Discount Wireless Carriers

I can remember the first time I had a wireless phone.  It was 1994, and it was a massive bag phone with AllTel in southwest Georgia.  There was really only one carrier in the region, so the wireless company had you over a barrel.  Those were the good old days where you were limited to certain number of minutes, and of course, there was no such thing as a “data plan”.  Hey, it was just a phone!

Fast-forward to the modern era, and there are a ton of wireless phone service providers.  The big three of course are AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.  I am quite certain I will get hate mail from T-Mobile subscribers for not including them in the big three.  The types of phone plans we have today included unlimited calling and free long distance, a data plan.  Those data plans range from 1GB to 5GB or “unlimited data.”

Big Three = Big Costs

The problem with the big three carriers is the costs add up quickly.  For example, in our family two of us had phones with a major carrier.  Our data plan was 3GB per month and that was a shared data plan along with our mobile phone service.  After all taxes and charges, we were paying nearly $200 a month.  To be blunt, that is ridiculous.  When we tried to renegotiate our deal with our carrier for better pricing we were told to take a hike.  So we decided to take them up on their offer and left.

Same Networks – Half The Cost

You may have wondered if going to a discount carrier, like Straight Talk, Net10, or Virgin is worth it?  What kind of quality are you going to get with a discount carrier, and what type of support can you expect?  We are going to answer those questions, and I will be basing them on my experience.  Your results may vary.  There, my disclaimer is out there now!

When you take on discount wireless, or what is called a prepaid wireless carrier, you are literally making phone calls, and using the exactly same data lines that you would with one of the major carriers.  The way it works is, these companies lease the lines for their own service and then offer it as a discount.  Therefore, depending on the area you are in, you could be using the AT&T network, Verizon, or whomever.  Have you looked at your most recent mobile phone bill lately?  Now imagine being able to get the same benefits, or maybe more, but for half of what you are paying?  If you are still interested, read on.

Data Considerations

Many of the big three companies make you choose a data plan.  So you are constantly trying to figure out if you have enough data on your plan to avoid overage charges.  Usually, the data offered is around 3GB per month.  However, with discount carriers, they will offer an unlimited data plan up to a certain amount of data at 4G LTE speeds, like 8GB.  Some discount wireless providers are starting to raise that amount depending on what plan you are currently on.

Also, take note of your current data usage.  Do you find yourself connected to WIFI most of the time?  Chances are you probably are, what with more and more businesses offering free WIFI when you shop in their stores.  Therefore, why are you paying $90 a month for an “unlimited” data plan if you are not using that much data?  If you are a WIFI Commander, then maybe it is time to consider a switch and save some cash.  There is one thing to be mindful of on discount wireless data.  If you reach your data limit, you are throttled down to 2G speeds.  However, you never get data overage charges, unlike the other carriers.

Support

The type of support you get with discount wireless is by and large going to be through chat, email, or a self service portal.  If you are a person that likes to call in and speak with a representative, then this might be the deal breaker on switching.  However, most of the interactions we do with customer service these days are not over the phone.  If you are fine with that, then support is not going to be a major issue.

BYOP – Bring Your Own Phone

Remember the old days of when you switched carriers you had to buy a phone right up front?  Well, with discount carriers you literally can bring any phone to their network.  It is as simple as inserting their SIM card into your old phone and bang!  You are on their network, but still have the familiarity of using your own phone.  This is nice especially if you recently bought a new smartphone and are out $500-700.  While some of the major carriers are also letting you bring your own phone to their network, in my experience and research, the sheer number of phones they allow is nowhere near the variety that discount carriers allow.

Still Want To Switch?

If you have read this far, you are seriously considering switching, so how about a personal testimonial?  As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I left the Big Three after nearly 15 years of service with them.  Admittedly, going to a discount carrier was a bit unnerving.  As a System Administrator, I have to be reached at all times no matter where I am.  Having spotty service, which might as well be no service at all, was going to be disastrous if it went south.

To our surprise, switching to a discount wireless provider was one of the best decisions we have ever made.  I have yet to go anywhere in East Texas and not be able to make or receive a phone call.  Sure, there is always going to be the odd dead spot, but that is with any carrier.  However, call quality is great, data speeds are awesome, and all of that again, for less than half the cost of our old service provider.  If you are considering cutting costs in your technology budget, then moving to a discount wireless provider may be right up your alley.

