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Communications Cellphones The Almighty Buck

Crunching the Numbers On Shared Cellphone Contracts 91

Posted by timothy
from the we-plan-to-rip-off-your-family dept.
itwbennett writes "The Wall Street Journal has a handy online calculator to help you sort out which phone plan is best for you. But one thing you'll notice is that shared or 'family' plans rarely offer any real savings, or benefits beyond the convenience of having a single bill, says blogger Kevin Purdy, who is bracing himself to propose a phone plan separation with his wife."
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Crunching the Numbers On Shared Cellphone Contracts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:22PM (#44527561)
    That calculator leaves out the MVNOs which are decidedly cheaper. The one that comes to mind is Bandwidth.com's Republic Wireless which offers unlimited data, texting and voice No Contract for either $19/month or $29 month, depending on how you purchase their phone. (Using the WSJ calculator, the next closest price I could find for unlimited data was T-Mobile at $70/month) The main catch is that you have to buy a specific phone--the Motorola DEFY XT, which again, depending on the plan you choose is going to be either $199 or $99. They have a special feature that I think is quite interesting--probably all of the carriers should allow this--you can connect to a WiFi and use that to make or receive calls--this is a good idea for bad reception areas and basements. The phone itself seems to be okay. Its reviewed well, but it is a bit outdated. At least it is a durable, waterproof phone though. Reviews for the phone and for Republic Wireless seem to be quite good over all. Here are a couple of the best ones that I have seen: A customer review http://longmeadcrossing.com/republicWireless.htm [longmeadcrossing.com] Time Magazine Review: http://business.time.com/2013/02/22/the-19-per-month-smartphone-is-actually-getting-decent-reviews/ [time.com]
    • by metalmaster (1005171) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:49PM (#44527709)
      The "wifi first" aspect of the service is what makes it so cheap. The more minutes you use over wifi the less time republic has to lease from it's provider. That looks great on paper.....really great! But then you have to look at the state of wifi these days, and more specifically secured wifi. You can only piggyback your calls from an open wifi connection or one you have a password/login to use. More and more homes and small businesses are using passphrases to secure their network. Even if that password is "password" it does you no good when you drive by and the network declines you access and passes your call to the cell network.
      • by evilviper (135110)

        You can only piggyback your calls from an open wifi connection or one you have a password/login to use.

        Yes, but presumably you have a valid password for use on wifi at your home, and hopefully your work as well. That should cover the OVERWHELMING majority of calls and data usage you make/receive, and is the amount of coverage Republic asks you to have before signing up.

        Your access to WiFi APs when out shopping or whatever is neither here nor there, as you've still got full cellular service for all those in

    • by Phreakiture (547094) on Friday August 09, 2013 @10:48PM (#44528031) Homepage

      The calculator is also wrong.

      According to this calculator, I should be paying $210/month before any taxes and fees, with my particular carrier and profile. I am, in fact, paying $140 after all taxes and fees. Given that it provides incorrect information for what I know, I don't feel I can trust it to provide me correct information for comparison purposes.

      • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday August 09, 2013 @11:21PM (#44528207)

        The calculator is also wrong.

        According to this calculator, I should be paying $210/month before any taxes and fees, with my particular carrier and profile. I am, in fact, paying $140 after all taxes and fees. Given that it provides incorrect information for what I know, I don't feel I can trust it to provide me correct information for comparison purposes.

        Do you have a current plan or are you grandfathered in to a better plan that's no longer available?

        My current rate plan is cheaper than what the calculator gave, but when I compared to a new plan on the carrier's website, it matched.

        • It might be a grandfathered plan. I haven't really paid it that much attention recently. I will say, though, that at one point in the past, i strung them along for four years on a grandfathered plan with unlimited data (slow by today's standards - 144k) and a tetherable phone . . . that was around 2001-2005.

