Choosing a Cell Phone Service
January 23, 2003 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Among the most confusing dilemmas facing today's consumer is the question of which cell phone carrier is right for you. Even though Consumer Reports just published an article rating different carriers, the results are far from conclusive. I've been searching for web resources to cut through all the crap, and I thought I'd share a couple with the MeFi community, since typing "compare cell phone plans" into Google brings up a load of pop-up laden vendors thinly disguised as dispensers of advice.
  • offers the most comprehensive lists of cell phone features I've seen, a handy comparison tool, and a good number of intelligent user reviews.
  • suffers from a bit of that thinly-disguised-vendor syndrome, but it is useful for comparing different services and getting clearly presented, itemized lists of each service's features. Be wary of the service comparison tool, because it's rather incomplete, but it's a good starting point to compare plans.
posted by grrarrgh00 (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm just waiting for Verizon to stop dragging their heels with the FCC and allow citizens to get the right to cell phone number portability. When that happens (this fall?) I'll definitely be jumping ship from Sprint.
posted by mathowie at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2003

I thought I'd post these after sifting through an ocean of crap to find any decent information about cell phone services. Another great resource is Google Groups. Incidentally, on its Wireless FAQ's page, PhoneScoop links to one of MeFi's own.

My general conclusion with cell phone service providers is that all of them are awful, but depending on who you talk to, some may at times be less awful than others for a few months or so. The current debate prompting this round of cell phone searching for me is whether I should add a year to my Sprint contract in return for a $100 credit on my account, considering that I'm about to have to buy a new phone with them anyway (and I'm still under contract with them until October). In October, am I going to want to run screaming to the sunny hills of Verizon? My guess is "Probably," so I'm not going to go with the extended contract, considering that cell phone companies nowadays always dangle some enticing offer when you threaten to switch anyway.

Also, if you're not getting a rebate on the phone from the provider, definitely take a look at Froogle,, and Ebay before you buy a new phone, in order to find the lowest price.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 10:15 AM on January 23, 2003

Cell phones? Grrarrgh!
posted by Shane at 10:17 AM on January 23, 2003

posted by dash_slot- at 11:15 AM on January 23, 2003

you may want to specify AMERICAN consumers. MetaFilter has users worldwide. also, i understand that in europe cellular systems aren't a mishmash of incompatible crap, so that changing carrier doesn't require purchasing new hardware, obsoleting your phone number, or anything that makes it such a big deal (by design) to switch carriers in america.
posted by quonsar at 11:27 AM on January 23, 2003

The Howard Forums are really where it's at, as far as cellular discussion goes.
posted by danwalker at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2003

The North American (cell) phone system, while truly a mishmash of crap, only has a facade of incompatability.

The truth is, there's really only three major standards: TDMA, CDMA and GSM in North America (apart from AMPS, which is what you're unused 1980 brick/transportable phone used, and while still available, should be dead by now).

The phones are artificially locked to a carrier by bits stored in the phone. Using the right hardware to unlock the phone (easily available on ebay, especially for GSM phones) you can make the phone work on a carrier that uses that network (for the most cross-network compatability, CDMA is probably the best choice, but GSM is easier to hack). However, you may find that this is illegal (the US is famous for it's inane "IP" laws). Beats me. I'll be hacking the carrier lock from my GSM phone, since I bought it outright I don't see how any company should limit me.

Either way, though, the carriers may refuse to sell service to a phone they didn't sell originally...
posted by shepd at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2003

Was about to link to Howard Forums as danwalker just did (it really is the best place). Another decent place is Wireless Advisor.

I started a T-Mobile contract back in August (unfortunately they now do free nights and my contract still has a ways to go), but I haven't been happy with the performance. The main problem is that sometimes the signal is really bad in my dorm room, forcing me to get a land phone. I was planning on just using my cell for everything. I've also been waiting for the right cool phone to buy, and that hasn't happened yet... Oh well. I really wish the US would get their act together with phones after having been to Europe and Asia.
posted by swank6 at 2:41 PM on January 23, 2003

Finland, which has more cell-phones per capita than just about any country, has a law which forbids to sell phones and operator contracts as a package. When you have a phone, it's easy to switch operators simply by changing the sim-card. On the other hand, you have to change numbers if you switch your operator, which kinda sucks, but that might change as well.
posted by lazy-ville at 2:49 PM on January 23, 2003

i'd suggest as a good source to check. My experience in boston (somerville) with T-mobile and a gsm phone has been great, but really it's all personal use and placement.
posted by NGnerd at 3:11 PM on January 23, 2003

In Japan, getting a land line from NTT, that is, being assigned a regular telephone number, costs about $700 (benevolent monopoly, ahoy!), so a lot of new graduates are dispensing with them altogether and opting for cell phones only, considering how may features (web, 640X480 digicam, videocam, SMS, email, calendar) come crammed into them nowadays. My cell provider is England's Vodaphone, which bought J-Phone a couple years ago.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:28 PM on January 23, 2003

I have T-Mobile in NYC and hate it, despite my cool T68. I have to try multiple times before many calls go through and my connection is regularly spotty nights, when (I presume) volume is highest.
posted by josh at 11:02 PM on January 23, 2003

I never hear about "pay as you go" tariffs in America. Do they exist at all? I would guess that a majority of mobile phone users in the UK (including me) are on such a tariff.
posted by salmacis at 2:12 AM on January 24, 2003

Part of the problem with the setup here in North America is that the actual handsets are heavily subsidized, because no one would buy a phone at full price - they routinely cost the networks upwards of $400 to purchase from suppliers, and customers here think that phones should be free, or pretty darn close. I can't blame the networks for wanting to lock people in to their own service - they can't be selling cheap phones at a big loss, and then having their hardware end up making money for somebody else.
posted by danwalker at 4:55 AM on January 24, 2003

I'm just waiting for Verizon to stop dragging their heels with the FCC and allow citizens to get the right to cell phone number portability. When that happens (this fall?) I'll definitely be jumping ship from Sprint.

Amen, mathowie. Amen.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:00 AM on January 24, 2003

Okay, I don't know if people wander through old threads but I have a question about my newly acquired kyocera cell phone. According to the manual the phone has a "location provider" feature that allows 911 operators to zero in on my location in case of emergency. This means that Sprint and others can trace my location whenever my phone is on. I assume they are using GPS technology. The question is how do I display my GPS location on my phone? Can 911 see where I am, but I can't (in terms of coordinates)? There is the privacy issue, yes, but I hope I'm smart enough to turn off my phone if I don't want to be tracked. A corollary question: are the pre-paid phones I see at 7/11 more private? I don't have to give them my name for operating or billing reasons so it seems ideal to go with a prepaid system if I'm planning to use my phone for any illegal activities. Uh, not that I would. I ask only for academic reasons, of course.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:06 PM on January 25, 2003

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