Ridiculous cell phone rates

I’ve been shopping around for a new cell phone and plan. My first attempt was about a year ago, after moving to the Bay area, but I gave up in despair. I had been hoping that the success of the iPhone would help improve things, but after looking around again I remain throughly disgusted at the state of the industry.

The available phones are still awful — clunky interfaces and useless features. I was watching a video review of one phone, where a main review point was the ability to change the color and font of the numbers shown while dialing. Never mind the crappy MP3 player, here’s 555-1234 in rainbow Comic Sans! At least the consistent worthlessness seems to make shopping easier — why compare features when you can just pick the pretty one and be equally disappointed?

The various service plans are awful too; in particular, the data rates are completely ridiculous. Some plans give you unlimited data with the on-phone browser, but I’d rather get my teeth pulled than do that. I *would* like to be able to use my phone for network connectivity (on my laptop or N800, via bluetooth) now and then, when I’m stuck some place without WiFi . But it appears that the only choices are (1) pay a high monthly fee for unlimited access or (2) pay astronomical per-byte rates. Verizon made me shake my head first: “Data sent or received (incl. Mobile Web advertising) is $1.99/MB.” $2 to load a Tinderbox page (which is about a megabyte), and I have to pay them to send ads to me as well?! Then I saw Sprint’s rates: “Customers without a phone-as-modem plan will be charged 3 cents per kilobyte for Sprint Vision or Sprint Power Vision usage unless a Phone as Modem plan is selected.” $30 to load a Tinderbox page?! WTF? It’s clearly not an issue of constrained resources, as the phone-as-modem plan is $40 a month for unlimited usage.

This kind of racket must be especially profitable, because it seems that “unlimited” doesn’t really mean “unlimited”. If a carrier decides you’re using too much (according to sekret rules they won’t tell you about), apparently they may start charging at per-byte rates (or, if you’re lucky, just cut you off). So, you can pay them $480 a year as a protection fee (to make sure you don’t accidentally end up with a gazillion-dollar monthly bill), and then just hope that they don’t come around and break your kneecaps anyway.

Madness.

[“Why not an iPhone?”, I hear someone asking… Well: no bluetooth network access, terrible data speed, I don’t need a $400 phone, objection to AT&T’s complicity in the NSA wiretapping thing, and opposition to the closed nature of the iPhone platform. The last of these (non-openness) I’d be willing to ignore on the principle that the iPhone is much less evil than the alternatives, but the rest are still a deal breaker.]

About Justin Dolske

Mostly harmless.
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15 Responses to Ridiculous cell phone rates

  1. That’s pretty much the reason why I still have my simple flip phone that I originally got 3.5 years ago. It still works just fine, and it doesn’t have a zillion features I simply don’t need or want.

  2. mrz says:

    I very easily got over the no-tethering option with my iPhone when I picked up a Sprint Sierra A595U USB modem which I find far more functional that I did tethering with my Verizon Treo. And $49/month to Sprint and $79 to AT&T is less than what I was paying to Verizon.

  3. Daniel Einspanjer says:

    Sprint’s data access plans used to be a lot better. I have to be careful whenever I talk to their customer service in fear they’ll change my plan in some way and I’ll lose my current settings. I pay $10/month for unlimited data access and I can use my Treo 650 as a Bluetooth DUN device. Of course, I’ve had lots of trouble in the past getting it to connect to devices because the Treo Bluetooth stack suxxors, but I’m happy to say it worked just fine with my MBP.

    I’ve had this 650 for about three years and I am out of contract with Sprint, but I’ll probably do my best to hold out until something on the Android platform is out (hopefully on 700mhz although that pushes me out to next year) before I look at switching.

  4. tglek says:

    Seems bad, but USA is one of very few countries in the world with unlimited data options priced within realm of reason.

    There are some lucky places in europe provide internet access for $1 a day when you need it.

  5. Go to http://www.sprint.com/sero and enter “savings@sprintemi.com” as the referring email address. This will give you access to a plan that’s $30/mo for 500 voice with unlimited data (I can attest that tethering works just fine).

    When you go to buy your phone enter “URANG” as a coupon code to get $50 off. Enter an existing Sprint customer’s phone number to get another $25 off. (Email me if you want to use me as that number.)

    Finally, I highly recommend the Sprint Mogul as a phone. It got a firmware update to support integrated GPS and EV-DO Rev. A just last week. It’s the only phone in the US. right now with Rev. A support. (Offers roughly 120ms ping times with 2 mbit down, 700kbit up.) Using firmware guides at xda-developers.com and ppcgeeks.com, you can replace the carrier firmware with completely clean versions with better performance. I have Windows Mobile 6.1 running on my Mogul and love it.

