Phoenix Unlimited

Friday, May 28, 2010

Early Termination Fees (ETF) a case against the Big 4

In January the FCC launched an investigation into the Early Termination Fees being charged by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. "The inquiry comes only a few weeks after the FCC questioned Verizon about its high $350 ETF for 'advanced devices' and deemed Verizon’s response to be 'unsatisfying, and, in some cases, troubling'." Last week, AT&T followed Verizon's lead and increased their ETF for "advanced devices" to $325. ETFs for AT&T are pro-rated, and drop $10 per month.

If you haven't begun asking yourself why they are charging you an ETF, let me tell you their explanation. According the the Wall Street Journal Verizon said a new $350 fee is necessary to cover its higher costs and the "RISKS" of offering high-speed wireless Internet service. "The higher (early termination fee) associated with Advanced Devices reflects the higher costs associated with offering those devices to consumers at attractive prices, the costs and risks of investing in the broadband network to support these devices, and other costs and risks," Verizon wrote in a letter to the FCC.

In an earlier post, I compared what Verizon is charging for their "Droid" service with that which Virgin Mobile will be charging for their Android phone. So today I will just say... Boost Mobile is launching the Opus1 Motorola IDEN phone under the model number i1. Out the door cost will be $400 for the phone and $50 for the first month of service. Over a two year span, you will pay a total of $1,600.00 for the phone, monthly service and taxes. Verizon service for their "Droid" will cost at the minimum over 2 years $2,274.00. That is for just the phone and the service of 450 minutes of talk time. You will have to pay an additional 13% in taxes plus any additional overage and late fees.

If Boost Mobile can give you "UNLIMITED" voice, text, data, email, IM's for $50 a month with no ETFs then why does Verizon and AT&T think they take more risk? The big carriers have continually robbed consumers of their money using their monthly service charges and ETFs for ages under the guise that they are discounting the handsets to the consumers. Virgin will give service for as little as $25/month for an "advanced device" without charging a fee for any "risk" for use of the broadband network.

Let's call it what it is. This is the Big 4s way to keep you with them forever. AT&T raised their fee in May because, in this authors view, Verizon will be getting an iPhone on the CDMA/LTE network within the year. Several years ago they increased their contracts from 1 year to 2 years for the same reasons. What are we going to have next? A 3 year contract?

It's time to say goodbye to the Postpaid world and realize that Prepaid is the only business model that should exist. If Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile can't make you happy they don't deserve your business. You should be able to change to another network if you are treated poorly. Getting service with any of the Big 4 companies, with their outrageous service charges and ETFs, is tantamount to indentured servitude.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why Every Mother Needs Android

The Android Market provides its users with thousands of apps - just about anything that you need, from fun, to work, to necessity. You can manage your finances; you can manage your car, auto, and house insurance; you can get a barcode scanner; you can get a large variety of games; and just about anything else all on your Android phone. There are an estimated 30,000 apps on the market and about 60% of them are free. That's the highest percentage of free apps on any market.

With that said, why wouldn't you want an android phone? With the vast array of applications available, the android can be catered to nearly any life style. Take mothers for example. personal Finance, according to the app market, is "the leading online personal finance app, providing over 3 million users an easy & intelligent way to manage money, see all of your accounts in one place, set budgets, see where you spend, and find personalized savings - all for free." And more importantly whenever and wherever you are, if you need to check your account while on the road, you can. That is the freedom that an android phone gives you.

First Aid is another must have for mothers, giving you the medical advice you need in the order you need it. It gives you information on what to do if you or your child are injured. It is a great app, and like many of the apps on the market, it's free. Android Market says "First Aid is designed to help you follow the right procedures in a stressful situation or support other people by giving them instructions. It is based on illustrations, videos and short texts that show you how to take the necessary action step by step and in the right order."

Barcode Scanner - great app for shopping. With this app you can scan a barcode from boxes ect, and many other products to look up prices or even look up reviews, giving you the opportunity to find the best deal in town. Along with that, why not use The Coupon App, giving you savings at food chains, stores, and even gas stations!!! This app uses GPS to find your location and then gives you the best deals in your area. You can even personalize your search and take the responsibility upon yourself. Oh, and did I mention it's free also?!

