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Call, The Question: Your Wireless-Phone Choices

Full disclosure: I hate doing columns like this morning's guide to wireless-phone service.

That's not because I don't like the subject matter, or because the people with whom I deal aren't pleasant individuals. No, it's because I have to spend so much time interrogating PR reps for data that ought to be plainly and publicly listed on each carrier's Web site. I knew I was in for some pain gathering these details, based on my experience doing this type of column in previous years, but the level of aggravation exceeded my expectations.

Here are some of the finer points I spent much of yesterday and Tuesday nailing down:

* AT&T Wireless won't unlock the SIM card slots of the phones it sells until you're out of your contract -- except for iPhones, which it won't unlock at all. But I couldn't find this detail listed anywhere on the site, and an AT&T publicist needed the entire afternoon to pin down the correct answer.

* T-Mobile is much more generous about unlocking the SIM card slots of its own phones, aside from its Sidekick line of smartphones. But it may take a couple readings of the convoluted syntax in its description of this policy to grasp that exception.

* Both AT&T and, more recently, Sprint, now say they ban more than 5 gigabytes a month of Internet use on their phones, following a policy Verizon implemented years ago. But the only warning of this new policy at AT&T's site appears to be confined to a long page of fine-print legalese -- and Sprint does not seem to document this rule anywhere.

* The best description of Verizon Wireless's mobile-broadband plans that I could find resides at the bottom of a page titled "Business Voice and Data Plans."

Even the price plans listed in reasonably large type can confuse a would-be customer. AT&T's price structure is clear enough, but T-Mobile and Verizon offer a few different types of individual and shared-use plans. And then there's Sprint, which seems incapable of shedding itself of any of the various plans its Sprint and Nextel components once sold as separate companies.

It's all enough to make me long for the transparency of the U.S. tax code.

Let's talk about this during my Web chat today -- it starts at 2 p.m., and you can lob in a question now.

Or just say your piece in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 29, 2008; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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I normally don't have anything very positive to say about AT&T, but they unlocked my Blackberry two months after I signed a new contract, no hassle, no questions asked. I simply told them my reason - I was going overseas and wanted to get a Norwegian SIM card.

Posted by: Barry | May 29, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Barry regarding AT&T. Nothing more to add.

Posted by: DL | May 29, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Agree regarding AT&T. They did not give me nor my coworkers any static about unlocking phones while still in contract (one girl was only one week into her new contract and phone).

Now, Verizon and Sprint supposedly have some sort of agreement with RIM that if they connect any Blackberry device to their network it will have a data plan. I went all the way up to the regional president of Verizon Wireless as my wife wanted a Pearl but no data plan (for address book, calendar and compact size but not an extra $30/month). Verizon said tough. So, she voted with her dollars and switched to AT&T and is quite happy with her new Pearl. This practice screams monopolistic - and why would RIM care if users have a data plan?

Posted by: Steven | May 29, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Also want to chime in on AT&T unlocking phones. My daughter is going to France very soon. We are about one year into a two year contract. Called AT&T, told them my tale, and they sent unlock codes about 10 days later by email.(I think they have to contact Nokia for the codes.) No fuss, no hassle. It may have helped that I have been with Cingular/AT&T for about 10 years now?


Posted by: DLD | May 30, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Regarding your mention of prepaid plans in the column that you referenced at the beginning of this article: AT&T also has a 25 cents/minute plan with NO daily fee, plus unused minutes roll over. If you use six minutes or less in a day that is cheaper than the $1 + ten cents/minute plan. Horrors! How can anyone talk so little? I might need to check in with home while on a shopping trip once every couple of weeks. Otherwise, anything I have to say can wait for a face-to-face (i.e., "free") conversation.

Posted by: Dev H. | May 30, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I Have Palm Treo 600 (Verizon). You or your readers thoughts would be helpful.I want a smart phone with unlimited access to text, data, voice I am not under contract.Please suggest phone or carrier it is so confusing and I cant seem to get straight answers from the sales reps all they want is to sign me up for a 2 year contract.

Posted by: AC | June 1, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

T-mobile has two prepaid plans, the $1 a day plus free between 7 PM and 7 AM, or the traditional pay as you go plan with no daily fee but charges by the minute.

I'm not sure which is the best deal, but I have the original pay as you go plan and I'm happy with it.

Posted by: Jim | June 12, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

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