    • MVNOs are only cheaper if you're barely using the phone in question. If you're in for heavy usage of any aspect of the phone, they tend to get more and more expensive the heavier your usage becomes. The cheapest and fairest pre-paid plan I've found is one from US Cellular, but that's applicable if you need a dumbphone. Smartphone users should look at T-Mobile if they have an unlocked or unlockable GSM phone hanging around. I'm paying T-Mobile 50$/mo for unlimited everything on my Galaxy S3.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Seumas (6865)

        I dunno, I would call a couple thousand text messages and at least a couple thousand minutes of voice per month for around $50 to be pretty damn decent. My Sprint plan was more than $50/mo and I only got something like 1,000 minutes and zero texts. And if I didn't use all of those minutes, it was just tough shit. The MVNO I have been with the last two years can give me 2,000 texts and 2,000 minutes for cheaper than the Sprint plan and if I use less than that, I just don't have to pay for it. The months wher

      • Switched to an MVNO (Voyager Mobile) and it ended up costing $39 + Taxes and fees (which were substatinal) but still ended up being $48 for unlimited everything. For a two line family plan I was paying $144 a month (with limited minutes, unlimited everything else).

        The one catch is that the MVNO has *no* roaming off it's network (which also happens to be Sprint) and of course no phone subsidies, though you can activate a good Sprint phone.

        I figured the subsidy at about $300 per line per 2 years of contract

    • by Seumas (6865)

      Yep... even if I didn't use a single minute of time on my Sprint plan, it ran $50/mo or more. That doesn't include any data or any texts. I had to have it just a slightly big enough plan, in case I needed to use it a bit more one month than usual, for work. I really hated eating $50/mo for nothing.

      Then I saw an ad for ting.com, which uses Sprint on the backend. My average phone bill has been $12/mo for the last two years (and that includes using phone and texting). And if I need to use a lot more one month

    • by kilodelta (843627)
      And then of course there's me, two phones unlimited voice, data on MetroPCS. $100 per month. So all of the plans shown are $50 or more expensive. And no contract. The big carriers wonder why they can't entice people with their plans? Maybe they should buy a clue.

      But then T-Mobil now OWNS MetroPCS so I wonder how long before I'm switched to the $150 a month plan. I do hear that they don't plan to merge the two networks but we've all heard that song before ala Nextel.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      They have a special feature that I think is quite interesting--probably all of the carriers should allow this--you can connect to a WiFi and use that to make or receive calls--this is a good idea for bad reception areas and basements.

      Not only CAN you, they EXPECT you to do that, and will send you a nasty letter if you don't. T-Mobile has the same feature on most smartphones, but they won't kick you for not using it. And that method has some issues... Republic says your call won't get dropped when you wa

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Cable MSO's have been robbing people blind for years by bundling all their crap together. Looks like the wireless company management finally caught on.
  • Republic wireless for one/two phones or heavy usage. Ting if three or more moderate usage. Using ting I'm paying 56 a month for as the sole phone for 3 people, replaced a sprint 3 phone family plan that after all the hidden taxes fee's etc .was about 160. Sure I had to buy phones but they have low end droids for less than most carriers monthly fee. My nexus 4 was 4 ish months of savings and this is before you could port cheap refurbished sprint phones..

    • by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf@yaho o . c om> on Friday August 09, 2013 @10:22PM (#44527897)
      I use ting.com too. I realize silas_moeckel and I are going to come across as shills, but Ting is supremely cheap provided A. you don't use tons of data ( much past 2GB of data use and Ting doesn't save you money versus the other carriers) and B. you live in an area where Sprint reception doesn't suck, since Ting uses their network.
      • Lets not forget included tethering sprint wanted like 50 bucks to tether and it was only wifi and that is per phone. Ting I can tether wifi or bluetooth no added charge. My nexus 7 hooks up via bluetooth whenever it's not in wifi range. Mind you this was a few years back before I switched things may have changed.

        Added ting bonus is the best customer support I've had since Nextel was business only. There heritage of being from tucows really shows, little things like a tech with a clue picking up on the 2

        • Thanks. I'll check republic wireless out. I have kids old enough for cell phones soon, I think ting might be ideal.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Seumas (6865)

        It's hard not to sound like a shill for Ting, after you've dealt with traditional cell providers for so long. When you finally find one that has great prices, treats you like an important customer, has real people helping you (and fast) and eliminates all the bullshit gimmicks and fees and everything else . . . well, it's hard not to get over-excited when you try to show other people that they can jump off the shit-train of Sprint/Verizon/AT&T and so on.

        (Also, you'll notice that I'm such a fan of Ting t

        • by Seumas (6865)

          Oh, and if you want to save $25 on your phone or service at Ting, use the link below. This has NOTHING to do with me. This is a link from This Week In Computer Hardware with Ryan Shrout on the TWiT network which I also have nothing to do with (other than I subscribe to the podcast).

          http://twich.ting.com [ting.com]

          That's what I used, ages ago, and I applied it to my cheap little feature-phone (I think I wound up paying $35 for the phone).