The reason any Mother needs an android phone is because android is the future. This year at Mobile World Congress (which is the biggest gathering of cell phone companies and more in the world) an android phone won "Best Device Award." recently did a consumer report survey on the best cell phone in which an android phone won by 81%. Iphone 3gs didn't even come close, taking a mere 6% of the vote. It was instead an android that won the CNET CTIA Award for 2010. In 3 months the android market has tripled in size, and you can now have one for as little as $25 dollars (no tax on top) a month with unlimited web, text, email, and picture messaging with 300 talk minutes on Virgin Mobile. In other words you can keep up with the kids, get the best shopping, you can always be prepared for emergencies, and have the most advanced phone on the market for 25 bucks a month. It doesn't get much better than that, and if your an avid talker, Virgin has a 40 dollar plan including 1200 talk minutes. If you want unlimited talking run to Boost Mobile. They are getting an android phone soon also, the first ruggedized Iden android phone. Boost has excellent plans, and we have our fingers crossed in the hopes that the android will be on the 50 dollar unlimited monthly plan that includes unlimited talk, text, web, and walkie-talkie.

As I said earlier, android is the future. For mothers it means always having what they need when they need it. And with more than half the apps being free you don't have to worry about spending a fortune on getting all those things you need to keep your family in check on a day to day basis. My wife loves her android phone and is always on it. I love my android phone and I wouldn't trade it for any other, and I've had my share of high end phones. Only with the Android did I find what I was looking for. I don't doubt that you will too.

You might be telling yourself that they are to complicated, that you could never learn a smart phone. Well I have good news for you, these phones are some of the most user-friendly phones I have ever seen. They are extremely easy, and on top of that if I DO run into something that I can't figure out, the customer support for these phones is incredible. If I have a question all I do is ask the google server, and I have my answer. The google bar comes custom with android phones, and will provide answers to nearly any questions you might have. Seeing as around 60,000 android phones are sold everyday according to CEO of google, Eric Schmidt, someone is bound to have run into your problem before.

I love my phone, and am sure you will once you pick up your first android and start using it and it's thousands of apps.

Please leave comments and questions below.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pandora Music - making the Android worth it!

I'm a practical person. This means when I see a new smartphone or android phone with all its confangled doo-hickeys and the like, my first reaction is: Why? I have a computer. I paid good money for that computer. What possible reason could there be for me to own a phone that does nothing my computer can't already do?

The strength of android phones has always been their apps. GPS and Locator apps don't appeal to me - I have a GPS in my car. What about apps that back up your contacts? I do that already, and I'm not prepared to pay $400 for that convenience. I can bump my phone against yours so that they automatically exchange numbers, HA! ...really?

Enter Pandora - the one application that makes the droid phone worth it for people like me. This is an app of which music lovers - and likers - across the globe should be made aware. It's just that awesome.

For those reading this blog not yet aware of Pandora and what it does, let me explain. Pandora is essentially personalized free online radio. But Squeakers, I hate radio. You're not alone my friend. The big problem with radio today is that most stations broadcast to a fairly generalized audience, and even those catered to a more specific audience don't tend to deliver product adequate to the picky consumer's taste. That's why "personalized" is the operative word. Take me - jazz pianist and enthusiast. I defy anyone to name a great jazz station on the radio that plays the stuff I want to hear without mangling it with stuff I really don't want to hear. My experience with Pandora went as follows - I'll try not to bore you with a bunch of names, albums, and other jazz trivia that might be uninteresting to you.

After taking care of the usual user agreement and sign in procedures, I was prompted to type in a song or artist I like. I swung for the fence, and typed in my all time favorite artist Chick Corea. Pandora then created an entire line up of tracks consisting of Chick Corea's music as well as music meeting a similar criteria or performed by a similar artist. While listening, I was able to access information like Chick's bio, information on his latest album releases, recording history, other artists that he's played with, and even album reviews.

Wow, I really like the bass player on this track. Pandora says it's Stanley Clarke. I wonder what Stanley's doing these days. I click on his name, and now my radio station's parameters have changed - Pandora's now searching for music by or similar to that of Stanley Clarke. Hey, I've never heard this album, but I like this tune. Guess what - I can buy it from Pandora and format it for my itunes if I want. Don't want to buy it? That's fine, I can bookmark it or click the "I like this" button to increase the probability that I'll hear this song the next time I log in. On the other hand, if I don't like this song, I can click the "I don't like this" button - that track will never darken my doorstep again.