  6. The “unlimited data” on the SERO plans (which is what I’ve been looking at) is only for data from the phone itself; tethering can result in extra charges. There seems to be a lot of confusion around this point, because apparently Sprint will *sometimes* not charge you as long as you don’t use too much (see “sekret rules” above). Some people say they get away with it, some people say they’ve been charged. I really don’t feel like risking ~$30/MB charges on an EVDO connection… Ever see those national debt counters, where all the digits below the $1 million mark change so fast you can’t read them? Yeah, that.

    Some of the older phones let you disable the “Secondary NAI” (which is how the network differentiates between on-phone data usage and tethered usage), but that sounds like borderline fraud to me.

  7. (Oh, and Windows Mobile? Ugh.)

  8. I completely agree. It’s sick how much this stuff costs.

    What’s even more interesting is that text messaging has actually increased in price over time (when generally prices drop). Sending a few bytes of data is so expensive it’s insane.

    I’ve got a nearly 2 year old LG, no data service (not even text messaging). I think I’m the last holdout. I think it’s absolutely crazy to pay so much for that service. As far as cost per character goes, it’s cheaper to call and hire a telegram service to deliver your message. Don’t have plans on changing that yet. The iPhone is the most tempting I’ve seen, but still not good enough yet.

  9. Orrin says:

    Wired has an interesting perspective on the “evil-ness” of Apple. Maybe 20 years ago they weren’t so evil (when you had IBM to compare them to) but when you compare them to Google or a leaner, even-less-evil-then-Google competitor, Apple can look like the spawn of Satan.

  10. Havvy says:

    I haven’t looked for phones to buy, and I’ve noticed the prices…

  11. skierpage says:

    I’ve got the discontinued Sanyo MM-9000 and apparently Sprint can’t tell that when you’ve plugged it in to your computer to use as a modem. So with any Power Vision plan you get what I think you’re calling tethering for free, until/unless Sprint mysteriously detects what you’re doing.

    This is a glitch Sprint/Sanyo have “fixed” in later phones. For other reasons the Sanyo MM-9000 is better than more recent phones like my Katana DLX: a flash, bigger screen, better sound quality, etc. So people horde supplies of fine discontinued phones! It’s maddening that phones don’t simply improve with each generation as laptops do. I hope Google Android breaks the whole crummy system wide open. You can (and should) install Opera Mini and Google Maps on your phone, but improving core features is impossible.

    You’re right-on about the worthless phone reviews and the beyond-awful built-in music players (I have 340 songs on a 2GB card and I can’t even press ‘8’ to jump to songs starting with ‘T’ ?!!).

  12. Roberto Com says:

    In SF, try Metro PC. Fixed rate, unlimited use.
    Sprint just turned off one of my shared numbers and they won/t tell me why unless I am a police officer.

    And they only keep text messages for 14 days then they purge them.

    Metro PC just barely gets to the Mont Peninsula, but I have one. Great when within cell distance.

    Good Luck

  13. Waste of time n money says:

    I had Metro PCS in the Bay and was satisfied. I hate contracts in general. I remember when contracts were for one year so now we’ve experienced contract inflation as well?

    I am so dissapointed that my T-Mobile phone crapped out. It was just a vanilla clamshell Nokia on T-Mobile but the one yr contract had expired so I was month to month. No data. T-Mobile worked well for me in the Bay Area – at least for call reception. Here in Upstate N.Y. not so much. Couldn’t get a call out at home except through WIFI and no reception at work!

    In shopping for smartphones it seems there is always a drawback – no WIFI on this phone, or WIFI but the phone is lacking in some other way.

    The rate plans represent dizzying array of confusion for many consumers, myself included. The guy at ATT actually told me I could use every internet feature with the 39.99 plus 20.00 plan. I’ve since found out that may only include txt messaging?

    I’m confused. Maybe I should just go back to my month to month and pay full price for a wifi T-Mobile phone with no internet access?

  14. sick of paying for cell phones says:

    We should all demand for cheaper rates. Do you know how many billions of dollars the cell phone industry is making off of our payments? Its ridiculous.

  15. Tom S says:

    Five months later and things still suck. I am so upset at the closed architecture of the iPhone and how expensive all data plans are. I personally am getting 3000 (local) minutes on T-Mobile with GPRS/Edge connection for $79 after taxes which people consider good. Seeing Dan Hesse, CEO, of Sprint commercials makes we want to reach out and punch the guy especially when he says all for around $100 a month, isn’t that amazing? Or something along those lines.

    It’s totally price gouging and the shiny toys, iPhone, Samsung Instinct, etc. are fake fronts to make us pay more in monthly charges. I just want to use my N810 to make free voip calls over a data plan and cut out the “voice” part of a cell phone plan.

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