Mobile Carriers 2.0 (Why Is This So Hard?)

My contract with my mobile carrier expires in two weeks.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve already been inundated with offers for *this* upgrade, *that* plan, and *the other* deal—all of which (of course) require my signature on a 24-month dotted line.  I think that the day has come such that my response can be a polite, “No, thank you.”

There are many things that I could complain about in terms of the Big Four mobile carriers.  But I’ll keep it simple:  I’m tired of paying such a large monthly bill for relatively little service.  Thankfully, lots of MVNOs have sprung up over the past couple of years, providing a much needed breath of fresh mobile air.

On my journey to find a next-generation carrier to better suit my needs, here are some things that I’ve carefully weighed—and you should too.


On these below items, I simply won’t budge.

No contract.  I’m done with this.  Contracts made sense when mobile technology was an emerging market.  And that age has passed.  I view contracts as a way of preventing healthy competition in a sluggish technological market.  If a carrier can’t keep me as a customer for a long period of time, then maybe they’re doing something wrong…

Free roaming.  America’s mobile networks have developed far enough such that I shouldn’t need to care to whose network I’m connected.  My phone should work everywhere (within reason), and without artificial boundaries.  Note that “free roaming” differs from “no roaming”.  Don’t try to pull that on me.

  • Update 2014-Nov-21:  After learning more about how carriers bill each other for data roaming (~30x the cost of non-roaming data), it’s not surprising to see most MVNOs moving away from free roaming.  I guess it’s more of a “negotiable” that I’d like it to be.  :(

Really Important

These are the criteria that I feel pretty strongly about.

No frills.  Generally speaking, give me what I’m paying for.  Keep your programs.  Don’t bill me for things that I don’t use.  Explain to me (in plain language) all of the taxes/surcharges I’m being charged.

Device options.  In terms of what device I can use on your network, I’d like the freedom to do one of three things:

  1. Bring my own device
  2. Purchase an unlocked device outright from the carrier
  3. Lease-to-own an unlocked device.  In this scenario, my monthly bill include an charge until my phone is paid off.  Once the phone is paid off, the charge should disappear.  (What a concept!)

Unlimited, unlimited, unlimited.  Voice, text, and data.  Not hard.  I don’t mind if you put controls in place to keep people from abusing the system (in fact, I actually appreciate that).  Once the threshold has been reached, I prefer the option of throttling over capping.  A smartphone without access to any data at the end of the billing cycle is, well, not a smartphone.

I don’t underestimate the psychology of unlimited usage:  I’ll be forced to use my phone much differently if I know that I have a limit (hard or soft).  This is especially true for those of us who don’t have a home phone.

LTE.  This ties into the previous point.  I’d like the ability to use a few bandwidth-hogging apps from time to time.  I promise, I won’t abuse it.


These items start to add some polish.

GSM.  Somehow, Sprint and Verizon have been able to keep CDMA alive.  Forget that the rest of the world (literally) uses a superior technology.  However, if my carrier lets me BYOD, and my device happens to be CDMA, it would be nice if somehow they could make that work (roaming agreement?).

No carrier-imposed lockdowns.  A pet peeve of mine:  My carrier grants me “unlimited” data; my phone supports tethering; and my carrier has prevented my phone from tethering.  This is one of a few common games that carriers play, and I don’t like it one bit.

Free international roaming.  I understand that making international calls costs more.  However, if I fly to Canada for the weekend, please don’t charge me exorbitantly for that lolcat picture mail that someone sent me.


As long as I have this soapbox…

Vanilla OS installation.  Manufacturers, please don’t install your own versions of popular apps, and hope that I accidentally use yours instead.  Worse, please don’t prevent me from uninstalling your terrible apps.  Carriers, I don’t really care about what “news” you feel is worth pushing as a notification to me.  Shut it.

Rooting/jail-breaking.  One of the big reason carriers don’t like their customers to load their own firmware is that it takes away their control over their customers’ phone, features, and experience.  Those things should be controlled by the customer, not the carrier.

Option for WiFi calling/texting.  I suppose there’s no real need for this in an unlimited/unlimited/unlimited scenario; however, I think the technology is really cool.  Besides, why am I paying for Internet access twice?

Further Reading

A few months ago, Ars posted a great article answering Where should I go if I’m looking for cheap smartphone service?  Good read.

Do Your Homework

If you’re starting to lose faith in your carrier, take a look around.  You might just like what you see.

For those ready to make the jump, here’s a calculator that I put together.  It’s view-only, so you’ll need to make your own copy to make changes.  Just plug in your own usage into the gray boxes.

Note:  The formulas used therein are from September 2014, and I don’t plan on updating them going forward. Feel free to build on my work.


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