Why I’m Dumping AT&T for T-Mobile

I've been an AT&T customer since I signed up for one of the company's unlimited plans while buying an iPhone 3G back in 2008. I've had this plan nearly a quarter of my life, but now that Ma Bell is bumping up the price by another $5 a month, that's it. I'm out.

Over the last few years, the frustrations and annoyances I've endured to keep this plan simply aren't worth it anymore. Even before the most recent price hike, my bill already weighed in at $102.98 a month, thanks to a previous $5 price hike in February 2016. (That's a $10 a month increase in less than a year, if you’re scoring at home.

And I haven't even added in the $8.18 a month in surcharges and fees and $0.62 in taxes that show up on my bill. This results in a grand total of $111.78 a month, not counting the $30.50 I pay for my aging Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

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It's not like I'm getting some sweet red-carpet service for my $112, either. I’m not eligible for the Wi-Fi tethering available on regular plans; I still have to shell out for AT&T's exorbitantly priced international plans when traveling overseas; and even though my plan is unlimited, my data speeds can still get throttled if I use more than 25GB of data in a month.

It seems like this price increase should be unnecessary. Plans like mine haven't been available since 2011 to new customers, so there are only so many people that could still have one. Why bother raising prices on what has to be a small percentage of customers, especially long-standing ones?

If you want to be economical, you can't get lured into complacency.

The answer is that AT&T would prefer not to have any customers with unlimited data at all, at least not unless they’re also bundled its DirecTV or U-Verse service with their wireless plans. And so the price hikes are meant to get customers with grandfathered plans like mine to switch to tiered data plans. Instead, by trying to get an extra $5 out of me now, AT&T is actually going to lose $1,200 over the next year. AT&T better hope its finance people did its math right, because I bet I’m not the only one who feels this way.

At this point, you might argue that I should have switched my plan years ago; you're probably right. But until recently, I liked knowing that I could use 15GB or more of data in a month without completely blowing up my bill. Also, I don't really want to know how much I still owe on my phone, and I really prefer not to spend the better part of a weekend at various wireless stores trying to close my account and set up a new one.  

It's a harsh lesson to learn, but AT&T’s price hike turns out to be a good reminder on how to be a smart consumer. If you want to be economical or try to influence the market by voting with your wallet, you can't get lured into complacency. Finding deals takes a bit of effort, and but in the end, it's worth it.

Picking a New Carrier

So where do I go next, especially since I have no plans to downgrade to a tiered data package with AT&T? After continual price hikes without the addition of new features or services from AT&T, I'd rather give a new carrier a chance.

Verizon is an obvious contender. It regularly gets top marks for coverage, speed and reliability. But like AT&T, it's also expensive. Overall, Big Red has the priciest phone plans out of the big four carriers. Also, as someone who is constantly checking out new phones, I can't afford to be saddled with a CDMA network that doesn't play nice with half the handsets that come in for review.

Sprint is another option, one that’s probably on a lot of people's minds due to the company’s recent advertising blitz claiming its reliability is approaching that of Verizon's. But you know what? It isn't, at least not in the New York City area. Sprint has definitely made major improvements in coverage in data speed around here over the past couple years, but it’s still lagging a decent ways behind AT&T, Verizon and especially T-Mobile. And like Verizon, Sprint uses CDMA wireless bands, while also having a significantly more limited phone lineup.

That leaves T-Mobile and its recently revamped T-Mobile One plan, which offers unlimited data for $70 a month on one line. (That assumes a $5 monthly savings by enrolling in automatic payments, by the way.) Starting Jan 24. T-Mobile will get rid of  surcharges and taxes and instead roll everything into one easy-to-understand $70 bill, which seems like something I can get behind.

MORE: What to Know About the T-Mobile One Plan

On top of that, T-Mobile uses a GSM network, which means its SIM cards are easy to pop into phones from Europe or Asia. In New York, T-Mobile has some of the best data speeds I've seen, and I should know because I tested it myself.

Still, I have some reservations. Like my old unlimited plan, T-Mobile One isn't truly unlimited either. After using 28GB of data in a billing period, there's a chance T-Mobile may throttle data speeds, although those in less congested areas have less of a risk. Additionally, while T-Mobile promises unlimited data, unless you pay an extra $15 for a month for its One+ plan, video quality from its Binge-on feature caps out at 480p when using 4G LTE. Finally, while T-Mobile's One plan does include Wi-Fi tethering by default, data maxes out at 3G speeds unless you shell out another $10 a month for One+ International (which also includes unlimited international calling in a handful of countries).

T-Mobile is dropping surcharges and taxes, instead rolling everything into one easy-to-understand bill.

Ultimately, if I choose to go with all the bells and whistles with T-Mobile One, I get about the same amount of data as on my AT&T plan, plus Wi-Fi tethering and high-quality mobile video for $95 a month. That’s almost $20 less than what I'm paying right now, but with more features. And if I stay with just the standard One plan, I can cut my bill by over 35 percent, a figure that would make even Geico jealous. I still get my 26GBs of high-speed data, too.

Aside from the Big Four, the only other carrier I would consider is Project Fi. I really like Fi's simple billing system: Plans start at $20 a month, extra lines cost another $15, and then you pay $10 a month for every GB of data you use over your initial 2GB allotment. You even get a credit back if you stay if you less than your 2GB a month (something that T-Mobile has recently added to its One plan).

