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Old October 27th, 2012, 07:00 PM   #1
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Why you should consider an unlocked smartphone.

This is going to be a long post, so I'm just going to put up front WHY you would want to do this, in financial terms, using the example of myself from last year. I chose to purchase an unlocked, non-carrier branded Galaxy S2 from Samsung UK. Here's how that's working out for me (if I weren't on a family plan with my wife). NOTE: In both cases, we're talking AT&T nationwide service. Same service on both phones.

Quote:
Galaxy S2 GT-i9100 (International)
Phone: $550
450 minutes: $40
unlimited text: $20
unlimited data, unlimited hotspot, no throttling: $10
Total plan: $70x24 months = $1,680
Total cost over 2 years = $2,230

Galaxy S2 Attain SGH-i777 (AT&T)
Phone: $200
450 minutes: $40
unlimited text: $20
4GB data w/hotspot, $10/gig overage: $45 (assuming no overages, which I would have had)
Total plan: $105x24 months = $2,520
Total cost over 2 years = $2,720
It's also worth noting that the unlocked phone requires no contract term or termination fee, while the carrier-branded phone does. So, before I can explain all of the financial benefits (because there are more!), I need to explain two things; first is why phones work this way in different countries, and second is which technology each carrier uses so you know why to target specific carriers.

Why it works this way:

Unlike the United States, the European Union tightly regulates wireless carriers differently. All phones are required to support the sim standard (sim, microsim, nanosim). All phones and carriers will work on the same frequencies, and all phones and carriers will be compatible. So unlike the US, you own your phone, and all you have to do to switch carriers is to swap out your sim with one from a different carrier. You can get your phone subsidized through a carrier, or you can buy it outright from the OEM or through a retailer, a non-carrier branded version, and use it on a cheaper plan. Basically, the subsidy there is like an interest free loan tacked onto your monthly bill.

As most of us know, the US is quite different. If you want to switch carriers, you must pay a termination fee (which gets ridiculous for family plans) and then buy a new phone. However, right underneath our nose, the European model is taking hold for those who are savvy enough to try it, and willing to pay more upfront for the phone and less monthly for the plan.

Carrier Technology:

There are two predominating standards in the world for wireless technology; GSM and CDMA. GSM has led to further technologies such as UMTS, HSPA, and LTE. CDMA has led to EVDO and EVDO rev.B. The majority of the world uses the GSM standard. However, CDMA is very prevalent in the US and Japan, as well as pockets throughout the world. GSM takes advantage of the sim card (hence why Verizon/Sprint LTE phones require one). CDMA uses the ESN, which is not a physical card. For you to be able to swap carriers with YOUR phone, you'll want to target devices that use the GSM standard and sim cards. While you can swap phones between CDMA providers, there are hurdles to get past, limitations on which carriers will take them, and a very limited supply of phones, very few of which are unbranded.

In the US, the vast majority of towers are run by four companies. Sprint and Verizon utilize CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. Almost all carriers within the US either roam on them, lease from them, or are MVNOs (resellers) of service through them. If you're not on one of these four carriers, you're still likely paying them indirectly. The four carriers we'll be targeting are AT&T, T-Mobile, Simple Mobile, and Straight Talk. These are all GSM based and offer some form of benefit to bringing your own device.

Show me the money (the plans): NOTE - links below take you right to the plans page I'm referencing. the T-Mobile plans page is hidden on their site.

AT&T:

Pick your minutes and your text amount for individual and family plans. From there, you'll get the option to pick unlimited data (AKA MediaNet) for either $10 or $15 a month. It's $10 if you have unlimited text, else $15. Here's the caveat. This is meant for non-smartphones and the only reason it works is because AT&T doesn't know what your phone is if they don't sell that exact same model. So no, this won't work with an unlocked iPhone. Also, it won't work if you take the phone into an AT&T store and have them set you up. You have to put the sim in yourself. Cheapest individual plan you can pull off is about $70/mo, while the cheapest 2-line family plan is about $110/mo.

Simple Mobile:

They offer two unlimited smartphone plans at $40 and $50 a month. The $40 plan is unlimited talk/text/data at 2G speeds. The $50 plan bumps your data speed up to 3G/4G (HSPA+, not LTE) for phones that support it. FYI, using more than 3GB/month or 100mb/day can get you in trouble with these guys, as they lease their data from T-Mobile.

Straight Talk (link is funny in Chrome, but it's legit, just click proceed):

Like Simple Mobile, these guys offer an unlimited everything plan. Unlike Simple Mobile, they have some perks. First, it's $45/month for unlimited at 4G speeds (again, HSPA+). Second, they have an option to pay for a whole year at $495, which is $41.25/month. Lastly, you get to choose which network you use (AT&T or T-Mobile). The downside is that you can get in trouble for using more than 2GB/month.

