Today, we bring you the third serious installment of Ask Daley where we address methods of saving on your communications budget in some of the less population dense parts of our nation. Karen in SW Colorado writes with questions on how to optimize her communications budget and writes:
I have read lots of your posts about cell phones, plans, etc. but thought I’d ask you directly about my situation. I live in Southwestern Colorado and currently use Verizon and pay $50 per month for 450 mins and 200 texts. I do not use any data nor do I pay for any data. I’m very happy with the reception in my area. I have a dumb phone, which suits me just fine. (My bill actually would be higher, but I get an 18% discount through my employer.) Anyway, I would like to get this bill lower.
Also, I pay $50 per month to Bresnan/Optimum for internet access. (No cable, and no phone plan with them.)
And I have no land line.
I do need internet access at home for my job. I also do a fair amount of streaming video (sports things and PBS–all free!).
I have been thinking about switching to Ting or Republic Wireless (after they come out with improved phones), but I am nut sure what kind of coverage I would get through Sprint. I know I can go to Sprint’s website and look at their coverage map, but can I trust that?
I also have a tenant in a separate building about 40 feet away, and he uses the internet access that I provide for him.
Any suggestions you have for me would be much appreciated.
Karen, thanks for writing!
First, we’ll start with the cellphone. Given the coverage maps of the big four carriers, it appears that Verizon has the best general coverage in your general vicinity and surrounding areas, as you likely already know. There is some native Sprint coverage in the area, but it appears to be more of a pocket than anything. Typically you can rely on coverage maps for the most part, but never take them for the gospel truth as terrain and buildings can impact these things. A great example is my parent’s place. All four major carriers claim coverage at their place. Reality? Sprint and Verizon both are a dead zone, T-Mobile is quirky, and only AT&T has solid coverage. You don’t know until you try.
Given this knowledge, we can safely narrow down to three carriers as your best options for reducing costs:
one Verizon MVNOs (Page Plus ) and one Sprint (Ting, which has voice roaming on Verizon). Although you mentioned what plan you’re on with Verizon currently, you did not mention your actual average monthly usage patterns which is always a far more accurate and preferred method for figuring out what your real wireless needs are. Sit down with about three months of bills and add up all your minutes (peak, off-peak, in network, etc.) and text messages used each month, then average that usage out. Your resulting numbers will be your real world average usage, and what you should base your alternate carrier shopping off of.
If that 450 minutes and 200 texts accurately reflects at or above what your actual combined minute and text usage is, you would be looking at roughly $30 a month with Page Plus (Talk n Text 1200) or $20 a month with Ting (medium talk & text usage, no data). Now, given you’re with Verizon already and it sounds like you have a phone you’re already happy with, I should point out that you can probably take your phone with you to Page Plus
. If you go to Ting, you will need to get a new phone. Fortunately, Ting offers refurbished basic feature phones for under $50, but using a phone that’s already got your contacts and not contributing to further e-waste is always a bonus as well.
Of course, if your real world usage is even lower than that, or most of your usage is at home with that cellphone, you can drive those usage numbers down even lower by re-introducing a home phone via a VoIP provider into the mix. Before hitting that point, let’s address the pros and cons of these MVNO options. Page Plus has been around for years, but is currently in the process of being acquired by America Movil, who’s other brands are not known for quality customer support or reasonable prices. Ting is of course primarily Sprint based, so primary service will be dependent upon that, but you at least have the Verizon voice roaming option to fall back on with them.
Now, there’s been some mention of the Verizon MVNO TalkForGood in the Superguide as the only option I’d considered as a Verizon “refugee provider” if you’re worried about dealing with America Movil after their Start Wireless/Page Plus buyout goes through, so you’re probably asking why I haven’t mentioned them. Unfortunately, it appears that the company (like so many other MVNO startups) is in its final slide. It happens, and it’s why I’m so skittish on recommending new-to-market MVNOs in the first place.
