Robbing Peter (VZW) to pay Paul (T-Mobile)

Or, how I saved enough on my wireless bill to afford buying a new phone each year

Posted by Orville Bennett on November 25, 2017
Read time: about 4 minutes

I like technology. It’s kind of my thing. I do believe human use of computers will be the downfall of mankind but (besides that minor drawback), what computers—especially networked computers—allow us to accomplish as a civilization is actually quite amazing. After the release of the first iPhone there was something of revolution in the capabilities of tiny little networked computers. They could make phone calls—which I didn’t particularly care about. They could be used for multimedia—like playing or listening to music. They could also access the internet at ever faster speeds, on increasingly larger screens. Information was literally at your fingertips. And that, more or less, is where this story begins.

The Problem

I used to be a Verizon Wireless (VZW) customer. Through my employer I had a 20% discount on VZW cellphone service. I had just switched employers and my discount was about to expire. My wife and I would have gone from paying $145/month for 2 phones with unlimited talk, text, and 4 GB of shared data to paying ~$170/month for the same. Given our financial situation I had a choice to make: either give up a phone line, or find a better (or at the very least, cheaper) plan. After doing some research I went with the latter option.

The Solution

We switched to $30 per month T-Mobile prepaid plans. With 2 lines, we would end up saving at least $1320 per year.

The Math

At $170/month our bill for the coming year would be $170 * 12 = $2040; an increase of $300/year.

$170 * 12 = $2040
$145 * 12 = $1740 
2040 - 1740 = 300

Instead of accepting that increase or moving down to 1 phone line between two people, I investigated switching to T-Mobile’s $30/month plan. At first this plan seemed only slightly inferior to VZW’s plan. It got us good enough service, unlimited texts and 5 Gb1 of 4G data per month, but only provided 100 minutes of talk time per month.

Contrast that with just one line on Verizon and I would get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 2 Gb of 4G data for ~$80/month. $80/month for less data was not very appealing. And it became even less appealing once we realized we would get TWO $30/month lines with T-Mobile for less than the cost of ONE line with Verizon.

The Hickup

The T-Mobile plan definitely seemed like the better deal. Still, 100 minutes is not a whole lot. I don’t actually speak to many people on the phone so the minutes didn’t matter as much for me; my wife … not so much. I did have a solution for that as well though: Google Voice and an Android app called Talkatone. I had already been testing out T-Mobile 2 and knew I could set up Talkatone with my Google Voice account to do VOIP calls. These are essentially phone calls that are made over the internet, which allow you to avoid using your cell phone minutes. I outline how I set this up below:

  • Sign up for Google Voice
  • Order and recieve a T-Mobile SIM online
  • Activate SIM online
  • Choose the $30 plan
  • Get Talk-a-tone from the Google Play/ iOs App Store ($0.99/month)
  • Sign in with Google Voice
  • Makes calls with Talk-a-tone

Having set up Talkatone with Google Voice, we could then enjoy free calls using our 4G data instead of cell service.3

The Fallout

I still had 18 months left on my own contract and about 4-5 on the other line so ETFs for both were quite sizeable: totalling $370. Add that to the $145 for the current bill and I’d have to pony up $515 before leaving VZW for good. Since the $145 was already in the budget I’d have to find an extra $370 or put it on a credit card, which is what I ended up doing. Nowadays T-Mobile even pays early termination fees when coming from competitors so this may not even be a cost you need to worry about.

Do the Math

This seemed like a heavy cost to pay, but based on savings for the first year of the plan, it was actually fine. $1320 in savings minus the $370 ETF was still $950 saved over the course of a year. I decided it was worth it.

Based on anticipated savings we bought a new T-Mobile compatible phone. T-Mobile has 0% interest payment plans for those who qualify (depends on credit check). What we did at the time though was purchase a $200 Moto G, and used that as the second line.

Setting up the Plan

After you’ve recieved your new T-Mobile prepaid SIM card, you’ll have to activate it with your new plan. Unfortunately, finding the $30 plan on T-Mobile’s site is a challenge. After receiving your SIM card and setting up service online at t-mobile.com, only then can you choose the $30/month plan.

Update

Three years later, I’ve actually switched again to a T-Mobile MVNO called Mintsim. Our current monthly bill? $20 per month for each person. This plan provides unlimited talk, unlimited text and 5 Gb of 4G data. If you think it’s too good to be true, there is a catch. I pay for a year’s worth of service to get that price. Compared to $170/month for less than half the data, I don’t mind at all though. It’s still more affordable to pay for a full year for both of us. That’s still less expensive than 3 months of VZW’s plan.

The links below are resources I used both writing this post and actually switching service providers. Feel free to check them out. This post was one of the inspirations to make the switch, and I’m happy I did.

New phones ya’ll

As a nice little bonus, these cutbacks have made it possible to purchase new phones outright and off contract. If you’re smarter than me, you’ll probably be able to put that money to better use. Me? I like those pocket computers with access to the internet at ever faster speeds, with increasingly larger screens.

  1. After 5 Gb you get slow data speeds. 

  2. I was trying to get my rooted, VZW Droid Razr M working on a non-CDMA network. I actually did get this working

  3. This worked great for a while until google came out with their Hangouts app. We had to switch to using Hangouts to make calls which required my wife to change the way she did things. There was no longer that $0.99 fee per month though; like most of Google’s consumer facing services, you pay with the information you allow Google to collect about you, not in dollars.