Flipping the Switch

After nearly 20 years with AT&T, I switched to T-Mobile

By Blaine Fergerstrom

Nov. 2015 – There, I went and did it. It was hard leaving a comfortable spot, but a man reaches a point where something has got to be done, and, well, I went and did it!

After nearly 20 years paying the piper of AT&T for cell phone service, I finally took the bait and switched to competing carrier T-Mobile!

T-Mobile website

We have long had a family plan with AT&T. At first, my wife and I started with Honolulu Cellular, me augmenting my digital pager with a fancy new, slim cell phone, which I paid dearly for. I remember making a cell phone call while mountain biking out at Ka’ena Point one year, just to see how the reception was. It worked well!

Then Honolulu Cellular became AT&T and I switched to a flip-phone. The CyberWarriors of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus figured out a way to transmit text messages to my flip phone from the CyberWarriors website. Cutting-edge hog heaven!

Then AT&T got broken up, becoming Cingular. Then they were back as AT&T.

When the new iPhone came out in 2007, I was ready! Swapped the SIM chip and away I went with my brand new Apple fanboy toy on my AT&T service! They were happy to re-enlist me for a couple of years for signing up with the new iPhone. I think I had 256mb of data, per month, back then, used sparingly.

Then I got the iPhone 3, then the iPhone 4 (All the while the poor wife stuck with her dumb phone.). Then my son Alex grew up and wanted a fancy phone. Initially, we got him a phone with a keyboard like a Blackberry.

“Alex, don’t use the data functions on your phone.” “OK, dad.” Next month: $275 bill for data usage. “I didn’t know email was data!”

So we got a family data plan with 1.5 megabytes, which of course Alex blew to smithereens the next month. $350 data bill!

Then we discovered pay-as-you-go text messaging. We got the plan with 200 text messages per month. In the next month, Alex racked up a $500+ bill from the thousands of text messages he sent! OUCH! Which prompted us to get a family plan with more data and unlimited text messages.

He promptly blew through our new data plan, racking up even more overage charges and he made the unlimited messaging plan plead for mercy!

I kept scolding, negotiating with AT&T, who offered concessions each time I complained, but somehow I still ended up paying large monthly cell phone bills.

Then we added Granny’s dumb phone. Only $10 a month more. Until Granny discovered Directory Assistance, at $2 per call! AIYAH!!!

Our bill went from an initial $60 per month way back when, and recently topped out at $190 per month. That was the last straw. I started looking at competitors.

T-Mobile seemed to offer what we needed: a family plan with 6gb of data PER LINE! No more shared data! No more blown data caps! No more surprise bills! Four lines, 6gb of data (per line), unlimited talk and text, $120 per month. After the various taxes and fees imposed by the government, the bill comes to $140 per month, much better than the last $190 bill I paid to AT&T.

[UPDATE: In Mar. 2016, I noticed T-Mobile advertising a 4-line family plan for $120 per month with 10GB of data per line. I stopped in to the T-Mobile store across the street and inquired, and was upgraded to the new, higher data cap at no extra charge. Bonus!]

And owing to the fact that I always bought my family iPhones used from Craigslist, I didn’t have to commit to a contract or buy new phones. I applied to AT&T to unlock our old phones and with little trouble, the request was granted. After that, it was as simple as swapping the AT&T SIM chips in our phones for new T-Mobile SIM chips and we were on our way. (Granny’s “brick” phone couldn’t be switched, so we bought her a brand new brick from T-Mobile for $30.)

An additional bonus for us is the Binge On and Music Freedom features offered by T-Mobile. Basically, they don’t charge your data plan for streaming music and videos. YouTube, Netflix, HBO NOW, and many more stream without using a drop of your high-speed data. On the music side, Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, iHeartRadio, Google Play Music, Pandora and other music services all stream without being charged to your data plan.

So far, I haven’t noticed much difference in the service, except that I am saving $50 per month and getting much, much more data than I ever had with AT&T. Reception in the city is the same. We don’t get out of urban areas that much, anyway. I have heard that country reception is not as good in some areas, but have not been affected by this, yet. We have gone to Nānākuli High and Intermediate Performing Arts Center (NPAC) for a few plays since the switch and can report that, in the Nānākuli High School cafeteria where performances are held, T-Mobile gets the same reception we used to get on AT&T: zero bars, no reception! But step outside the cafe and you get two bars, right away.

We have no regrets for making the switch. T-Mobile’s army of minions in pink inhabiting their stores have been eager to help whenever we have needed it. I find them sometimes to be a little inexperienced, but eager to help, often conferring with or handing off more difficult problems to more experienced minions.

All in all, the switch from AT&T to T-Mobile has been a positive change for us.