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Tech Tips: Considerations when phone contracts end

First Published      Last Updated Aug 22 2014 06:12 pm
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I also consider the extra cost to be insurance. I have no idea what high-data apps and services might come along. I wasn't streaming video much when the two largest carriers stopped offering unlimited plans. Now, that's my primary way of watching television.

Families that want to share a pool of data will have to switch to a limited-use plan, as will individuals who don't want to pay for something they might not need. Not everyone will consider the extra cost worth it.

Unfortunately, Verizon will soon slow down service for its heaviest users — the top 5 percent — when there is congestion in a given area. It has already been doing that for 3G service and will extend that to higher-speed 4G network in October. I'll have to see how that affects my streaming.

AT&T already has been slowing down service once users reach 3 gigabytes or 5 gigabytes depending on the phone. Unlike Verizon, AT&T still allows unlimited-plan customers to get subsidized phones with a two-year contract extension.


— Should I switch carriers?

T-Mobile and Sprint still offer unlimited plans. So why not switch, especially as T-Mobile also offers perks such as free data service when traveling abroad?

Unfortunately, T-Mobile and Sprint can be slow or unavailable outside major metropolitan areas.

What I saw near Malvern, Iowa, during a cross-country train trip was typical of my experience searching for signals in rural America: Verizon and AT&T offered two or three bars on 4G. Sprint had no service, and T-Mobile offered a slow-speed network.

That doesn't mean AT&T and Verizon are always better. During checks east of Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs in Colorado, AT&T and T-Mobile had limited service, while Verizon and Sprint had none at all. Farther east, though, AT&T was the one that cut out.

This is another way of saying the right carrier for you depends on where you use the phone. But even if service is good at home and work, you'll likely want service when you travel or visit friends.

For me, Verizon has been dependable, and there's no reason to fix what isn't broken.


— Should I extend my contract for another two years to get a better deal on phones?

Although this isn't an option for me, it's an important consideration for others as wireless carriers encourage you to pay full price, spread over several months under installment plans. In doing so, you forgo about $20 a month in subsidies for a high-end phone.

If you pay the entire cost upfront, you get an unlocked version that you can often move to competing carriers or use with cheaper, local services when traveling abroad. With installments, you typically have flexibility to upgrade your phone before it's fully paid off by trading in your old one. Sprint stopped offering that, though.

Verizon and AT&T give you discounts on monthly bills if you choose the installment plan, known as Edge or Next. T-Mobile requires all customers to pay full price, so it has already baked in the discounts. With T-Mobile, to upgrade before your phone is fully paid off, you'll need to pay $10 a month extra for Jump, which also gives you insurance for loss and damage.

Although the discounts are typically less than the subsidies you're forgoing, it's the reverse for plans with at least 10 gigabytes of data. So big families sharing lots of data are probably better off with a full-price plan. That's also the case if you don't need a high-end phone, as the monthly fees for voice, text and data services factor in the costs of subsidizing the most expensive phones.

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