MetroPCS phone for Michelle or why limited competition and walled gardens suck

I’ve had a Sprint account since about 2001. They weren’t bad and they weren’t great and the plan was only modestly expensive (about $52/month).

This gave us a very basic 500 anytime minutes each month for two phones with 50 roaming minutes and the usual long distance, etc.

I don’t need my own phone anymore as I use my company provided phone (Blackberry) nowadays. I found it really inconvenient to carry two phones and, since my cell phone number really doesn’t matter since I use GrandCentral, I can be phone agnostic.

So I did some research to get a phone for Michelle. What I wanted was for her to have all the phone features she’s used to plus text messaging and web access.

Sprint, like the other big carriers, charges a ridiculous amount for unlimited text messaging, $20/month.

My brother just got back from about 6 months in the UK and he was telling me exactly how reasonable cellular phones are over there which served to galvanize me even further.

I stumbled on to MetroPCS quite by accident. I was going to check out a T-Mobile shop and ended up in the wrong strip plaza. So I asked them what they had.

For the same $52 per month ($45 plus all those useless taxes) Michelle gets unlimited minutes, unlimited text, unlimited picture messages (take a picture and send to anybody), unlimited web and the usual long distance in the US. Another plus was, with a prepaid card, she can now call Canada for 2 cents a minute. Sprint would charge about 60 cents a minute to Canada. We have a calling card that she was using that gets that down to 7 cents a minute (from TTI National).

When I called Sprint to cancel my account after porting Michelle’s phone over to the new service they made the usual pitch to try to retain me (Boy, I think I’m going to tell the IVR system that I want to cancel my account EVERY time I call a business, no waiting to speak to a representative at all!). But the guy kept missing the point entirely as he kept offering me more expensive plans that didn’t even come close to the MetroPCS offering.

Now, as with anything in life, nothing is 100% perfect. What we lose in going with MetroPCS that we had with Sprint is a) we simply CANNOT use the MetroPCS phone at all in Canada, and b) there is some question about how well the phone will work outside of a metropolitan area.

For item a) above, the cost of using the Sprint phone in Canada was prohibitive enough that we used them sparingly. Michelle is ALWAYS with someone who has a local cell phone anyway so she just used theirs in the past to make a quick call. So there isn’t much lost there.

For item b) if we keep some extra cash on her MetroPCS account then she can always call from those “roam” areas if she needs to. Again, she’s seldom in those areas without me and my phone goes anywhere. So there is little or no expense to be had there. And if it’s an emergency, all modern cellphones can work in all systems regardless for calling 911 unless you’re just simply in a truly dead area and then it doesn’t matter what plan you’re using.

So, we had to search for a plan and a company that came closer to treating us like something other than a sponge to be squeezed for every penny we could pay. I have a very low opinion of all of our cellular providers since they have always been so adversarial rather than a consumer-partner. They need to realize that there is a LOT of money to be made even at a fair cost for services and that customer loyalty must be earned by treating the customer… um, fairly.

Even Verizon, widely considered one of the best for service and coverage (and the one I use for my work phone) I discounted because I’m still ticked at them for disabling the GPS in my blackberry – a feature intrinsic to the phone with no impact on the cellular network – so they could indulge in the blatant money grab of coercing their customers to pay a monthly fee for Verizon’s own flavor of navigation software.

And ALL of the big companies seem to take a perverse glee in massively overcharging for international long distance services. With the increase in cell phone usage, there has been a marked DEcrease in available pay phones or other alternatives for making such calls. So they use the Hotel model of the captive customer to nail you hard against the wall for such “luxuries”.
Also, text messaging has gotten *more*, not *less* expensive over the past few years. Not bad for a form of communication that is built into the infrastructure and is of absolutely no cost for the cellular companies. Every data signal going to and from your phone carries the space for SMS messaging whether you are sending messages or not.