On top of that, Project Fi works automatically in more than 135 different countries. (T-Mobile promises unlimited calls to mobile lines in 30-plus countries, though it supports unlimited texting and data in 140). That makes worrying about coverage while abroad with Project Fi pretty much a non-issue. Really, the only thing holding me back is that Project Fi only works with three phones: the Pixel (regular or XL), the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X. So even though all three are great phones, that caveat is just too limiting for my needs.

The Last Word

So congratulations, T-Mo, you're about to get a new customer soon, though it's with some hesitation. If I didn't feel like AT&T was actively trying to push me out the door, I may have continued to overpay for my wireless plan for another year or so. But everyone has their breaking point, and this is mine.

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).

  • Ricktron3000
    I switched from Verizon about 2 years ago, the coverage is definitely not as good but I wouldn't go back them for any reason. I occasionally drop calls and there are certain buildings around Mesa/Tempe, AZ that push me into emergency only but this is the price I pay to not be raked over the coals by Big Red.

    I've never felt like a "number" more then when trying to deal with Verizon Wireless, every year we had less and less benefits. I was grandfathered into their unlimited data package but year after year we saw more and more fees and higher costs to keep the old plan. When we paid off our phones and wanted to upgrade, "New every two," we found that the program barely existed anymore. Our options, after being an 8 year customer, were a $50 credit toward a new device. Total garbage and even more so if you knew how much we were paying them a month... insane that we didn't switch sooner TBH.
  • Milkmahn
    I'm using a tmobile mvno called nettalk connect when I signed up they had a promo it was 6 months 25$ then 40$ for unlimited talk text and data 10 gig lte and all binge on perks like unlimited 480p YouTube netflix Google play music wifi calling and hotspots. I'm on month 7 and loving it. I also had project fi while it was cheap the 2g data limit had me always checking my usage.
  • Thatisandwas
    The absolute best speeds I get with tmobile on my v20 are only 5mbps. I can't even stream video on my lunch break. I'd be very careful. I live in Charlotte too so it's not like I'm out in the middle of nowhere.
  • NightbladeXX
    I've had TMobile since 2007. I've been happy with them. I've have never had an issue with calling customer service. I enjoy being able to get a new phone every 6 months, I'm an original Jump! user, even tho I usually only upgrade every year.
    I've had an ATT, Sprint/Nextel, and Verizon work phones, and honestly they all have their dead spots. TMO has more in rural Wisconsin but seems like someone using the other three has issues too. So whomever is working we tether off of theirs if they can tether.
    I like how TMO is pushing the industry competitively.
    I live 50 miles west of Chicago out in the cornfields and I just did a speed test
    22 Mbps down and 12 up
    Better than my cable or DSL connections
  • rgd1101
    19148912 said:
    The absolute best speeds I get with tmobile on my v20 are only 5mbps. I can't even stream video on my lunch break. I'd be very careful. I live in Charlotte too so it's not like I'm out in the middle of nowhere.

    you think you are the only one to steam video on your lunch break? and in a high populated area, mean there a lot of user sharing
  • g4cube
    Articles like this should have:

    1. original price per month when plan started, it's limits for minutes, texts, and data, along with the carrier
    2. price now per month, with it's limits for minutes, texts, and data, along with the carrier
    3. when comparing to other alternatives today, also indicate what one gets for minutes, texts, and data, along with the cost per month

    Yes, there is always the caveat that coverage depends on location.

    Yes, there is always the possibility for discounts via employer, professional organization, or trade-up incentives.
  • David_569
    I'm betting with the new business climate, we'll start seeing some competition between these hoodlums we call cell phone companies. It would certainly seem that they are in cahoots as they have never tried to undercut each other, because if they actually did, we'd be paying 15 bucks a month for unlimited everything.
  • seenhear
    You're misinformed on a couple points re. Project Fi. First, the $20/mo base rate includes zero data. While you're required to sign up for a minimum of 1gb of data, it's essentially just billed at $0.10/MB above and beyond your $20 base rate, since if you use less data than you sign up for, the unused portion is refunded back to you. But to be clear, there's no "included 2GB" in the $20 base rate. Second, your Project Fi sim card will work in pretty much any GSM phone, but it will work just like a T-mobile phone in that case, so far as reception is concerned. So if you put your Fi sim into an iPhone for example, you'll only connect to t-mobile towers, not to any CDMA towers (even though the iPhone may be a cdma-compatible version). Third, project fi also works on the Nexus 6 (the 2-year old Motorola behemoth) and will work on any future Pixel models. As I see it, for someone like you, the only reason NOT to go with Project Fi, is the cost of the data. If you use more than about 6GB/month, there are plans with Sprint, T-Mo, ATT, and VZW that are more economical. At less than 5-6GB of data per month, Project Fi is the way to go. They have a 30-day trial period. You might want to just give it a try and see if you can keep your data usage down. Their integration of wifi is surprisingly good. Most people see their data usage drop significantly without changing their habits.
  • C_S_Walsh
    I switched last September -- we're a family with four phones and the data overages were killing me. Best thing about T-Mobile is the bill is exactly what it is supposed to be month in and month out. Had to get new phones, but even with that, the price is $50 less than what I was paying AT&T. Coverage is not as good, and there's some odd wifi / cellular handoff at home, but I wouldn't go back if AT&T paid me.
  • Eric D
    I've been with T-Mobile seems like forever, and I am a happy camper. I think basically T-Mobile is just a good company, and AT&T, Verizon are not, they want all of your money that they can get their hands on. I do like getting the new model of the Samsung Galaxy when it comes out, so I stay very current on my hardware.