Choosing a Cell Plan

Tom Klein
CEO/ Co-founder from Mt Pleasant, SC
Published: April 30, 2006

Last month I had the opportunity to talk with consumers on Bob McCormick's Money 101 radio talk show on KNX1070 in California. We got the chance to chat with callers about various problems and tips on how to choose the right cell phone and plan. I've listed a summary of our discussions which includes a lot of helpful information

  • According to Consumer Reports? largest-ever survey of cell phone users, only 47 percent of people say they?re completely or very satisfied with their wireless carrier.
  • Most say they?re only 67 percent satisfied?a D-plus if you want to think of it in terms of letter grades.
  • 31 percent of people say they?re seriously considering switching providers. The number one reason? Poor phone service followed by price.
  • But the L-A Times says cell phone carriers are trying harder. They site data from the F-C-C that shows the number of consumer complaints has dropped 16 percent in the first nine months this year. Fewer people are griping about billing and rates'that number fell by 13 percent.
  • 86 percent of cell phone subscribers use Cingular, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile.
  • Cingular is the largest carrier. They've got 52-point-3 million users.  It's simplified its contracts by laying out all the charges upfront and extended its return policy to 30 days. It's also trying to quicken its cell phone Internet service to provide information more quickly.
  • Verizon Wireless comes in at number two with 49-point-3 million customers. It's a perennial leader in surveys for the best cell phone service. It goes through an extensive checklist with new buyers to make sure the phone and features work BEFORE the customers leave the store. They started that policy 18 months ago when they realized that service wasn't keeping up with explosive growth.
  • Sprint is the third-largest provider with 45-point-6 million users ditched high overages with its Fair & Flexible plan. It automatically gives subscribers 50 extra minutes for $5 more if they go over their allotted minutes. It also has plans to let customers take incoming calls free, and it ditched unpopular mail-in rebates in favor of instant ones.
  • T-Mobile, fourth-largest with 20-point-3 million subscribers, has a detailed map on its website to help customers determine what the coverage is like in their area. It's now ranked generally as the best or second-best carrier in the nation.

HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT WIRELESS PLAN

The three things you need to know before you sign on the dotted line (Source: Washington Post)

  1. Know which plan most of your friends and family have. Most carriers now allow you to talk to others FREE at any time throughout the day as long as you've got the same service.
  2. Know what kind of phone you want. Sprint and T-Mobile are the smartphone's most aggressive marketers. So if you?re looking for the latest Treo, you might want to start there.
  3. Know when you use the phone most. Sprint's got plans that start your free unlimited calling at 7pm, so if you start yacking right after dinner, that might be the way to go. Otherwise, most other carriers start at 9pm. Some, however, cut off your free calls at 6am while others extend it 'till 7. So check with the carrier if you make a lot of early morning calls.

THE PLAN WITH THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
(Source:JD Power and Associates)

  • More than half of wireless users have contacted their carrier's customer service department within the last six months?mostly via phone.
  • We hold for an average of three-and-a-half minutes.
  • More than 40 percent of customers needed to talk to their provider about a billing issue.
  • T-MOBILE AND VERIZON TIED FOR THE BEST WIRELESS SERVICE IN CALIFORNIA'this according to a consumer survey by J-D Power and Associates.

THREE STEPS TO MAKING SENSE OF YOUR WIRELESS BILL
(Source: F-C-C)

  1. Keep in mind that you may sometimes be billed for a call you placed or a service you used but the description on the bill could be unclear. If you don't know what you?re being billed for, ask the company to explain the charge BEFORE you pay the bill.
  2. Keep a record of the services you've authorized and used. If your bill seems high, check it against your list.
  3. If you think a company's charges are too high, vote with your dollars. Find out about termination fees and make sure your provider knows why you?re leaving?who knows'they may offer you a better deal!

THREE WAYS YOU MIGHT BE OVERSPENDING ON YOUR WIRELESS PLAN

  1. Buying too few minutes. If you think you?re cutting it close, spend the extra $5 or $10 a month for more minutes. Overage charges can cost you 25-to-50 cents per minute. That means you could end up paying two-to-three times as much for those extra minutes if you go over.
  2. Not having the best plan for your  needs. Some carriers have as many as 25 plans. So call your carrier every 3 months and see if they've got a new one that might serve you better. 
  3. Off-peak packages. Are you paying more for more FREE minutes on nights and weekends? That means you?re just converting your ?anytime? minutes into ?peak? minutes. So if you go over your allotted package, you?ll pay a lot more than if you just stuck to the free nights and weekends.

THE TWO BEST PLAN WITH THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

  • It's a toss-up between the T-Mobile Get More 1000 plus plan for $50 a month and Verizon's America's Choice 900.
  • T-Mobile charges a $35 activation fee, 40 cents per minute if you go over, and offers free nights and weekends. Nights begin at 9pm and end at 7am.
  • You can add mobile-to-mobile minutes for another $8 a month.
  • Those 900 minutes at Verizon will cost you $60 monthly plus a $35 activation fee.
  • It may be more expensive per minute but you get free mobile-to-mobile.
  • Nights and weekends end at 5:59 am.
  • So if you use lots of peak minutes, the T-Mobile is a wise choice. But if you know a lot of Verizon subscribers, that may be the way to go.