          • I listen to This Week in Google on the TWiT network, that's how I heard of ting.com. I don't regret it. I bought a refurbished Samsung phone for $90 and have averaged $25 per month since then.
            • by neminem (561346)

              I got a refurb Transform Ultra from them for 78 bucks... before the 50 dollar credit they gave me. Which means I *really* got it for 28 bucks. I like telling people that when I say I'm with a little Sprint reseller, and they respond, "yeah, your bill might be cheaper, but they didn't subsidize your phone, right?" I don't think you're going to see any of the big guns in the phone service arena selling you a midrange smartphone for 28 bucks anytime soon. (Yes, it was refurb, but I haven't had any problems wit

              • I have the same refurbished Transform Ultra, actually, but I only got a $25 discount.

                The last time I looked, if you tried to get a month-to-month contract directly with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, or T-Mobile they only supported low end smart phones. Ting supports the full range, so you can pay $700 for a brand new whatever it is and spend barely $20 per month on it.
      • by whoop (194)

        It's hard to go wrong with Ting. Just with the month-to-month billing, one month might be high, next month could be low. It's much better than every other plan's high rates every month. With a little modification to my behavior (not downloading 100MB podcasts on the cell network), I had gotten my plan down to around $20 a month.

        Another weird thing, apparently Sprint was slowing down old phones in my area. My EVO 4G was ok, getting 300-500 kbps when I first got it. A few years down the road, it's pullin

        • Do they throttle old phones, or is there a deterioration on the accuracy of the software related to the antenna as the phone gets older? I'm speculating, it just seems to me that throttling old phones would drive you to a competing carrier - which is what happened - instead of an upgrade.
    • Ting's the cheapest for the lightest usage for 1-2 smartphones as well, thanks to their lack of bundling. I researched the different price plans of every MVNO & carrier available in my area -- nobody rivaled them for 2+ users, and while T-Mobile's $30/"unlimited" (texts/min *or* data, not both) was close for a single user, it left no margin for changes or error.

      It should also be mentioned that Ting has extremely good prices on refurbished phones, and...well, I've been tempted to ask on their blog wheth

  • by Anonymous Coward

    With T-Mobile at least, if you have more than 3 lines, it's rather dramatically cheaper. Not sure about other carriers, nor do I care since 4 lines with unlimited everything (data throttled after 500MB per line) is $100, which is what some carriers *cough*Verizon*cough* charge for unlimited on *one* line.

    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      Yep. Family plans for 2 phones aren't a deal, but family plans for 5 phones (like I have) are well worth it.

  • by Aranykai (1053846) <[slgonser] [at] [gmail.com]> on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:39PM (#44527659)

    Two lines, very little talk, unlimited messages and 3GB/each. Family plans save me almost $20 a month across all the carriers vs going with single lines.

    I'm not seeing the point.

  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:42PM (#44527683)
    A shared plan can be billed to the main tax payer in the 'family', making it much easier to gang costs and take a reduction, especially when a small business is involved.
    • Unless the other family members are part of the business, if that person ever gets audited they're going to get dinged. You're only supposed to include actual business costs...in the case where something is shared between personal and business use you're supposed to pro-rate the amount you use it for business.

  • Wrong conclusion? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:44PM (#44527693) Homepage

    I priced it out using that calculator for 4 lines (unlimited voice, unlimited messaging, 2GB data per line). T-Mobile costs $140/month for a shared plan vs. $240/month for 4 individual plans. For 2 lines it'd be $100/month shared vs. $120/month for 2 individual plans. I see exactly the opposite of the claim: the shared plan is more economical than individual plans for everything but the most limited usage. And that T-Mobile's plans are more economical than anybody else's, which may explain why T-Mobile had such a good quarter.

    • by rsborg (111459)

      I priced it out using that calculator for 4 lines (unlimited voice, unlimited messaging, 2GB data per line). T-Mobile costs $140/month for a shared plan vs. $240/month for 4 individual plans. For 2 lines it'd be $100/month shared vs. $120/month for 2 individual plans. I see exactly the opposite of the claim: the shared plan is more economical than individual plans for everything but the most limited usage. And that T-Mobile's plans are more economical than anybody else's, which may explain why T-Mobile had such a good quarter.