Hunter Bonner is a System Administrator.  He can be reached through his blog techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @TechEdgeBlog.

“What is the right type of computer for your kids?”

Looking back on my experiences with computers, I remember the first one we got in our home.  It was an Apple IIe computer, complete with floppy disk drive, massive monitor and a dot matrix printer.  In 1986 I thought we were at the pinnacle of technological evolution as finally, we had a computer in the home.  That computer would prove to be useful for not only my mother, but for me as a student for writing papers and such.  The thing is, there was only one choice of computer, a desktop.

Nowadays, the public, and even business, is swamped with choices of computers, and this extends all the way down to folks with kids.  There are desktops, laptops, tablets, and yes, smartphones are used oftentimes as a computer because in fact, that is what they are.  However, when it comes to your children which one is right for your little ones?  We will explore those options.

Desktops have been the mainstay of the computer industry for decades and as mentioned earlier, they were the only thing going.  So why would you as a parent consider a desktop for your kids?  One reason is a desktop provides typically a centralized point for your kids to use the computer.  Like with any other computer, you can setup different user accounts so that each child has their own customized settings like favorite websites, programs, etc.  Also, desktops tend to have a longer life usage wise and are more easily upgradable from a memory and hard drive point of view.  Recommendation is to put this in a common area of your house for mom and dad to easily monitor.  A desktop is appropriate for any age child, but specifically here, referring to any child ages 4-15 years of age.

The next category is a laptop.  Laptops are just as powerful as desktops, and they are portable.  I would say teens from ages 15-18 are a good category for this, as likely, they may already use one for school.  Many schools now are mandating that all kids have access to one, and usually do so at a discounted rate so this is definitely something to check in with your local school district.  A laptop’s portability comes in handy when going back and forth to school, the library, or study groups.  Laptops also take up very little space compared to desktops, and some of them are priced almost the same price in some cases as a desktop computer.

A consideration with laptops and children in this age range should be net safety.  Specifically, having such a portable device means that they can take it anywhere at any time.  You will definitely want to lay down some clear ground rules such as not using one behind closed doors, using chat rooms, email, and the like.  Parents know their kids best, but when it comes to teenage children and access to laptops, my best advice is to heavily restrict what they can and cannot do with that machine via their user account permissions.  That means, create a user account that has only “Guest” or “Standard User” permissions.

 

Finally we enter the realm of smartphones and tablets.  Since this is focusing more on productivity, I will only say that with smartphones, such as an iPhone, are primarily communication devices.  Tablets are designed more for portable productivity.  A tablet, like a laptop, is highly portable.  These also are being used in schools around the country, and like laptops, many schools are now issuing them to students.  Tablets are becoming more and more useful, in terms, of productivity, as there are many apps that you can download and use not only for tablets, but that you can also install on your main computer back home and synch files, notes, and the like.

Programs like Evernote, are very handy for note taking, so a student could take all their notes on their iPad and then arrive at home to find them on the computer they primarily use.  Emailing assignments, and or communicating with their instructors is a lot easier on a tablet, versus hauling out a laptop and booting it up to send a quick email.  Tablets are very small compared to desktops and laptops, but really they should just be considered as a supplemental tool to their main computer.

Working on a tablet primarily is not going to have the same experience working with say, a Word document, as it would on a conventional computer.  They are pricey though, with Apple products being in the $300-$400 range and Android being anywhere from $99-$300 depending on the model.  Parents looking at pricing and usefulness may soon realize that it is better to pay this price for an actual desktop or laptop, and hold off on a tablet for later.

There are several options available for your children when it comes to computers.  Most homes today have at least 1 computer in them, and yes, even your young children will benefit greatly by getting them started now using one.  As for my own opinion on this subject, I would say that unless the school mandated a laptop, I would stick with a desktop computer until they graduate high school, simply due to their own online safety.  There are also many tools you can use with computers for kids for monitoring their safety, but we will save that for a future discussion.

 

Hunter Bonner is an Information Technologist.  He can be reached via his blog techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @HunterBonner

Upgrade time for your smartphone?

Checkout my latest article in the Denton Record Chronicle to find out what your options are!

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Should you upgrade your smartphone every year?

My next article will again be up this Wednesday.  Thank you all for my newest followers and for the “old guard” that has been with me since the beginning.  You are much appreciated, but I would like to hear from you!  Send in your questions, comments, concerns to me via this blog.