Saturday, July 20, 2013

Edge, Next, or Jump: which new upgrade plan takes the least of your money?

So who doesn't want to be screwed over?
Within the space of little more than a week, three of the largest carriers in the US have introduced completely new plans to go alongside traditional contract agreements and prepaid services. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless, with their new plans called JumpNext, and Edge, respectively, are all going after the same thing: subscribers who want to get the newest smartphone as quickly as possible. That’s not the only thing that brings these new plans together, however. They’re all extremely complicated. And make no mistake, carriers like it that way — it’s easier to overcharge if customers don’t know it’s happening. So let’s untangle the secrets behind these plans to see which (if any) are a good deal.
The best way to analyze these plans is to take a real-world example. For the charts below, we’re looking at what you'd expect to pay for a Galaxy S4 on each of these carriers using one of their new plans. Here, we’re looking at both how much you’ll spend if you upgrade your phone every six months and how much it’ll cost to get a new phone once a year.
To compare the cost on each carrier, we put together similar individual plans. On T-Mobile we calculated using a Simple Choice Plan with unlimited talk and text and 2.5GB of data for $60 per month. On AT&T, we used a Nation Unlimited plan with 3GB of data and unlimited messaging for $119.99 per month.* And for Verizon, we used a Share Everything 2GB plan with unlimited talk and text for $100 per month (note: 4GB would cost $10 more per month).
*Bizarrely, individuals using AT&T's Mobile Share plan — designed for multiple devices — actually save $10 per month and get 4GB of data. The difference amounts to $240 over 24 months, which still leaves AT&T as the most expensive of the three in the chart below and still makes Next a bad deal.

Each carrier is splitting up the full cost of the phone (typically over $600 for a top-tier smartphone) using these plans. With T-Mobile Jump, you pay a down payment and then, depending on the phone model, pay about $20 per month on top of your service fees to make up the rest. Additionally, T-Mobile charges a $10-per-month fee to join Jump and get in on the device insurance included with the plan. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, charge no down payment, but split up the cost of the phone over nearly two years with what we’re calling "hardware payments." However, your monthly service plan from AT&T or Verizon includes about a $20-per-month subsidy on top of that, according to industry estimates. That’s one of the reasons why their individual plans cost so much more than T-Mobile’s, and this is precisely what makes both AT&T Next and Verizon Edge almost always a bad deal — you’re paying for your phone twice.

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