Let me just start by saying this: I am no economist. I have not ever taken an economics class, for that matter, nor have I taken any kind of business classes or anything of the sort. I'm a programmer by trade, and all of the business-y stuff is handled by other people in my office.
Having said that, I really don't understand cell phone bills.
AT&T announced today a new offering of "off contract" plans for their network. The idea is that if you buy an unsubsidized phone, you save on your monthly bill. Seems fair (and, frankly, long overdue).
The plans are still structured using the shared data model, and they basically cut you a discount on the "access fee" for the device. So what is normally a $40 monthly fee for a smartphone becomes a $25 fee, saving you 15 bucks. The data costs per month are the same regardless of whether or not you got a subsidy on your phone, so there are no savings there.
Here's what gets me: a 2GB plan on this new system will now run you $80 per month ($25 for the device, $55 for the data). With a subsidized phone you'd pay $95, so obviously you're saving cash there. But if you're already buying a phone off contract, why would you not get a GoPhone plan for $60 a month? It's the same 2GB of data, the same unlimited talk/text, and for that matter the same AT&T towers.
Heck, for that matter, why not go with Aio Wireless? You can get that same 2GB plan from Aio for $55 per month, and if you sign up during a promo you can snag some goodies to boot (currently: a free low-end phone or your 3rd month free). Again, same plan features, same AT&T network, but $25 less. Arguably you're not getting the same AT&T customer service, but given the general sentiment toward cell companies and their customer service, perhaps you're not missing much.
Please do your research
I always start off feeling like I must be missing some obvious reason to go with a plan like AT&T's, but after thinking about it I then return to a second possibility: people don't do enough research before signing on to these contracts. Maybe that's partly ignorance to technology in general, or maybe they really are just that happy with AT&T, but simple economics seems like it should dictate that prepaid carriers would be winning this war.
So if you haven't explored your prepaid options, let me just say this: set aside 30 minutes and do some research. You can find everything you need on Google, and Wikipedia has an excellent MVNO list for the United States. We're talking some pretty good chunks of change here, and you're really not sacrificing anything at all other than a phone subsidy.
3 months of Aio
Last, just a small update on my time with Aio Wireless. It's been pretty great so far, and I'm probably going to stick with them for a while. I'd thought about jumping to something like Net10, which is a little cheaper, but people seem to have problems with things like MMS and whatnot since they have to fiddle with APN settings. I still might give it a go at some point.
Aio also added SMS shortcodes recently, which was my one big disappointment, so now I really have no complaints. Coverage is great (LTE almost everywhere), the price is plenty cheap, and it has short codes for 2-factor auth and conditional call forwarding so I can use Google Voice as my voicemail service. In fact, I may even try dropping to their $40/month plan to see how it works out for my usage. I do use a decent amount of data, but they only throttle to 256 kbps, which might actually be enough for what I need (music streaming, maps, etc). Future updates on that to come!