The changes carriers have made in their plans since the last time I bought a phone (an iPhone 5 in 2013, on a grandfathered unlimited data plan with AT&T) are major. Most importantly, staying on that plan with that carrier was no longer the obvious choice.
The options were confusing, and I wanted to suss out what the better deal was, and sort out how these new pricing schemes work.
To that end, I assembled this spreadsheet comparing the various options on these two GSM-based carriers. I included pricing for both an 64GB and 128GB iPhone. I assumed average data usage of 1-3 GB/month, and well in the middle of that range so as to make exceeding 3GB highly unlikely in any given month.
Bottom line is: phone subsidies built into service plans are out. Instead, what are basically financing/installment plans (ATT’s NEXT or TMO’s EIP) are separate charges from service plans. These new service plans do offer more included features than before (principally no more limit on talk & text), but for average usage, cost nearly the same as the old plans that included the subsidies, so…
Going forward, either way, it is going to cost more like $90+/mo instead of $70+, but this time with either nothing ($0 with ATT) or significantly less ($100-$200 with TMO) paid upfront for new phone.
AT&T deliberately made it cost-prohibitive to keep grandfathered unlimited data plans. They did that by effectively double-charging you to finance the phone. Because you’ll still pay the same plan rates ($70) that already had included the phone subsidy costs, but now they’ll charge you a “line fee” as well, which is effectively the subsidy moved over to a new charge. But the kicker is they’ll charge you an even higher line fee ($40 instead of the ‘discounted’ $25) if you buy your own phone at retail! So with the grandfathered unlimited data plan and a retail unlocked phone, AT&T would in effect triple charge you. AT&T more than TMO (where “jump” is optional) now incentivizes it so you’re always renting/leasing a phone, never owning it outright.
In the end, I chose T-Mobile Simple Choice 3GB plan to go with a 128GB iPhone 6, essentially on a 2 yr “not a contract” (sic) contract (saving $240 over 2 yrs on “jump”).
For essentially the same price, T-Mobile has these advantages:
- No added cost international roaming within data limits (but <3G speeds)
- No additioal cost tethering
- No data overage charges (but throttle >3GB/mo)
- In-flight texting with Gogo. (however, cumbersome to set-up and not reliable in my experience)
- Some music streaming doesn’t count against data
- T-Mobile will unlock phone by request after 40 days
- Decent family plans. (One offers unlimited data for 2 lines for $100 a month)
- 50GB of cloud storage (but no webdav or sftp support)