      T-Mobile had a great quarter because of all this, and ... it got the iPhone, finally. Many folks like myself who wanted a GSM iPhone, unlocked and cheap data plans for my family. No overage on data, flat-rate unlimited international calls/texts, tethering built-in and working flawlessly. Oh, and still the only US carrier with HD voice - amazing difference between our VZ/ATT experience in calls between me and my wife (who bought new HD voice capable iPhone5's)

      Only downside is that tmobile is still buildin

    • They don't subsidize phones, that is one of the reasons they are less. So you either need to bring your own, or pay the full cost, which can be $600-700 for top of the line smartphones.

      I don't think this is a bad thing, I like T-Mobile for ending the subsidized contract nonsense but you do need to consider that price wise.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      T-Mobile costs $140/month for a shared plan vs. $240/month for 4 individual plans

      But T-Mobile also has an (individual-only) $30/mo (5GB/100min) plan, which is obviously cheaper than your family plan.

      And even if T-Mobile really was an exception, being the SMALLEST of the four major cell carriers, it really wouldn't negate the claim.

  • From my experience: Pageplus Talk n Text 1200 is a very cheap effective plan for moderate users. $30/mo. including all taxes, uses Verizon's 3G network. (You can get further discounts ~10+% if you buy these pins online at http://www.pageplusdirect.com/ [pageplusdirect.com] or wherever). 1,200 Minutes, 3,000 Text/Picture Messages, 500 MB Data. https://www.pagepluscellular.com/plans/talk-n-text-1200/ [pagepluscellular.com] Buy a used HTC Incredible from ebay, activate it, save your money.
  • I'm not sure the author of the article even tried using the calculator. If he did, he obviously didn't try it for more than 2 lines. The calculator tells me that 4 lines on tmobile with unlimited voice and text (and no data) will cost $100. That's a bit better than $35 or $40 a line.
    • Well, joke's on me. The article talks about couples using family plans, not families of 3+ people
  • Did you really think carriers would actually offer something that's anything more than dressed up as a deal? A family plan saves money ... for *them*, ie.: the lowered cost of billing.

    Your best deal, as always: don't get sucked in by OOOH SHINY! and a ripoff contract, just buy your own phone privately and put a SIM card on whatever plan you want.

    • by Wolvey (918106)
      Sorry dude, each person in my family is saving $40+ per month (and gets more minutes!) after we all switched from individual plans to Verizon family plan.
    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Did you really think carriers would actually offer something that's anything more than dressed up as a deal?

      Yes, because if it can make them a profit, they'll take it. (I'm saying that as a GOOD thing.)

      For example, maybe a parent won't get their kid a cell phone if they have to pay the full $80/month or whatever. But if it's $60 (made up #) in the bundled case, then they will.. As long as it costs the cell phone company less than $60/month, they just have another customer that they didn't have before.

      It'

  • Harder to switch (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Friday August 09, 2013 @10:04PM (#44527797)

    One of the reasons providers offer a discount of families is that it makes it harder to switch away from them.

    • Especially when the lines are added at different times, leaving no clue as to when the contractual obligation is really over, or to make the answer "never, unless somebody rides out an ancient phone for an extra 15 months or breaks the contract one at a time, making a new multi-line plan elsewhere impractical without paying exorbitant fees for the 'discount' we gave you on an outrageously marked-up phone."

  • The calculator assumes all phones on the plan will be smartphones. On Verizon, 'feature' phones are $19.99/month vs $30/month for smartphones. I have unlimited data, but if I buy a phone at the discounted price, I must switch to VZW's Share Everything plan. Under that plan, my monthly cost goes up $80-100/month, partly because of the expensive data plans, and partly because the feature phones on my plan jump from $9.99 - $19.99 a month. That's an extra $1900+ or more over the two year contract. If i keep
  • Family plans offers excellent savings, and the calculator confirms it.