T-Mobile:
With a bring your own device plan, they start at $49.99/month, which gets you 500 minutes, unlimited text, and unlimited throttled data (first 2GB at up to 4G speeds). Unlmited minutes is another $10/mo, and truly unlimited data with no throttling is another $10, bringing the total to $69.99 for everything. Technically you're not supposed to tether, but they can't stop you or track you on a phone that isn't T-Mobile branded.

BONUS: T-Mobile/Wal-Mart deal!

You can get this at Wal-Mart or any T-Mobile corporate store. $30/month gets you unlimited text, unlimited data (throttled after 5GB), and 100 minutes of talk time. Supports calling over wifi to save minutes for supported phones.

This is the thread to ask questions, IE, will "X Phone" work on "Y carrier" and with what limitations. Also, while the latter three carriers expect you to bring your own phone, AT&T's plan is unofficial and requires a little social engineering, as well as making sure that your specific phone model works with Medianet. So, ask questions if unsure.
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Old October 27th, 2012, 07:22 PM   #2
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It should also be noted that typically, T-Mobile (and thus, Simple Mobile and half of Straight Talk) used different radio bands for 3G/4G. T-Mobile is in the process of converting all of their areas to the 1900mhz band. This will be completed by mid-2013. This means that, at that time, all four carriers will share the same bands, so 3G/4G will be the same on every carrier. Makes phone selection a lot easier. To see if your area has been converted already, check the link below.

http://airportal.de/

EDIT: Wal-Mart/T-Mobile plan above does not save you minutes using call over wifi. My mistake.

Last edited by Exodus : October 27th, 2012 at 08:13 PM.
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Old October 30th, 2012, 11:16 AM   #3
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The cost was what kept me away for so long.
350$ for a Nexus which has to be sold at cost or loss.
30$ Wal-Mart/T-Mobile plan so affordable, love pocket size tablets.
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Old November 3rd, 2012, 11:06 AM   #4
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Yeah I've been thinking about switching to straight talk and using an unlocked phone but I'll have to wait until my contracts are up or my ETF's get a bit lower. My only hangup atm is the 2gb of data thing. I'm ok with no LTE but I need at least 3 gig's on a regular basis, sometimes more. Hopefully their data caps go up in the next year or so.
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Old November 3rd, 2012, 11:41 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PHISIG View Post
Yeah I've been thinking about switching to straight talk and using an unlocked phone but I'll have to wait until my contracts are up or my ETF's get a bit lower. My only hangup atm is the 2gb of data thing. I'm ok with no LTE but I need at least 3 gig's on a regular basis, sometimes more. Hopefully their data caps go up in the next year or so.
If you get T-Mo service, look into the value plans that I posted. You can get unlimited data that way.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 01:35 AM   #6
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Another reason, specific to Android. We all know how Android updates are horribly fragmented. Well, it's an even bigger mess on carrier-branded versions. Outside of Nexus phones, guess how many phones released in 2010/2011 are seeing an official update to Jelly Bean? Four, that's it.

Two of them are on Verizon:
-Motorola Droid Bionic
-Motorola Droid RAZR/RAZR MAXX

The above two devices were released in late 2011. What other devices are getting official updates?

-Samsung Galaxy S II
-Samsung Galaxy Note

What's interesting is that the Galaxy S II was released February 15, 2011. It's about to turn two and is also likely to receive Android 4.2. The carrier branded equivalents? Depending on which carrier you're on, you're stuck at 2.3.x, 4.0.3, or 4.0.4. But hey, you saved $200-$300 on a subsidy, and only had to wait 5-8 months after the SGS2 came out to get your stripped down version

Given how late the Galaxy Note 1 came to carriers, I'd be shocked if most of them didn't see a 4.1 update. However, it likely won't be until at least late January.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 09:38 AM   #7
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I have a Samsung Galaxy S (Vibrant through T-mobile) and it's stuck on 2.2 (Froyo).
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Old November 12th, 2012, 11:24 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Viper View Post
I have a Samsung Galaxy S (Vibrant through T-mobile) and it's stuck on 2.2 (Froyo).
The international version of your phone got 2.3.x, and then this year got the 4.0 value pack.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 05:25 PM   #9
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I don't care at all about phone updates. You buy the phone for what it is at the time of purchase.

