MVNO’s Save You Money At A Cost

You’ve seen the ads, $40 for unlimited talk, text and data or is it $50? Wait, they both say “unlimited data”? Then the little asterisk shows up… First 250MB at 4G, or first 2.5GB at 4G. Either way, for most users, these plans are dirt cheap. Taka a family of 5 that switches from Verizon’s $310 a month Family Share plans over to prepaid MVNO that will cost $200-250 a month, the savings is between $500-1000 a year! The MVNO’s are a great deal, but when you decide to make the move to Simple Mobile, Spot Mobile or another of the T-Mobile MVNO’s, there are some things you have to give up, and here they are.

1) Data Monitoring: One of the biggest issues that people experience with T-Mobile MVNO’s is the lack of data monitoring. Sure, you have that unlimited plan, but what if you want to know how much of your ‘4G’ data you have used? T-Mobile has no system in place for the MVNO’s to tell you how much data you have used. This isn’t a huge problem for many, but if you are a lover of all things streaming, that 2G throttled connection won’t play well with your Pandora stream.

2) No Short Code SMS: People use short code SMS for banking, entering radio contests, sports scores and a billion other things. Of course, those cut rate plans have to have some sort of negative service aspects built in to keep the costs low, and this is one of them. Sorry, there is no short code support with the T-Mobile MVNO services. All you’ll see when you text in to win that $1000 from the local radio station is, “Unable to send message – Message blocking is active.”

3) Smaller Coverage Area: For those that live in a metropolitan area, disregard this section, but for those on the outskirts, read this carefully… Your coverage map is VERY different from the normal T-Mobile coverage map. In fact, if you look at the T-Mobile Map, make sure to look at any areas where ‘Roaming Partners’ are located and figure you have about a 5% chance of having any coverage there. Also, zoom in on the coverage maps and make sure you have at least a strong 2G signal where you use your phone. If you don’t, you can forget about making those calls in doors.

4) Lower Quality Customer Service: Let’s just put this in a nice way. If you are used to paying $100 a month for a single line and you head over to option B and pay $40, where do you figure they cut that $60 from? That’s right, support. For the average user, the cell phone store is somewhere they go once or twice a year. Many don’t even hit the store until they are due for an upgrade, but if you are one that hangs out there just to find out how to load a ringtone on your phone, MVNO’s can be a bit dangerous. The majority of MVNO’s don’t have dedicated stores and their customer service lines are staffed by folks that just read a binder and open a trouble ticket for you. Again, until you have a problem, MNVO service is just as good as your major carrier service. Just remember, that $60 a month is $1500 over the course of that 2 year deal. Maybe that’s worth a bit of a drop in customer service to you too.

5) Unlocked Phone Support: All the MVNO’s say the same thing, “Bring your unlocked GSM phone to us and SAVE!” What they failed to mention is that you need to have a phone with the proper frequencies to use that high speed network. The majority of the country still does not have T-Mobile 4G speeds on the 1900MHz bands. This would be the common frequency for those unlocked phones to use. The other issue is that the devices need to have an HSPA+42 radio system to take advantage of those 4G speeds. Too many of the older unlocked phones have an HSPA+ radio that runs at 7MBps down or maybe 14Mbps. Again, for the average user, these speeds will be more than adequate, but for the ones coming from Verizon or AT&T LTE service, it’s like going from cable broadband back to a slower DSL connection. Make sure the phones you pick out either operate on the 1700/2100 AWS bands or that your area has the 1900MHz rollout completed before you buy. Your download speeds will thank you.

As you can see, the world of T-Mobile MVNO’s is far from perfect. If you remember that your phone is first and foremost a phone, the service will be wonderful. If you fall in to the trap of measuring an MVNO against its home carrier though, you will end up a bit disappointed. There is no way that a company can bring the service of a $125-150 a month plan to users that are paying a quarter of that. That said, not many people need the services that are included in that bill. Services like mobile TV, streaming carrier sponsored music, exclusive weather apps and the like are all gaps that are easily filled with mobile content and services like Netflix, Pandora and Weather Bug. There was a time and a place for Sprint TV, Vcast Music and the exclusive weather access, but that time has come and gone. Now it’s about lowering expenses in a tough economy without losing the functionality of the devices that keep life organized. Is it a perfect world when we cut our expenses? No, but the savings easily out pace the lack of a few perks.

As far as the MVNO’s go for T-Mobile, we highly recommend Spot Mobile and their $40  unlimited talk, text and 500MB 4G data plan or Simple Mobile and their $50 ‘unlimited’ 4G data plan. We quoted ‘unlimited’ because the Terms Of Service and Acceptable Use Policy really restrict what you can use the data for quite heavily, so it really doesn’t seem like an ‘unlimited’ plan at that pricing, but it’s still a great value. Another option is to use Net10 or Straight Talk from Wal-Mart to get rolling on the savings plan. Remember that $40 a month plan costs you under $500 a year! Some people spend that in a few months instead of a whole year.

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