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?
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.
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).
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.