My most recent 2-year contract with T-Mobile expired a little while ago, so I happened to be considering switching to a different mobile/cellular provider coincidentally when I received a request to post this infographic on the AT&T/Verizon Duopoly from The Simple Dollar. After admitting my unfortunate dependence on iTunes, I briefly thought about giving into peer pressure and getting an iPhone– aside from its huge popularity and market penetration in Silicon Valley, Stanford (my alma mater and employer) has always been and is a huge Apple customer and specifically iOS devices. Right now, out of over 27,000 devices registered to residential students (including desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, game systems, DVRs, and more– basically anything that can get onto the network), about 30% are iOS devices (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad); out of over 10,000 handheld devices specifically, a little over 75% are iOS devices. (For more general stats, check out our summary of annual student computing services surveys.) Moreover, while Stanford does contract with Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon as well, iPhones are practically ubiquitous and AT&T is really our biggest cellular/mobile service provider for business purposes (including on-campus cell towers to boost service).
However, going the iPhone route would leave me at the mercy of one of the big two US cellular carriers– AT&T and Verizon. As the infographic below shows, their business practices, much less their actual quality and cost of services, are sketchy, so I’m loathe to give into the duopoly. Moreover, while I see the convenience factor of a single device, I decided I actually like keeping my mobile music player separate from my phone (I don’t know how you iPhone folks tolerate using your phone while listening to music in the car or even just walking around all on the same device– it would really complicate my ability to multitask). Besides, being a techie and strong proponent of open standards, if I’m going to switch platforms (I currently have a BlackBerry– yeah, that’s right, I’m sticking with RIM for now, but that’s a whole other post), I’m most likely to switch to Android.
So, aside from T-Mobile, it seems like my remaining options are Sprint, CREDO, MetroPCS, and Virgin Mobile. I can immediately cross Sprint off of that list after having been with them for most of college (the good ol’ days when you only had to worry about voice coverage) and suffered through some of the most horrible customer service ever (so bad that even the often apathetic young people of my generation wrote multiple letters– not email, actual letters!– to complain). CREDO, while cool in its progressive mission, piggy-backs on Sprint’s network and has pretty poor coverage (national or otherwise), so they’re out, at least for now. MetroPCS is a nice budget option, especially since they don’t lock you into a contract and have 4G LTE. Based on the experience of my friends who switched from Verizon (of which they were extremely long-time customers with multiple lines, going back at least 15 years) to MetroPCS, they have pretty good service in the Bay Area, but national coverage is still sort-of shoddy (especially around my parents’ house, the only other non-major metropolitan area I need good coverage right now). That leaves Virgin Mobile, which sounded particularly good after my friend mentioned how she had a 300 minute voice plan with unlimited texting and data for only $25/month (basically a much cheaper version of the package I have with T-Mobile). Virgin also piggy-backs on Sprint’s network*, but has much better national coverage, especially in the areas most important for me, and doesn’t require a contract (they have a cash balance system when you go over your plan minutes). Virgin doesn’t seem to have any well-publicized plans to support 4G, but that doesn’t worry me too much right now as I’m relatively satisfied still with 3G.
So, for now, I’m sticking with T-Mobile and my 3G BlackBerry with Virgin Mobile as the next best option, but take a look at the infographic below for more info on AT&T and Verizon, of which, statistically speaking, you’re probably already a customer. One of the particularly evil things I noticed outside of the generally crappy data plans (which I’ve always been very aware of and one of the reasons I’ve stuck with T-Mobile) is how much money Verizon made by charging customers $2 for the 0.02 KB of data used every time iPhone users accidentally hit “take me to the web”.
*Note: I originally thought Virgin Mobile had its own network, but my friend pointed out that they too partnered with Sprint, like CREDO– Sprint actually purchased Virgin Mobile USA in 2009 (I missed it at first, but this point, along with Virgin Mobile’s low cost plans starting at $25/month, is mentioned in the infographic below). This actually helps me understand how Sprint has managed to hold onto so much market share for this long. (Thanks, Ken.)