Oh Boy! 1000 Free Rollover Minutes!!

Yup, that’s sarcasm there. AT&T is offering 1000 free rollover minutes to their iPhone users as an incentive to stay with AT&T rather than switching to Verizon. Here’s why this is too little (way too little, in fact), too late.

The vast majority of people who pay for a cell phone plan pay for a plan that fits their needs. Sure, on occasion, the estimated needs may fall short of actual usage, but that doesn’t happen all that often. Cell phone plans are designed to get you to pay more for something you don’t really use or pay less for something that isn’t enough. I’m not a heavy phone user. I pay for the lowest priced cell phone plan that AT&T allows and I never go over my minutes. In fact, it’s a family plan with shared minutes and while my wife uses them more than I do, we never go over them (I think we pay for 450 minutes per month). We already have plenty of rollover minutes because of this. Adding 1000 additional rollover minutes will not affect my wallet or my experience with AT&T. I imagine this will be the same for the vast majority of people I know who mainly use their cell phones for texting and data.

AT&T has one of the worst networks in the country. Calls drop, texts never get sent (or sent too late), data connections fail or don’t exist. It’s bad. So bad, in fact, that I’m one of those people who will happily switch back to Verizon. Sure, I can’t use voice and 3G data at the same time, but, as I said above, I rarely use my voice minutes. I can’t switch yet because I’m under a contract and I’m not willing to pay extra to switch. I will suck it up and deal with AT&T’s awful network.

AT&T is also relatively expensive (though the iPhone plan is about the same as Verizon’s). So not only is the network terrible, you also pay for it. I pay about $170/month for my family plan. It includes the unlimited data and I added in the family unlimited texting. I think I also get a slight discount through my employer, but I think it only affect the voice plan for my line, not Susan’s and not the data or texting plans. So really, it’s not much of a discount at all. I think it’s somewhere between 10% and 20% off of a base plan of about $40. When you throw in everything else, it’s really only a savings of about 1-2%.

So what can AT&T do to actually get people to stay? I could only come up with three suggestions:

  • Lower the costs
  • Improve the network
  • Allow free tethering

They could easily lower the costs. Sure, they “lowered the costs” with the new limited data plans. I could switch to the 2 GB plan and save $10/month rather than stick with the unlimited plan I’m grandfathered into, but that would bring us to Verizon’s cost, which, I am pretty sure, does not include unlimited data. Drop the texting plan and include that with data. There’s no reason text messages should cost what they do. It’s data, plain and simple. Texting costs are just a way for wireless companies to gouge their customers.

Improving the network is a costly and long process. They’ve improved it a bit over the past couple years. I travel to northern New England quite a bit for vacation and skiing. When we first went, Vermont had no AT&T 3G coverage. Now they have it in many areas, but still not everywhere. One of my favorite places to go skiing in New Hampshire has no AT&T coverage unless you stand on your head in one spot of the parking lot with your arms outstretched a certain way. If you move, the call drops. Sure, those are extreme examples because they’re remote areas. But then there’s my house in Providence, the second largest city in New England, the largest city in Rhode Island. I had great AT&T coverage when we first bought our iPhones and switched to AT&T from Verizon, who didn’t have such great signal in our house. Lo and behold, within a year of switching, our AT&T coverage started dropping. Now it’s pretty bad. I get little, if any, signal in my basement (not overly surprising, but it was stronger down there at first). I have random places throughout my house where calls don’t work, including on the top floor. I have made no changes to my house in this time. It’s all AT&T’s doing. I could splurge and get one of their little MicroCell devices, but I shouldn’t have to pay more for the network to work in a place where it used to work without a problem. The company advertises the largest network. Yes, that’s true, but how much of it includes their 3G network? That’s where it gets sad. How much of it has dropped calls? It gets really sad there. If they actually put in some effort and improved their network, they wouldn’t have to worry about Verizon getting the iPhone.

Finally, they could allow for free 3G tethering. I already have it on my jailbroken phone, but since the free trial of PDAnet is up, I only get HTTP traffic, not even HTTPS, which means I can’t log into Twitter or my email or even Facebook now (since they just started using HTTPS). Verizon allows it on the iPhone, but it’s $20/month extra. AT&T allows it on other devices, but you have to pay for it. You already pay for data, why not just allow it for free? Yeah, there’s the issue of the network’s capabilities, but they just got rid of their unlimited data plan. So they have that to stand on. What does the money go to? Clearly not improving the network to handle the extra load. It just goes to lining the pockets of the top executives at AT&T.

Perhaps people would be willing to stay or switch back to AT&T if the company did something for the customers, if they sold a product that people wanted. Instead, they just make money off us and don’t really do much to keep us besides pointless gestures, like giving us 1000 free rollover minutes. No thanks, I’ll likely be switching to Verizon this summer. Hopefully, there will be a new iPhone released then and I’ll be on a more robust network.

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