I find the state of cellphone bills to be a little beyond the pale in 2012.
In order to have the latest and greatest phones a person has to have over a $100 per month contract for 2 years and pay up front up to $300. The smart buy is to purchase the phone outright and go off contract, but let’s face it, $300 is much easier to come up with on the spot than $700, and you really aren’t getting your service any cheaper. While I suppose we can expect this sort of thing for a must have item where it is a seller’s market, it prices many average consumers out of the market or creates a real burden for the user, especially if they are tied into a 2 year contract.
Fortunately, the state of affairs in the prepaid market is much better than even a year ago. I can find a dual core, 4.3 inch qHD phone running ICS (Android 4.0.3) for $300 up front on Virgin Mobile. To top it off the basic plan is $35 a month for 300 minutes, but honestly most people will need more than that, so it is fairer to say that you can have decent phone service at the $45 1200 minute plan or $55 for unlimited. The saving range from hundreds of dollars to thousands verses a two year contract, plus Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint tower network so you have a good coverage area to work with. However, you do not have roaming, so on those odd occasions in the boonies you may end up with no service. For most people this is simply not a problem thankfully.
So what do you get for an Unlimited plan at $55? Unlimited minutes are really unlimited. Text SMS and MMS are truly unlimited. The only spot it gets hazy is with data. The first 2.5 GB is full speed, but beyond that limit you are taken down to a fairly slow speed until your next month or you pay for another month. This is very little data but all the cellphone carriers have decided to limit bandwidth to very small caps, so using your cellphone as a mobile media consumption device isn’t going to happen any time in the near future, and they all cap at roughly the same limit in similar plans. My guess is the next network to offer 5 GB before throttling will gain many users, and being a happy customer of Virgin Mobile I hope it is them. To go out on a limb I would say that the first carrier to enable it’s users to use data without having to think much about WiFi will be the future market leader if they can manage not to price themselves too high. Most technophiles I think would pay an extra $10 for a 5 or 10 GB limit above a $55 prepaid plan given how cheap it would be compared to the competition, and there is no reason to assume that many technorati are not using a prepaid service already. Granted the best phones are on postpaid but the majority of people passionate about cellphones and the digital age are also very intelligent and can see the benefit of having a cellphone bill one third to one half as large as less literate consumers. Phones like the HTC Evo V 4G make a prepaid operator a viable option for people who want an upscale phone while maintaining a low financial footprint on their wallet.
The biggest mistake VM makes is to have generally low end phones, the more high end phones they have the more they will stand out from the competition. Some other prepaid carriers are offering the Galaxy S II at $350 and this is the future of prepaid I believe: high end phones with high initial upfront costs but a very low monthly bill.
Given the option many young people will pay to have a phone they can show off to their friends, and this same demographic that is just entering the workforce or going to college are looking for any way to cut costs, making prepaid a contender for their patronage. The same hold true for many middle class Americans who in the last few years have had to deal with the new reality of lower wages and higher consumer prices, and as they work their way into cellphones just as they did computers, carriers will have to satisfy cunning and experienced consumers who will easily see the benefit in long term savings.
Being disabled myself I think I should put something in here about the lowest income earners who generally cannot afford postpaid phones or plans. Many of us have quite a lot of disposable time and one of the few bright spots in our lives is our technology we use. We also tend to be a little spendy on luxury items when we put our minds to it. I have purchased many feature phones and 2 VM smartphones alone both costing over $200. While I am a confessed technophile I know of a number of friends who are either smartphone users or planning to order one once their contract runs out. Yes: even disabled people on a fixed income have postpaid contracts, so any prepaid carrier that can offer trendy phones will win a significant number of disabled subscribers ,who are more likely to pay for the top tier of service.
We have to deal with social workers over the phone and many of us are highly supervised so even 1200 minutes could be too little for a disabled person, not even counting the personal use of the phone. This, by the way, is the most ignored demographic in America: the disabled community. It is quite sizable, and tapping into this market is perhaps the most fulfilling way to guarantee long term customers, since disabled people are very loyal to entities that treat them well and help them with their need to communicate as much as normal persons.
Anyone who is serious about their personal technology will have a cellphone, and many of these are looking for a cost effective way to look and be smart. I recommend Virgin Mobile but have reservations on their top line of phones with the exception of the Htc Evo V 4G. Please take the time to look into this service since the quality is comparable to Sprint’s postpaid service and at the price can’t be beat. Make sure to ask someone who uses VM in the place you live if they have 4G, since the coverage map for my town, at least, doesn’t show 4G when in fact the service exists here. I can’t remember having a dropped call, and with 4G and recent high end models of phones I am not missing out on any major technological advances.
So why pay two or three times as much money for the same service? It just doesn’t make sense.