Additionally, you mentioned Republic Wireless. There’s a funny thing about your stating, “after they come out with improved phones,” in your message. That’s a lament I’ve read from users since they launched, “The service is always going to be better once they iron out the bugs and launch the next generation of smartphones.” It’ll always be better next time.
Here’s the truth: VoIP technology is mature. Wireless telephone service is mature. Android smartphones are mature. Republic uses all three, yet still provides dodgy service. What gives?
The reason why Republic isn’t that great is because it’s the worst possible combination of all three packaged up with a pretty little bow punching your greed button with the promises of “unlimited” “wireless” service, and it will never get better than it is because their implementation is fundamentally flawed with the weaknesses of all three technologies playing off each other and exacerbating the issue and silently tethering you to home usage anyway to keep the service costs low. It might seem great to some blogger who’s been given a free phone and an additional years worth of service for gratis, and to people who never leave their home… but read the terms of service and understand that if you’re going to save money by making calls at home via a VoIP service, it’s far cheaper and more reliable to use a real VoIP service like VOIPo. Added benefit? You’ll get real tech support, better call quality, and won’t be saddled with a proprietary Android smartphone that you paid at least twice what it’s really worth and can only use with Republic due to the custom firmware. The truth is, you can replicate the Republic experience with all the buggy quirks for less than what Republic charges just by using any sub-$100 Android phone, Google Voice, Talkatone, and any cheap MVNO (P’tel, Page Plus, Airvoice, Virgin). In fact, it’ll be better because you’ll have real wireless voice and SMS services to fall back on during emergencies when data services fail. Added bonus, you’ll have lower overall handset radiation exposure when you’re out and about because voice services on phones frequently have a lower SAR rating than data. If you need a home phone, pay for a home phone. If you need a mobile phone, let alone a mobile phone that provides “unlimited” service, pay for a mobile phone. If you need both but don’t need any serious mobile time, you’re likely going to be able to get both combined for less per month than the $30+tax Republic charges their “cheaper” buy-in customers.
Back to the VoIP topic. If you’re doing a fair bit of talking at home and/or off-peak (which again implies being at home), bring back the home phone. If you’re not needing a whole lot of minutes at home, consider VOIP.ms, Future Nine, or NetTalk. If you want something a bit more feature rich or need a fair chunk of time and don’t mind paying for two years of service up front, (again) consider VOIPo. There’s even the “free” option of an OBi100 and a Google Voice account, but there’s drawbacks and risks to that setup. (What price free, and all that.) The great thing about VoIP is that it doesn’t need a great deal of bandwidth, so pretty much any low latency broadband connection you toss at it will be sufficient. That said? Depending on your overall usage patterns, it might be cheaper (or easier for a minimal price difference) if you go with Ting to leave VoIP out of it. This sort of thing just highlights the importance of doing the math and figuring out what you actually need and where you use it most before you pick a solution.
As to your internet access, I’m unsure of how much cheaper you might be able to get your services outside of negotiations, unfortunately. Given Charter has bought out Bresnan, and Charter has discontinued all their slower and cheaper tier options, you might not be able to get that cost down much lower. There’s a couple DSL options for your area between Brainstorm and Century Link, but if it comes down to Charter and Century Link only? Whoof. That’s almost as bad as the AT&T/Comcast duopoly in my books. The good news is unless you get paid to move a lot of data, even with your video habits, you can easily get away with as slow as 3Mbps down and 768kbps up. Keeping that in mind, you can visit your options in detail and see where you might be able to trim further. You should pay attention to your ISP’s service contract, however, as many actually forbid reselling or providing internet access to other households without a business account. It’s not that many don’t frequently turn a blind eye to it, but keep in mind that you’re also legally on the hook for anything your tenant downloads given it’s your name and address on the bill.
Hopefully, the information provided here will help open up some paths that you might not have considered, made you a smarter shopper for these services, helped you to better understand what your communications needs might actually entail, and provided some options that’ll genuinely reduce your overall communications budget.
Be well, Karen… and if you have any other questions or need further clarification, don’t hesitate to ask!
Photo entitled “Question mark in Esbjerg” by Alexander Drachmann and licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).