On the off chance that I get tired of jazz, I can create a new radio station with new parameters. Not to worry though, my Chick Corea station will remain saved in my docket so I can call it up whenever the urge strikes me. Pandora will even combine all my stations together for the ultimate playlist, just in case I happen to feel like mixing it up.

As a jazzer, it's really easy to get caught up in the older familiar stuff, and forget that there are people still innovating the music today. Since I can't exactly just up and go to New York to find out who they are, I have a hard time keeping up. But Pandora contains both the old and the new, and will find unforgettable albums from the 1940s, or an album released in 2009 by an artist just beginning his recording career. I can also rediscover old favorites like Bill Evans, or find albums of his I didn't even know existed. This doesn't only apply to me and the jazz community - anyone with any interest in their favorite artists can find the same sort of information and have the same easy access to more obscure work. If you're the kind of person that has to be up on the latest Beyonce song, or the newest Ke$ha album, Pandora is for YOU too.

But Squeakers, I can use Pandora on my computer. I don't need a Smartphone.

That's true, you CAN access Pandora from your computer. And that's great if you're at home doing dishes or doing some serious sit down listening. But what if you want to take a walk or a jog and you want something to pass the time? What if you're driving alone for an hour and a half and you need some amazing tunage to keep you from catching highway hypnosis? It'd be a drag if you had to run with an open laptop in your hands - not to mention it wouldn't make any difference if you didn't have traveling wi-fi.

Well, I have an ipod.

Okay, but what if you're tired of the same 10 CDs. I currently have 6022 songs on my ipod and even I get tired of it. Maybe there are times when I can find a record on my ipod I haven't listened to in a while, and that will satiate me for the time being, but that just isn't always the case. Pandora gives you access to a massive database that's constantly being updated with new material. If it weren't for the fact that I just like owning stuff and I like to support my favorite artists, I might never have to buy an album again. This doesn't mean your ipod is obsolete. It's very useful for what it's built for - storing and playing the music you have.

What about the ipod-touch? It'll get Pandora.

Personally, if I want a storage device, I'll get a normal ipod with good storage capacity (the storage capacity of an ipod-touch is laughable when compared to my 160 gig ipod). Conclusion: if you're thinking about an ipod-touch, you might as well get a smart phone or droid phone because the difference in price is negligible and they largely have the same capabilities - except that the ipod-touch won't make phone calls so far as I know.

Think about your grandparents. It took my family years to convince my grandma to even buy a microwave. A MICROWAVE! Some houses have those already built in! Yet, she wants to stay in contact with her family, right? Why a smartphone? PANDORA! Grandma loves the Glenn Miller Orchestra. She can make a Glenn Miller Station, where she'll hear some of her favorites like "In The Mood," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "The Chattanooga Choo-Choo," and many more. Pandora will refer her to similar bands, like Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Band. Who doesn't love Frank Sinatra? And Pandora is WAY easier to use than a microwave. A couple sit down lessons from her favorite grandson, and she'll never want for her favorite music again. Plus, she'll have ready access to pictures of the new baby, a cheap calling plan (if you're smart and go prepaid), and maybe a chance to revisit her poker and blackjack days.

Best of all, it's free. Not like 'free but you have to pay for the shipping' free. FREE!

Now what's the catch, you ask? Pandora is free radio, meaning you can't play a particular song on demand, and you'll only here selections from a designated artist 4 times in any given hour. This is why Pandora is free, and considering all the things I get for my 0 dollars... Well let's just say I'm not losing any sleep over it.

Combine this exceedingly awesome app with a droid phone on a $25 rate plan from Virgin Mobile (less than half of what I'd pay with one of the Big 4 contract companies) and I'm sold.

If you have questions or comments... well you know what to do!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Postpaid vs. Prepaid

