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Monday
Oct062003

Going Pre-Pay

8500Today, after much thought, research and discussion, my wife and I have decided to take the plunge into the world of pre-paid wireless. At lunchtime, we stopped by a local Best Buy to pick up a Virgin Mobile branded Audiovox 8500 handset and two $20 pre-pay top-up cards.

In case you're considering a similar switch, or are just the curious type, I thought it might be useful to share our thinking about mobile phones and contract vs. pre-pay plans.

We came to the realization that neither of us use a mobile phone enough to justify $20-30 per month wireless plans with many minutes and long-term contracts. For us, a mobile phone is really a convenience and safety item, rather than a necessity. A little research on the net and at local stores led us to pre-pay mobile services as a way to meet our mobile phone usage and budget quite nicely.

In reality, both of our mobile line usages combined fell well below the 100 minutes per month mark. I rarely used my phone and my wife only used hers occasionally to call with a tidbit of info or to setup a meeting with one of her friends. Safety was also a common use for our mobiles: to have a way to reserve a hotel or call for help on a trip.

As for long-distance, if wanted to use the plan Cingular included with Gail's line, we had a very limited Midwest region in which we could call freely, while anything outside that region had a roaming surcharge tacked on. My brother Steve, wisely pointed out that an inexpensive long distance calling card might actually be a better deal for instances when we did make long distance calls (not often).

We also realized that we could probably get by with a single mobile phone 99% of the time, since most of the time one of us is at home. If we really need another phone in a pinch, my folks offered to loan us theirs. And, as my friend Andy says "I got along for 30-some years with NO mobile phone whatsoever... I think I can probably manage without one now." An insightful point indeed.

I'd also mentioned that my folks picked up a Virgin Mobile phone a few weeks back. They made the change mainly for safety purposes during their recent trip to New England, and as a low-cost way to keep in touch with the family. They were very pleased with their Virgin Mobile phone on their trip, reporting that the sound quality was very good and coverage, even in somewhat rural areas was better than expected. With that last bit of positive feedback, my wife and I began seriously discussing the idea of going to pre-pay.

Our Cingular contracts expired in October, so canceling wouldn't incur any $150 per line cancellation fees (one big reason for staying with Cingular) and our old Nokia phones were showing signs of battery death, with time-reset screens appearing at every power-on. The cost of replacement batteries and the idea of jumping into another $20 per month, 1 or 2 year contract (complete with new cancellation fees) wasn't terribly attractive.

What was attractive was a Virgin Mobile phone and a no-contract plan and about $13.50 per month for service, assuming we get a $20 top-up card every 90 days and including the cost of new phone (spread over 12 months). Plus, whatever minutes we don't use in a 90 day period are rolled over when we top-up with a new $20 card for the new quarter. That's not bad!

I had considered waiting until December to switch, so we could keep our old phone number once Number Portability became law, but after some contemplation, I decided it wouldn't be worth the wait. Not that many people know our mobile number(s) and it's certainly easy in that case to just tell those who do know, what the new number is. I'd rather take the money we'd have spent on the overkill Cingular line, toward the new pre-pay service (especially since the monthly cost is less and the minutes roll over).

We really liked the Audiovox "Vox" 8500 flip phone offered by Virgin Mobile. It's quite small, which makes it great for popping into a jacket, purse or pants pocket. We also liked that the actual users' reviews we found online were quite favorable. I suppose as we use this phone we'll find the plusses and minuses, but for an occasional call it ought to work perfectly.

Today, after activating the Audiovox 8500 with Virgin Mobile, I called to cancel our last mobile line with Cingular. Ah, it felt so good to be done with all that. We've now left the realm of long contracts and pricey monthly fees. We'll see how pay as you go suits our lives and I'll be sure to report on our experiences from time to time. Hopefully this little story of our switch helps someone else considering it -- if so, we'll be very happy to have helped out. :-)

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