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Cheap Geek: Great bargains await wireless network hunters
Cheap Geek

When asked what wireless network is the best, my answer is the same today as it was 10 years ago: The one that gives you the most reliable signal.

For years, that distinction belonged to Verizon, especially in southeast Georgia and its rural communities. Many here have experienced the frustration of dropped calls and painfully slow, less than 4G data that was commonplace on the networks of Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T (to a lesser degree) when leaving cities like Savannah or venturing off the interstate.

It’s that reliable network that made Verizon the number one wireless provider in the country and with being number one, allows them to charge whatever they want..

Their strong network continues to be their main selling point. This week I saw new commercials claiming they will have the first and best 5G network, as well.

Just as I did last week, in having you explore your options when buying a smartphone, today I ask you to do the same with your wireless provider.

As someone who endured the highs and lows of subscribing to the Sprint and T-Mobile networks, I can tell you first hand that the claims by these two, as well as dozens of independent studies that confirm, show what was once a dominance by Verizon for best network coverage, is now pretty evenly split among the four.

Because of that parity, now is the time to shop around.

I’m happy I didn’t give up on T-Mobile during my days commuting from the Savannah area to Statesboro. While my coworkers on the Verizon and AT&T networks would quickly pull up web pages or emails with the 4G signal, mine would creep along in 2G, feeling like I was still using a 14.4 speed dial-up connection.

My only defense was that I paid about half on my monthly plan as they did, and T-Mobile was in the process of upgrading their towers and shaking up the wireless industry by getting rid of junk fees and practices like two-year contracts.

Today, I have traveled throughout the country and abroad and no longer encounter any issues with the T-Mobile network. Of course, I haven’t been everywhere. If you’re reading this from Butte, Montana, and the only decent network you can get is from Verizon or AT&T, well, I guess that limits your choices.

Always try out a network for a few days, using it from home, at work, and other places, before committing. The good news is that the providers no longer lock you into a contract.

Other than network reliability, your choice for a provider should be determined by cost and customer service. Although all Big 4 providers and the discount carriers like Boost Mobile, Cricket, and Metro (formerly Metro PCS), have all brought down monthly costs (and in turn stepped up the benefits like unlimited everything), the two largest: Verizon and AT&T are still getting away with overcharging based on their reputations as being number one and two and having great coverage.

By the way, there are many who don’t realize that several of the discount carriers are owned by the Big 4, and when choosing Cricket, which is owned by AT&T, Metro, owned by T-Mobile, Boost Mobile, owned by Sprint, and Total Wireless, owned by Verizon, you’re actually getting the same network coverage at a discount, and often the same customer service. 

The same applies to monthly or pre-paid plans offered by Consumer Cellular, TracFone, and others. These discount carriers share the same towers as the Big 4, and in some cases, use more than one network, giving the customer the option of pulling in the strongest signal from two providers. This means you may be in a location on the AT&T network, and it’s not very strong, but that discount provider will bump you over to a second network, like T-Mobile.

If you think that’s confusing, within the last couple of years, non-traditional wireless companies like Google and Comcast have gotten into this space, as well as names like Ting, all offering unbelievable monthly plans as low as $15-$20 per person. With Comcast, their Xfinity Wireless is actually free if you already have a home internet plan with them, but you’re limited on what types of phones you can use. Again, all of these are using the towers provided by the Big 4 networks.

So, what should you look for, and be prepared to pay on your monthly plan?

Assuming I convinced you to look for the best bargain and not stay loyal to a specific brand, don’t get caught up in the race to see who can offer the highest amount of data. Paying $20 more for an extra 5 gigabytes of data per line may not be important if you are able to spend most of your time connected to your home or office Wi-Fi.

In recent months, the marketing push has been to offer unlimited everything -- calls, text and data, but at a cost higher than in the past. We tend to like the freedom of not having to monitor our activity and just sit back and relax knowing that if we wanted to make 10,000 calls or send 10,000 texts and watch hours and hours of movies on our phone, we can do that for one price.

But chances are you don’t. If you look back on your previous usage, you’ll see a pattern. The smart thing is to know your habits and pay only for what you use. Those $10-$20 plans I mentioned often involve unlimited text and calls, but only a gigabyte or two of data. If you’re on Wi-Fi, that one gig may be enough. Some plans, like Google Fi and others, allow you to purchase additional gigs of data if you come up short.

And finally, inquire about special offers that are geared toward seniors or the military. My wife and I love our 55 and over plan with T-Mobile that gives us unlimited everything for $60 a month. And it’s a flat $60. No fees or taxes.

The great news is that, as the old saying goes, we’ve come a long way, baby. My first cell phone plan, in the early 1990s with a company called Cellular One, gave me a whopping 30 minutes of talk time for $30 a month.

In comparison, these wireless companies today are giving the consumer a much better value for the cost, but it’s important to shop around and not settle for less.

This writer wants to hear from you. If you have questions on anything you read or have a story to tell, contact Mark at 



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