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Oh My Tech!: Sorting through the cellphone plan maze
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I've been covering technology for The Salt Lake Tribune for more than a decade, and even I have a hard time figuring out all the convoluted cell phone plans available through each carrier.

Imagine what must swirl through a customer's mind while shopping for a phone. How many voice minutes do I pay for? Should I go with an unlimited plan? How much is it for 250 texts per month versus unlimited texts? Do I get an individual plan for data or go with a shared family plan? Do I pay for tethering? What IS tethering? Can you just kill me right now?

I certainly can empathize with anyone who's buying a smartphone for the first time and has to cut through all the jargon and complicated tiers of pricing.

I'm almost beginning to think all that confusion is for a reason.

A friend of mine upgraded to a new iPhone recently, and while he did, the AT&T salesperson went over his current cell phone plan to see if there needed to be any changes.

The representative checked the data usage history, a record of how often he used his old phone to get on the Internet or stream video. The records showed he regularly used about a half a gigabyte, or about 500 megabytes, of data every month. That's a pretty modest amount.

But for some reason, the AT&T rep told my friend he should pay for a much higher data plan. Without my friend really figuring it out or truly understanding, the representative signed him up for a 6-gigabyte bucket of data for him and his wife to share, or 3 gigabytes for him to use alone. In other words, the salesperson sold my friend six times more data than he needed. Now, he's paying $40 more than he should.

Another friend also upgraded to an iPhone, this time with Verizon. He and his wife stayed with their same plans as before. But what the Verizon sales rep failed to ask was an important question about their texting plan. They each pay $5 per month for 250 texts per month each.

What the salesperson should have asked, given that both now have iPhones, was if they would be likely to text only other iPhone users. Turns out that was to be the case, but what my friend and wife were not told was that texting between iPhones is free because it's done through Apple's free iMessage service. If they had been told that, she would have not gotten a texting plan.

You or someone you know may have gone through a similar circumstance of paying more than you needed to on your cell phone bill.

I'm not saying that carriers deliberately try to oversell customers on their plans, because I don't have proof. But I'm not alone in wondering.

Carriers often give you a flood of different options on pricing because they want to make their plans as flexible as possible to find one that fits. (Verizon, on the other hand, has tried to make its plans easier by recently going to its Share Everything plans). But all these choices can make for a much more confusing time, and consequently you're at the salesperson's whim.

Here are a few tips that can help you sort through the jumble when purchasing or changing your cell phone plans:

• If you have a friend who's more well-versed in Cellphone Hell, take him or her along with you to help navigate the maze of plans.

• Take the time to examine and become more familiar with the different plans by going to the carrier's website before talking to a salesperson.

• Ask the salesperson if there is a 14-day or 30-day free trial period for the phone and new plan to see if it's right for you. Also, you want to make sure the cell coverage is good for where you live and/or work.

• Always check to ensure you are not charged for services you don't need, such as parental controls or a GPS locator service for finding your kids.

• Talk to salespeople at more than one store. They might tell you different things (I once got much different quotes from two different Verizon reps at two separate stores).

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.

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