Over the past few years prepaid cellphone service has become more mainstream and therefor more prevalent everywhere you look.  Years past if you wanted to buy prepaid you understood that you would be charged a premium for every minute you talked.  The phones offered by prepaid companies were $19.99 and let’s be honest... those phones were really bad.
Ten years ago Cricket and MetroPCS launched in selected cities across the country with what became known as a Hybrid Prepaid plan.  They would offer unlimited talk for a set price with no bells and whistles.  Service was very restricted and spotty at best.  However, as those two companies matured and grew they began to offer better coverage and to be honest better service.
The biggest problem with the prepaid market is its reputation.  Most consumers would never choose a prepaid service because they think they will sacrifice quality of service over price.  Because of this reputation many customers have remained loyal to the Big 4 companies in the United States.  Over 250 million americans have a cellular device from either Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile.  Some of this data is misleading since it accounts for “devices” or “wholesale” rather than cellphone users but you get the picture.  Service revenue of the four companies are in the 30 Billion range
The year 2009 has marked an entire new era in cellular service.  The United States has a population estimated near 300 Million people.  Quick math will tell you that there isn’t much “Growth” left in the adoption rate for cellphones.  A friend of mine told her kid that he doesn’t need a phone since all his friends will have one.  A sad statement, but a true one in many cases.  The days of telling your parents that you couldn’t find a pay-phone will no longer work as an excuse for not calling when you are late.
Due to the ever shrinking potential market for the Big 4, they have recently started to offer prepaid service themselves.  The only carrier staying out of this game has been Verizon but as you’ll learn in this post that’s not entirely true.  The price wars have begun and the days when buying prepaid meant giving up this or that are over.
Recently, I read a news article saying prepaid will never have smart phones.  However, this morning I was on a conference call with the Sprint Prepaid Group (SPG), they announce Android phones will be sold under their prepaid brands of Virgin Mobile as well as Boost Mobile.  They also announced the rate plans.... $25/month for unlimited data/text/messaging with an Android phone and 300 minutes of talk.  
If you have a smart phone on Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile you know you are paying an additional $30/month for that benefit.  The cheapest you can have an Android operating system phone on Verizon is 90+ dollars a month and commit to a 2-year contract and 450 minutes a month of Talk.  
Verizon:                   450 minutes
Phone Droid            $80.00
Activation Fee        $35.00
Mthly Plan              $89.99
Mthly Service 2y      $2,159.00
Total cost  $2,274.00
Virgin Mobile:          UNLTD minutes
Phone Android $400.00
Activation Fee $0.00
Mthly Plan $60.00
Mthly Service 2   $1,440.00
Total cost          $1,840.00
Virgin Mobile:         1200 minutes
Phone Android $400.00
Activation Fee $0.00
Mthly Plan $40.00
Mthly Service 2y  $960.00
Total cost          $1,360.00
Virgin Mobile:         300 minutes
Phone Android $400.00
Activation Fee $0.00
Mthly Plan               $25.00
Mthly Service 2y  $600.00
Total cost          $1,000.00
The example above illustrates why prepaid is so attractive right now.  The draw back for prepaid really comes back to cost upfront verses cost over time in many cases.  Some of you noticed that earlier I said Sprint owns Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile.  Virgin and Boost are not what the industry calls an MVNO.  In other words... when you call customer support you are talking to employees being paid by Sprint.  When you deal with companies like PagePlus, Tracfone, or SimpleMobile you are dealing with a smaller company and in most cases poor customer service.
Verizon has taken the approach to prepaid by allowing many MVNO’s to use their network.  Companies like Tracfone, and PagePlus are examples of this.  Tracfone recently launched in Walmart the SmartTalk brand offering unlimited talk and text for a great price.  I don’t want to say anything bad about this company since the rate plans are excellent and the coverage is... well... better than Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile.  However, you give up the phones and data that Virgin and Boost offer since it’s well... Sprint.
So, why would anyone buy postpaid if prepaid is cheaper?  Good question.  Postpaid will always give you a better selection of phones.  Postpaid gives you access to all of their roaming partners so that you don’t have to worry about coverage in most cases.  Postpaid will give you excellent family plans.  (Virgin Mobile is rumored to be offering family plans by the end of the year.)  Companies like Cricket offer family plans, but they are often dummied down and in most cases not any cheaper than postpaid.
Our company sells Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, PagePlus, Simple Mobile and Airvoice Mobile.  Why so many?  Well, not all companies are created equal.  When selecting a cell phone company you really should ask the sales representatives what the differences are.  I can tell you from experience PagePlus customer service leaves you desiring more.  However, we sell this company a lot.  Why?  Because they have a really cheap price and great coverage.  You do lose some things when you leave Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile who are owned 100% by a major Big 4 carrier.  However, in most cases you gain something of value.
I’m a big believer that postpaid with their 2 year contracts are too expensive.  Soon everyone will understand this and start switching over to prepaid.  Prepaid is very competitive and will remain so over the next few years.  Good luck when choosing your path.
If you have comments or questions... please post them below.