Thursday, May 29, 2014

Because YOLO: MOLOs, MVNOs and what you need to know to DESTROY your cell phone bill

Congratulations, if you got past my terrible attempt at an acronym-based joke and actually clicked on this post after reading the title your reward is the potential to save some serious cash on your cell phone bill.  MVNO and MOLO are abbreviations commonly used for wireless communications service providers that lease infrastructure from the big boys and provide cell service to you at a highly discounted rate.  These types of services have been around for a while and were born out of regulations to keep the market competitive as well as large providers having extra capacity on their networks available, both of which benefit you by having lower cost options available that leverage widely available infrastructure that's already out there (ie more bars in more places for less dead presidents). 

The other component of the savings is the fact that devices are not being subsidized by the plan (ie no free phones or $300 iPhone with a 2yr contract), you either bring you own (most services have a list of supported devices) or purchase an unlocked phone directly from the service provider.  I figured I'd put that caveat up top for the "I must have the latest iWhatever" crowd so you don't waste your time reading the rest of this, although I'd recommend you think about the fact that you could be paying over $1200/year for that hunk of plastic and fancy glass that you can buy outright for $700 (which leaves you with $500 for fancy cases and headphones!).

There are many of these types of providers out there but I will only speak to the 2 we have experience with, Ting (uses Sprint CDMA devices/towers) and Ptel (uses Tmobile GSM devices/towers). I'll start out by saying that I am way too reliant on (and distracted by) the computer in my pocket and probably wouldn't have ever considered this change had I not had a couple of friends who started tinkering with this idea and Google Voice about this time last year,  which along with using Wifi every chance you get, is the key to this money saving equation if you're a heavy texter. 

By setting up a Voice account and installing the App on your phone, all of your texts travel via data (or wifi when available) and there are no per message charges typical of most MVNO plans.  You can also text and call (like a VOIP service) from any computer which is an added bonus.  Calling via the data connection used to be an option with 3rd party apps as well but has gone by the wayside recently although I heard Google will be incorporating this into Hangouts in the near future so one could presumably get away with only paying for data, which is incredibly cheap with Ting.

The boy and I had fairly fresh Sprint devices when this experiment began so Ting was our service of choice.  Ting's model is quite unique, they have buckets of varying sizes for minutes, data, and texting and you just pay the amount for whatever buckets you fall in at the end of the month along with a $6/phone base charge.  For us this amounts to an average of $27/month for 2 phones using 100 minutes and 500mb or less/month (no text charges since we use Google Voice for that).

They have a handy calculator you can use to figure out how much you'll save based on your current usage and will even pay up to $75 towards your Early Termination Fee (ETF) if you have an existing contract, which for me led to the decision to end my Sprint contract a year early as I'd pay myself back in less than 3months due to the savings.  Service has been flawless thus far (same as when we were on Sprint which makes since as they use the same infrastructure) and they've even lowered their rates since we signed up, when's the last time Sprint or AT&T did something like that??

PlatinumTel (PTel)

Our original plan was to move the whole family from Sprint to Ting but a cracked screen and an impulsive purchase of a sale-priced Nexus 4 right before the new models came out left us with a GSM device that wouldn't work on Ting's network.  The Ptel recommendation came from a buddy who is a true Mustachian and spends less in a year on phone service with their "Real PayGo" plan than most people pay monthly. 

The Mrs started out with PayGo and we were spending <$20/month early this year when she was still cooped up in the house with the little ones and on wifi but once baseball season ramped up and she starting doing mom's outings her data usage increased and we switched to he $35/month unlimited plan.  Sure it's only 3G but you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference and for $35 (about 1/2 of most other "unlimited" plans) who cares!  If you must have 4G data they also have $40 and $50 fancypants plans if you can't wait a few more seconds for pictures of your friends' dinner to load on Facebook...
The end result for us is a 70% reduction in cell phone related expenses, from $202/month for our ridiculously priced Sprint "Family Plan" to a $62/month average with the new setup for 3 phones.  I'm not sure what Sprint's idea of a family value is but I can think of a lot more productive and rewarding family related things to spend $140/month on.

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