    I'm on Verizon, and used to pay $100+ per month (after taxes) for my smart phone with only 450 minutes, unlimited txt, and unlimited data. Now that I'm on the family plan I have unlimited minutes, unlimited txt, and 10 GB split across 6 people (we've never used more than 3 GB total in a month). I pay $60 per month now (after taxes), a savings of $500 per year just for me, and a savings of $3000 per year for all 6 of us. The new family
  • No company, irrespective of industry, seems to think that they can do well just giving you a simple bill.
    Why isn't a straightforward "pay this, get that" a winning business model?
    • As a few of us posted higher up in the discussion, try Ting.com https://ting.com/usage_calculator [ting.com]. You get billed based on what you use. If you go over, you get bumped up to the next category for that month only and billed appropriately (e.g. going from the 800 texts for $5.00 for a month to 1200 texts bumps you up to the $8 category for that month).

      No contracts, buy the phone up front. The bill is straight, pay for what you use. Again, I wrote this already but if Sprint reception sucks in your area
    • I have that with MetroPCS. I pay $50 per month for unlimited everything. If I pay onliine, that's my bill. If I pay at the local store, there's a $3 fee.

      I can see that there are less expensive plans now from the other alternative providers, but I've been with Metro since 2006. Back then they were the only one with unlimited minutes for a reasonable price. So I'll stick with them instead of jumping to a cheaper provider.

  • 4 lines can be had for $150 if you buy your own phone and don't use a lot of data
    I have a work smartphone as well and wifi at home and work so I rarely use more than 1gb if that much

  • Ting FTW (again) (Score:2, Redundant)

    by bziman (223162)

    Every time people complain about cell phone service and prices and contracts, I feel compelled to post a link to Ting [ting.com], where you pay for what you use, and the more you use, the less it costs, and it's $6 per phone on the account, with as many phones on the account as you want. Now THAT is a family plan that is fair. I'm saving more than 50% from what I was paying for an "unlimited" plan with Sprint.

    Disclaimer: if you use that link and end up signing up, you get a discount and I get a discount.

    • by neminem (561346)

      Beat me to it. I would've posted the same thing. Ting is really one of a handful of companies I go out of my way to tell people about, because it is really just that good. I don't work for them or anything, I just like paying 15 dollars a month for my phone plan. (That's only because I don't send that many texts, consume that much data, or talk on it that often. I still do all three enough that I'm not going to go entirely without them, though, so no snark about how I should just not have a phone if I don't

  • Dear o dear you're getting fleeced over in the US. I paid for my phone outright. One off cost. A humble Galaxy S3 mini. £180 / US$ 280 including all sales tax, new, unlocked. Add a SIM-only deal. I pay £8 / US$12.50 for 500 minutes, unlimited messages and 1GB of data. there. Oh, and I don't pay for incoming calls.

    Looks like prices in the UK are around 25% of the prices you quote...

    • by router (28432)

      What do you pay for international? US plans are for the whole country; that's like UK to Eastern Europe, Scandanavia to the Med.... I can fly 2500 miles across the continent, drive a 2000 mile loop once I'm there, and everything just works. Over 300 million people. Unlimited voice text and data (500 GB at 4G/HSPA+). All for $50 USD/month. Is there a plan that matches that?

      andy

  • I just filled out the form for myself and my wife for two lines... same voice, message and data limits on each line.
    Came out that T-Mobile is cheapest $80 for the two lines. First line is $50, second $30. Total $80.
    Seems like this family plan works for me.
    I'm already on T-Mobile, just need to change my wife's phone (unlocked Nexus 4).
    YMMV

  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Saturday August 10, 2013 @08:13AM (#44529825) Homepage

    will be cheaper for many people who are not heavy cell users. T-Mo has a plan 1000 minutes for $100+sales tax good for a year. Even if you use 400 mins a month it still ends up cheaper as you dont have all the fcc crapola charges tacked on. Not good if you text a ton as those are 10c each way.

  • The plan I used was priced out on their site at 10x what I pay through tmobile. With an iPhone, text messages go over wifi, and upcoming phone call can go over wifi, you can save a lot of minutes. I just don't understand how people can pay thousands for stupid phone calls!
  • Unless a provider is willing to go with a $5.99/month plan with smartphone agnostic, flat-rate, unthrottled data, it would be cheaper to stay with the bundled line plan.

    Then again, the data side is based off T-Mobile's T-Zones plan which doesn't seem to care what you put on there as long as it's a phone.

  • The calculator does not work for 0 data, i.e. not a fucking smartphone. That is how you really save. Get away from the fad of web access on a phone. Use your damn computer at home and quit posting to facebook while you're driving.

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