I’m not saying that these things should be provided for free, but there is a reason that pretty much everybody hates their cell phone provider. They are viewed, not as a great service and a good value, but as an adversary who will absolutely crush you if you misstep. Ask any parent who didn’t have an unlimited texting plan when their kids discovered SMS…

Posted under Affluenza, Opinions, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on January 20, 2009 at 8:25 am

3,025 views

6 Comments so far

  1. Rick Bowen January 20, 2009 9:36 am

    Let’s start out by saying that the Metro PCS business plan is great and they continue to be a growing company.
    But another limitation when using Metro PCS can be good and/or bad. Metro PCS typically does not provision short codes except when premium messaging applies. So, the Metro PCS end-users do not have the same opportunity to opt-in to informational sites accessed via short codes. This also prvents the Metro PCS end-users from receiving marketing text messages or coupons as that is typically accomplished via standard message short codes.
    Most of the text messaging traffic on Metro PCS phones is peer to peer. So some navigational offerings, school emergency alert systems, directories, contests, etc. are not available on Metro PCS phones.
    As a parent I personally think it is important to limit the distractions that unlimited access plans provide, but must weigh againts the peer pressure the young deal with today.

  2. Marc January 20, 2009 4:06 pm

    Hmm… I’ve actually never had occasion to use short codes so I can’t really comment on that. But for us it wasn’t something we would miss.

    I’m not sure what you mean about the text messaging traffic being peer-to-peer? Texts to my wife from my Verizon phone. I assume that any SMS message sent to her phone number should be fine? Now the photo messaging seems to be a different beast altogether.

    Yeah, it’s a fine line between accessibility and complete distraction. I suppose each generation has it’s own issues of that ilk…

  3. Rick Bowen January 20, 2009 4:21 pm

    An example of a short code. Most broadcasted sporting events now run commercials where you text a word into a short code. Example; Send NFL to 12345 for an opportunity to win Super Bowl tickets. Now this is not a functioning short code or contest but only a sample. The word “NFL” is a keyword and the number “12345” is a short code.

    Peer to peer means that you send a message from your cell phone to another cell phone.

    The use of short codes allows you to send a message to a short code that could then be relayed (sent) to hundreds, thousands or more if they exist in the distribution group.

    So the short ocdes are used for building list and distributing marketing opportunities directly to an end-users phone.

    Photo Messages are called MMS(Multiple Media System)they come with their own set of challenges and are subject to who the carrier is, what model phone and the number of bits (pixels) in each picture.

    I am also a private pilot, so appreciate your picture.

  4. Marc January 21, 2009 6:01 pm

    I suppose I’ll have to see if I ever notice the missing functionality. Much of what you describe I don’t think I would find useful.

    To me, peer to peer would imply that one phone could communicate with another without intervention of the network, more like a walkie talkie. So that sounds more like a marketing name for it rather than a functional one…

    Ah yes, I’ve got to get back up in the plane soon. I’m a fair weather flyer I’m afraid. No compelling need to fly when it’s not warm and pleasant out there!

  5. Richard June 21, 2009 9:37 am

    The lack of short code provisions is actually one of the few things I dislike about MetroPCS.

    I switched over from Verizon a few months ago to save money. Metro’s highest-level plan is about half of what I was paying Verizon, not even including my occasional overage penalties, and Metro’s service is decent in 95 percent of the places in which I have to travel.

    The only problem is that I do a lot of business using PayPal, and I can’t access the service over my Metro cell phone because it uses the short code PAYPAL. Not a deal breaker; but if another company offered similar pricing and features, but with short code support, I would seriously consider switching.

  6. Marc June 21, 2009 9:54 am

    @Richard – I’m not sure what area you live in, but Clark Howard was touting “Straight Talk’s” $30 offering (1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30 MB of data). I don’t know if they offer these short codes but it may be worth checking out.

    It seems pretty no-frills but I’m hopeful that offerings like this can help drive down the prices or at least force more reasonable business models in the cell phone industry.

    I’m still waiting for the industry to grow up.

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