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.

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Windows 8.1 – Touch screen or stay with Windows 7

Recently a colleague of mine, we will call him Jack, shared with me his feedback on Windows 8.1.  To give a little background, Jack is a Mac user, but runs Windows 8.1 in a parallels setup on his Mac.  This man is a Mac user hardcore and prior to today, he daily lamented Windows 8.1 as being very user unfriendly.  If you have not been reading the news over the last year or so, there are very mixed reactions on Windows 8, and most of them, negative.

Moving along with the story, Jack came in all excited today stating the Windows 8.1 was the greatest thing since sliced bread! That’s right, a total reversal of opinion.  But there is a catch.  He got a new Surface Pro 2 tablet, so he’s now using touchscreen where on his Macbook there is no touchscreen…at least not yet.

This brings me to the point of this blog post – Should you go with Windows 8.1, or stay with Windows 7?  The answer is not as easy as one might think.  For those of my readers who do not know what Windows 8 is, try thinking about the worst time you had trying to open a program in any version of Windows.  Multiply that now by a factor of 10, and you have Windows 8.  But now you said, well you just simplified it didn’t you by essentially calling it junk?  No, I am not doing that, but there are some things to consider.

First, if you by a brand new desktop or laptop, that is Windows based, you are going to get Windows 8.1 by default.  Windows 8 has a very different, almost radical design, than what users have been used to since Windows 95 as illustrated below.

In Windows 8, there is not “Start” button, though in the recently released 8.1 they did bring it back.  However, it does not pull up the familiar Start menu that you have been used to seeing for nearly 20 years.  Second, Windows 8 will take some getting used to in terms of just finding where everything is.  Creating shortcuts to your desktop is really creating them to that tiled Start Screen.  While you can create shortcuts on the Desktop section of Windows 8, which looks somewhat familiar to Windows 7, new users to that operating system will find it difficult at best to function in.

Having said all of that, if you are just itching to upgrade, or begrudgingly upgrading because your system is slower than molasses, then I would highly recommend whatever system you get, if you are going to Windows 8, get a touchscreen.  As Jack pointed out to me this morning, it makes all the difference in the world.  As an IT Professional, I must agree, as touchscreen laptops that I have tested out, like the Acer line of touchscreen laptops, are a world of difference away from using a mouse in Windows 8.  Even if you are not getting a laptop, there are plenty of touchscreen desktop all in one models that have them.

However, if all of this seems too overwhelming, then I would suggest staying with Windows 7.  If you do not have now, nor plan in the near future of getting a touchscreen, Windows 8 will likely drive everyday users, and business users, to be very frank, straight up the wall!  The mouse movements to get what you want in Windows 8 without touch are cumbersome, and usually involve more clicks than with Windows 7.  Windows 7 is becoming the new XP for this era.  Windows XP has been around since 2001 and is just now starting to go away.  Expect the same with Windows 7.  It’s here for a long time, and the gauge on that is, businesses are not upgrading to it.(Windows 8)

So Windows 8 or Windows 7, is all going to come down to the touchscreen.  For those adventurous enough, feel free to upgrade and just use the mouse.  However, prepare to spend a lot of retraining time on how you do things everyday on your computer.  If you are a business, think about that last sentence of mine in dollars and sense, and time off the clock training.  If you absolutely need to do a total computer hardware upgrade, you typically can ask at the time of your order for what is called a “Windows 7 Downgrade”.  This means that instead of installing Windows 8 at the factory, they will install Windows 7.

The jury is still out on whether or not Microsoft will continue to stick with this tiled interface.  I would say that in the next 18 months, when a new operating system is likely to emerge from Microsoft, if tiles are still around, Windows 8 may turn into the operating system that we all will have to bitterly swallow.