How Verizon lost my business and choosing between imperfect plans until the AT&T white knight comes riding into town

Since getting booted off AT&T, I am a free agent for the first time in my life when it comes to cell phone plans. Though each time I moved (up until the Cascadia move) I kept changing carriers, I always beelined to AT&T because I’ve always been reasonably satisfied with them and they’ve been the devil I’ve known. More recently I’ve decided to stick with AT&T because they use a GSM-SIM network and so I am not locked into a pre-authorized phone.

Now, of course, I am off AT&T for the time being. My initial thought was that I would walk straight over to Verizon. Verizon, of course, boasts the best network in the country. They also have the Motorola Droid phone. With Windows Mobile sadly going the way of the dodo, I have decided that Android is likely where I will depart to and the Droid is the gold standard right now for Android phones.

I had some trepidation about going over to Verizon. The main reason for this is that Verizon, like Sprint, uses CDMA phones. What that means is that if you buy one of their phones, you will never be able to use it on another network. This is in contrast to GSM networks, which are based on SIM cards that are transferrable from one carrier to the next. GSM carriers do tend to lock their phones down in an effort to prevent you from doing so, but for a small fee you can (with the exception of the iPhone) usually unlock the phone with minimal intrusiveness (compared to, say, jailbreaking an iPhone). Beyond that, though, you don’t have to buy a phone from the provider nor do you have to buy one associated with the provider. Verizon and Sprint, on the other hand, can much more easily refuse to activate any phone that isn’t theirs. As such, they can more-or-less require that you buy a phone from them (that won’t work for anyone else) for an outrageous price or for a lesser price with a burdensome contract.

In the end, though, I wasn’t going to let my ideology get in the way of practicality. I may not like the Verizon arrangement, but if they can offer me something that nobody else can (a national network, in this case, and the Droid), I’ll make due.

Three things changed my mind about Verizon. First, their rates are high. Much higher than any of the other carriers in the area. With the other carriers, it depends on what precisely you want as to whether or not it will cost you more or less than the others. Except Verizon, which is always higher. At least in my usage bracket. Second, and this is a relatively minor point, the Droid has some hardware/software limitations that my current phone does not and I am less enthusiastic about what was Verizon’s biggest selling point. And if I really want, I can get a Droid-equivalent SIM phone anyway.

The third thing was the biggest thing. I had been able to dismiss the practical sides of my ideological opposition to the way that Verizon does business by figuring that I can put up with a bad carrier and a required data plan for a one-year contract. But I then discovered that Verizon will not let you out of the data plan as long as you have a smartphone whether you are under contract or not. That means that if I ever want to get rid of my data plan (which I’m not sure I even want in the first place), I have to (a) get a new phone which requires a new contract, and/or (b) carry around a Pocket PC in addition to my cell phone. I did (b) for a while and I don’t want to go back to it because I am unreliable at remembering both and it’s my cell phone (the more important of the two) that I more typically forget. More than that, though, I resent being forced to make that choice. AT&T doesn’t make me do that unless they subsidize my phone (which is more than fair) and even then only the term of the contract. Nor do either of the other carriers.

The fourth and last thing that changed my mind about Verizon was finding out that AT&T is buying itself into my market. By the end of the year, they will have purchased Galaxy Mobile, one of the regional carriers, pending FTC approval. That means that the one year contract that Verizon requires would make it that much longer until I can switch back to AT&T when they come to town.

The other two options, however, both give me considerably more flexibility. Galaxy is being bought out by AT&T and so if I go with Galaxy I will be able to switch over to AT&T as soon as I want, assuming the sale goes through. In fact, I will be forced to switch. That’s the downside. Galaxy is presently a CDMA carrier and I would have to buy a phone just to use in the interim. To buy a Galaxy-compatible HTC Fuze (which is what I own now) will cost about $150 and Clancy’s phone will cost an additional $50. Or I can just get a cheapo phone to tide me over, but (a) I don’t know how long it will take before I can go back to my Fuze and (b) I’ll have to carry a Pocket PC and a cell phone in the meantime, which I don’t like and I’m not good at.

But of the three local carriers, it is Galaxy that had the best sales pitch. A good enough sales pitch that even if they weren’t bought out by AT&T, they would probably be getting my business despite the CDMA problem. Good rates and, despite the fact they are a regional company, national coverage.

On the other hand, Frontier Wireless is by far the most flexible option. Frontier not only uses SIM cards but doesn’t deal with locked phones at all. Clancy’s phone is already unlocked and it will cost less than $10 to unlock mine and I will be good to go with Frontier immediately. It is also a very local company, which I really like but which is also its greatest weakness. Frontier operates almost solely out of Arapaho and while they have national coverage, they discourage off network use. Any data plan I get with them would only cover Arapaho and have roaming fees everywhere else. That wouldn’t be an issue except that the times I most need a data plan is precisely when I won’t have it: when travelling. On the other hand, Frontier doesn’t care whether I have a data plan or not. I can use my Fuze as a Pocket PC, which Verizon won’t let me do at all and Galaxy will only let me do when out of my contract (in this case when they boot me over to AT&T).

So, while waiting on AT&T, I am debating between Galaxy and Frontier. It mostly comes down to whether I want a data plan or not. On the one hand, I lived without a data plan all the way up until late last year when I got one. On the other hand, I got kind of used to it. Back on the first hand, though, I’m not sure how useful it will be when I spend almost all of my time within a 5-minute drive home. It was most useful when I was traveling, which I did a lot of previously but am likely to do less of when Clancy starts work. Then there’s the question of my work. If I get work in Tupelo or with the Census Bureau, it will suddenly become much more useful. If I start software testing for OpenOffice at home, it won’t be very useful at all.

It’s odd to know exactly what I want (AT&T) and yet not be able to decide what I want (until AT&T comes to town). I guess I should be thankful that Verizon so graciously removed themselves from consideration.


Category: Market

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3 Responses to In Between AT&T

  1. David Alexander says:

    I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but there is a Motorola Droid available for GSM networks. It’s known as the Milestone, but I suspect availability is limited since the only carrier selling it to consumers is Telus in Canada…

    FWIW, I have Verizon Wireless, and the main reason I pay through the nose for it is because it’s best the cell phone network in NYC Metro. I’m willing to pay slightly more in order to get reliable service, especially in fringe areas. Mind you, I do not have a data plan, but a four phone family plan (which will drop to three when the contract is up) with a text messaging allowance.

  2. CT says:

    VZW mandatory data plan is the chief reason why I dropped them this month, after 10+ years of service. The actual dollars don’t work out — I could have devised a new 2-year contract on VZW with a new-but-outmoded phone that didn’t require the data plan, and it would have been cheaper per month than my AT&T/iPhone plan. But at the end of the day, I simply resented VZW’s blatant squeeze play. Plus, why cripple myself for the next 2 years just to avoid a data plan I didn’t want (at least on a non-iPhone)? C’est la vie.

  3. trumwill says:

    David,

    I was aware of the Milestone, but thanks for mentioning it because I only stumbled across it an hour or so before the post went up and could easily have missed it.

    CT,

    That’s interesting. In my price comparison, AT&T beat Verizon’s pants off when it came to price. I wasn’t looking at iPhone plans, though. I find it curious that you share my objection to what Verizon does but opted for an iPhone that has the same arrangement. Then again, if you decide that you don’t want to do the iPhone, you can get a regular data phone on your own dime (once your contract is up) which is an option not available with Verizon. If you ever decide you do want a non-iPhone smartphone, let me know. I may be able to help point you in a good direction if you’re interested in buying a phone independently of AT&T.

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