The fact that they're running 2.2 or 2.3 instead of 4.0+ doesn't really affect the average person in any meaningful way. You know what else your 2 year old phone doesn't have? A modern GPU or CPU, and there's no updating those.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 08:22 PM   #10
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Quote:
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The fact that they're running 2.2 or 2.3 instead of 4.0+ doesn't really affect the average person in any meaningful way. You know what else your 2 year old phone doesn't have? A modern GPU or CPU, and there's no updating those.
And that's another benefit in my favor. If I want to upgrade my phone, I go out and do it, since the "subsidy" is built into my cheaper plan. If you're on contract, you have to wait 2 years...or pay full price which is incredibly retarded when you're already paying a higher monthly fee.

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely advantages to buying phones on contract. However, most people don't understand the advantages to buying a phone outright and going with a cheaper plan. And if you think there are no advantages to software updates, I'm sorry, but you are sadly mistaken. The differences between his Vibrant and the GT-i9000 (Galaxy S) are fairly worthwhile.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 08:29 PM   #11
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See, you're interjecting an opinion as fact. You insist that software updates are valuable and useful.

My opinion is also an opinion, but it shades towards fact in that you could probably poll most users, and most don't give a shit about updates when making a phone purchase. Sure, if you dangle the carrot in front of them, they'll take it, but it probably has little to do with their actual purchase decision. Without updates, you can still run almost all the same apps. I've done the version comparisons, and I've never felt the need to go update anything, and I'm a nerdier than average user.

I'm not at all arguing that updates aren't nice. They are. But I never get how much people blow stuff like fragmentation out of proportion. People act like it's going to topple Android. Fact is, iOS is fragmented too, but nobody cares. "The 3GS didn't get iOS 5? Who cares, it's a fossil! ZOMG, an Android phone didn't get an update? FRAGMENTATION!" Yes, every Apple phone sees at least one or two updates (if the people can be arsed to install it, but that's another matter), but have you looked at how many people are still running iOS 4? There's apparently like 9 million just in Canada.
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Old November 12th, 2012, 08:56 PM   #12
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You are missing the point completely.

At the time that Viper got his Vibrant on T-Mobile, he had two options - Vibrant for $200 on 2-year contract, or Galaxy S for $450 unlocked. At the time, T-Mobile was offering a $20/mo discount for bringing your own phone (it's higher now, but we'll go with what existed at the time).

Over the course of those 2 years, he would have saved $480 on billing, $230 after accounting for the higher price of the phone...AND had better software. It's win-win.

You see, I'm not arguing about fragmentation, as you're trying to point out. I'm saying, "Have your cake (cheaper prices) and eat it too (more software updates)!" But hey, if you think paying more and getting less is a bargain, that's just another opinion that you can keep We do agree on fragmentation though. It's not the issue that many people portray it to be.
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Old November 13th, 2012, 07:20 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exodus View Post
You are missing the point completely.

At the time that Viper got his Vibrant on T-Mobile, he had two options - Vibrant for $200 on 2-year contract, or Galaxy S for $450 unlocked. At the time, T-Mobile was offering a $20/mo discount for bringing your own phone (it's higher now, but we'll go with what existed at the time).

Over the course of those 2 years, he would have saved $480 on billing, $230 after accounting for the higher price of the phone...AND had better software. It's win-win.

You see, I'm not arguing about fragmentation, as you're trying to point out. I'm saying, "Have your cake (cheaper prices) and eat it too (more software updates)!" But hey, if you think paying more and getting less is a bargain, that's just another opinion that you can keep We do agree on fragmentation though. It's not the issue that many people portray it to be.
I'm not missing your point. What you're missing is that I never argued against your point.

All I'm saying is that updates are overrated. Some people don't like to be $450+ out of pocket for a phone.
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Old November 13th, 2012, 07:48 PM   #14
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Quote:
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I'm not missing your point. What you're missing is that I never argued against your point.

All I'm saying is that updates are overrated. Some people don't like to be $450+ out of pocket for a phone.
And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with pursuing a different option. As for me, I prefer having a cheaper long-term cost, as well as owning the phone with less carrier intervention. I do understand the downside though, which is higher up front cost. Not everyone wants to deal with that.
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Old November 14th, 2012, 11:26 AM   #15
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Just got the latest version of Jellybean, Android just keeps getting better.
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Old December 17th, 2012, 01:40 AM   #16
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Just wanted to update this with some information. That $10/mo data plan I'm using? Here's my usage the past 2 months and change;

10/13-11/12: 35GB
11/13-12/12: 32GB
12/13-12/16: 13GB and counting

No throttling, no limits on tethering/hotspot, truly unlimited data, and all for $10/month. I probably will switch to T-Mobile at some point this upcoming year (better service in my new area and also cheaper), but I can't complain about the above. Nearing the 2 year mark with this thing and I will never go back to a carrier-branded handset if I can avoid it.
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