Contract Free At Last!

I took off the handcuffs this year.  You know:  the ones Verizon, ATT and others supply to us consumers. Most of us have had them on so long we hardly know they are there at all.  In fact, these handcuffs seem more like cuff links to most of us.  Here’s how they work:

First, the wireless carrier markets the heck out of the latest feature rich smart phone, offering it to consumers at a bargain price.  To get the bargain price, however, the consumer must sign a two year agreement for service, otherwise the phone bears a retail price 3 to 4 times as much as the contract price.  We all figure, what the heck, we need service anyway, so let’s do it!

Four to six months before your two year contract is up, your carrier surprises you with update eligibility!  You can trade your now stale smart phone for a shiny new one that is even more feature rich!  And you can get a bargain priced deal on it too . . . if you re-up your agreement for another two years.  Because we love NEW and because our own self-esteem is somehow intrinsically tied to the firepower of the phone in our pocket, we gladly take the deal . . . and willingly keep the handcuffs on.

Let’s be logical:  let’s look at the numbers.  Right now, Verizon is offering the IPhone 5s for $199 with a two year agreement OR you can buy the phone without the agreement for $649.  So, in theory, they are subsidizing your phone purchase to the tune of $450.  However, you can bet Verizon doesn’t pay $649 for an IPhone.  My guess is their cost is somewhere near $400.  So in reality, your subsidy is probably closer to $200, spread out over a two year contract – less than $9 a month.  An unlimited talk-text plan with an ample data allotment with Verizon will come in at about $120 a month.  So for a $200 subsidy, Verizon gets a contract worth almost $3,000!  A pretty good deal (for Verizon).

My wrists were starting to chafe on the handcuffs I’d had on for, oh, a dozen years, when my upgrade date came up last year.  I had a really good smartphone (the HTC Rezound), and didn’t feel I was missing anything by not upgrading, so I didn’t.

Instead, I let my Verizon contract run its course and expire. Then I went to the Google Play Store and bought a Google Nexus 4 phone – which was on sale at the time – for about $250.  This is not a subsidized phone:  I own it outright.  And it is a great phone – far superior to the one I was using.

I then looked around for a carrier with an affordable plan for my new phone.  I settled on T-Mobile who has a $50 a month unlimited plan for people who own their phones.  I have seen no difference in the service, coverage, speed, etc and I’m saving $70 a month – almost $1,700 over the next two years.  And, because I am not under contract with T-Mobile, I am free to jump to any other carrier who may have a better plan at any time.

Most US phones are CDMA phones.  We don’t have to go into the technology here, What’s important is that CDMA phones pretty much only function in the US.  The rest of the world has embraced a different cellular technology:  GSM.  My Google Nexus 4 is a GSM phone.  So when I went to Mexico a few months ago, I simply walked into a Mexican TelCel store and bought a GSM card for my Google phone.  The cost was about $10.  Then I charged the card up with $25 worth of talk and data time and, bingo:  I had an affordable, functioning phone in Mexico.  When I crossed back into the states at San Ysidro, I simply took out the TelCel card and put my T-Mobile card back in – and only lost a minute or so of connectivity.  You can’t do that with your CDMA phone.

Yes, I am very pleased with my new handcuff free cellular existence!  And, one of the coolest things about this new world, is its purity.  When you take a subsidized phone from almost any carrier, it comes loaded up with the carriers own proprietary junk. These are apps and tweaks to the phone’s operating system that you cannot remove or disable without wiping it out and starting from scratch.

My phone is a pure Android phone.  It has the operating system on it, un-altered, as Mother Google intended.  It has no junk from Verizon or ATT or HTC or Samsung installed over the operating system.  And you know what?  It S C R E A M S:  it is lightning fast and responsive.  The difference is noticeable and remarkable.

As you near the end of your current cellular contract, I urge you look around.  Check out unlocked smartphones direct from the manufacturer.  Check out no-contract, pay-as-you-go plans, and make a smart choice.  I know you hardly notice those handcuffs anymore, but trust me:  they’re really not attractive on you.

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