be a fun process that most people get frustrated with.
There are a lot of reasons to pick each carrier. Just remember that the choice you make has very significant consequences and unconvieniences. As in depth as this is, I may come back and add a little more to this. Or I may just add those points of interest to another post, we’ll see.