Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gordon vs. AT&T iPhone war - Conclusion

Twenty-seven days ago I declared war on AT&T Mobile.

The war is done - for now. At this time I've slashed the amount of money we send AT&T, gotten a new 4S for me, ported away a sweet local phone number, and AT&T's "Executive Response Team" has been phoning me about a letter from the Minnesota State Attorney General.

I am geek, hear me roar.

Yes, even as you read this AT&T is licking its wounds, cowering in the corner.

It wasn't easy. I had to, for example, spend way too much time figuring out the microeconomics of the US iPhone marketplace and how AT&T's response to the end of SMS is killing SMS. Painful - but revenge usually is.

My revenge is not quite complete, however. I still need to summarize what I did, so you too can take revenge. My response was crafted around our family plan, but elements of it could work for any plan. Here were all the things I did and, briefly, why. There are more details in the links and below.

  • We dropped child #2 from our family plan. He wasn't interested in phoning or texting - he wanted email, games and videos. We were paying $10 (plus taxes and fees) monthly for his plan and we'd have stuck with that, but AT&T's mandatory data plan for out-of-contract smartphones was going to make his cost $25/month. Too much.
  • I liked child #2's easy to remember mobile number -- any my corporate Google Voice number was non-local (they no longer have MSP numbers). So I ported #2's number to Google Voice. Cheap at $20; I suspect AT&T puts more value on its numbers than that.
  • I got a new 4S (more below), so phones moved around and child #2 ended up with iMessage and Facebook Messenger for texting with WiFI.
  • Child #1 was stuck with the data plan, but thinking through iPhone Microeconomics it was clear I should use his off-contract $15/month data plan [2] to get a highly subsidized iPhone [1] that would facilitate iMessage use. He was eligible through our family plan and his voice rate did not increase. I could have been short-term cheap and gotten a 3GS, but a 4S has a longer lifespan and the camera and other features were worth the cost to me. I got the 4S, he got an old 3GS.
  • I dropped our family plan from 1400 to 700 minutes. With Child #2 off the plan, and using GV at work to decrease my use of the iPhone for business, this was not hard to do.
  • I dropped our $30/month family texting and any-mobile plan. This was the big cut, but looking at usage patterns it was clear that with iMessage and Facebook Messenger we'd pay less than $10 a month even at 20 cents/message.
  • We were paying for SmartLimits for Wireless. I studied it and realized it was useless for an iPhone.
  • We were paying for a Canada Calling service -- but I almost always use Google Voice to call Canada (saves me $1300 a year). Canceled that. [3]
  • Emily and I had $30/month unlimited data plans - but we never come close to even 2GB. Emily is often under 200, and I'm always under 1GB. That's $10/month we don't need to spend - $240 over tow years. We dropped to 2GB plans. Emily may go to 200MB in time.

We've saved several hundred dollars and picked up a new 4S. You can do something similar. Start by dropping that expensive texting plan.

Now to figure out what to do with our increasingly junky home phone ...

See also:

[1] The 3GS costs $1 with a contract. AT&T gets a portion of a data plan to cover the rest of what it owes Apple. A $15 data plan doesn't leave much margin for AT&T to pay Apple, so this is a highly subsidized phone.
[2] He uses about 100MB at most, usually less. We monitor with Dataman Pro, Safari and YouTube are parental control disabled. iTunes video samples is his main data drain, if that increases I'll disable iTunes - but he does well.
[3] To AT&T's credit, it's now easy to add and remove services from their web site and the accounting seems fair.

Update 3/4/2012: H2O wireless turns out to be a cheap way to add voice/SMS service for light use: Gordon's Tech: Pay-as-you-go voice and SMS service for a contract-free AT&T iPhone with H2O Wireless

Update 3/18/2012: Months after I make this change, I realize I have no SMS service at all! I didn't notice because most of my texting is via iMessage. Turns out I've been missing friend's texts, and my own infrequent texts have gone missing. No error messages of course, everything just goes into the ether. It appears when AT&T removed our unlimited messaging plan, they forgot to add in a transactional plan. I wonder if that was once automatic, and has only recently become an opt-in plan. I added it in, and now MyAT& lists text use; I'd wondered why that wasn't included earlier.

Moral of the story: Even AT&T is overwhelmed by the complexity of its mobile plans -- so test everything!

1 comment:

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