I’ve been an AT&T customer for years, but the rising costs of AT&T’s wireless charges for our family combined with T-Mobile’s simple and VASTLY less expensive family wireless plans have enticed us to switch over. T-Mobile’s 4G and LTE wireless data support in Oklahoma City for the iPhone is the other main reason we decided to switch. T-Mobile’s cell network and phones are compatible with AT&T’s, so we haven’t had to purchase all new phones for members of our family to make this switch.

In this post, I’ll briefly highlight the reasons we’ve switched over and the process we’ve gone through getting our AT&T phones “unlocked” for T-Mobile service and on their network. We have 2 parents and 2 kids currently using iPhones, with another to add within 2 years. It’s been unacceptable to pay over $200 for a monthly, family cell phone bill with AT&T… and now with T-Mobile we’re saving over $100 per month. This is such a big move for us, I ordered $5 T-Mobile tshirts online last week after our “switchover” was finalized so we could pose for a family photo today at our local T-Mobile store, to mark this momentous occasion. (Update: See my 2/17/2014 post “GeoMap Comparison of Cellular Data Speeds Between OKC and Dodge City” also.)

The decision on whether to dump your current cell phone carrier and switch over to another provider is a big deal that has many different factors. Dwight Silverman wrote an article for the Houston Chronicle last month, “Is it worth switching to T-Mobile?” in which he concluded it wasn’t worth switching. Unlike Silverman, however, our family (and others we know) have been weighing these options and taking steps to migrate different family members over to T-Mobile for over year. See Sherman Nicodemus’s guest post from Jan 2012 on my blog, “Avoiding AT&T’s Ridiculous iPhone Data Fees by Switching to T-Mobile,” as well as my posts “Is AT&T Mobile Share with Unlimited Talk & Text A Good Deal?” (Nov 2012,) “AT&T Unlocked My iPhone4 Today” (September 2012) and “Considering Options for LTE 4G Mobile Hotspots & iPhone Service” (June 2012) for more background.

The main factors I considered for our family in deciding whether to switch over to T-Mobile and how to switch over were:

  1. Costs: In addition to monthly costs, the cost of new/updated iPhones as well as early termination fees
  2. Cellular phone coverage and data coverage

When we let our first child get a cell phone in sixth grade, four short years ago, he didn’t get an iPhone. With AT&T, the cheapest option for adding a smartphone (including the iPhone) to our family plan was $30 per month. This was $10 for the phone, but an additional $20 per month for iPhone data. This was required, not optional. It was (and still is) ridiculous to pay $30 more per month for a child to have a phone, even a smartphone.

Those excessive monthly smartphone costs from AT&T got me exploring other options. I learned T-Mobile’s network is compatible with AT&T’s, so if I got our older, out-of-contract iPhones “unlocked” by AT&T then they could be used on T-Mobile’s network. I wasn’t able or ready to switch over to T-Mobile myself, because I was on a contract with AT&T and wasn’t sure if T-Mobile’s coverage and data speeds would be good enough for my needs, but I found out about a “pay as you go” option for T-Mobile that was slightly less expensive than AT&T. For $15 per month, my son could have unlimited texting with T-Mobile and then we’d pay 10¢ per minute for phone calls. He rarely called, so this worked out to be about $20 per month in costs because we had to renew the voice minutes on his line periodically. When our middle daughter was ready for a phone my wife and I were ready to get our older daughter a phone, we put her on this same plan with an older, unlocked iPhone. There was NO cellular data on this plan, but that was OK. My kids could get online via wifi at home, and they were pretty happy to be able to text and call when they needed to.

Our monthly cell bills with AT&T, when all my kids were on our plan with my wife and I, were always over $200 per month. When they started regularly hitting $260 per month, we decided enough was enough. We first moved the kids to T-Mobile on the “pay as you go” plans. About six months ago, I moved my wife off our AT&T family plan to her own T-Mobile plan. For $50 per month she got unlimited texts and calling and 500 MB of data. We were “testing the waters” to see how the coverage for T-Mobile was in Oklahoma City, using her line, before we cancelled our entire AT&T line and I lost my “grandfathered” unlimited iPhone data plan.

When T-Mobile announced their promotion a few weeks ago to pay early termination fees for AT&T and Verizon customers, that finally got me back in the store ready to make the switch to T-Mobile myself. I initially thought I’d sell back my 64 GB iPhone5, so T-Mobile would pay me for the phone AND pay my termination fee with AT&T. It turns out, however, since my AT&T contract expires in September my termination fee is just $165, or $188 with taxes.

T-Mobile was going to pay this fee for me in the form of a VISA gift card, and then credit my account for $205 for the iPhone5 if I mailed it in. So we’d get $393 back, and I could get a new iPhone5s that I’d pay off for $25 per month through T-Mobile.

I did more web research and talked with an AT&T customer service representative on the phone, however, and learned that after I pay off that early termination fee AT&T will unlock my iPhone5 so we can use it on the T-Mobile network. I decided it makes more sense for us to just keep the iPhone5 and pay $188. Then we own it outright, and can look at other upgrade options for family members down the road.

One of the key decision milestones in this saga for me, personally, was deciding NOT to take an early upgrade offer for my iPhone from AT&T. The modus operandi of AT&T in wireless sales has been and continues to be LOCKING YOU IN to a multi-year contract by offsetting the initial cost of a smartphone (like an iPhone) but forcing you to pay lots more via monthly charges over the course of your contract with them. Once you’re locked into a contract, it’s hard to get out because of the sizable early termination fees. This gets even harder to escape if you have multiple family members on different contracts which expire at different times. This is a business model that has proven lucrative for AT&T, but its effect has been to “normalize” ridiculously expensive monthly cell phone costs for many families. That “new normal” is simply not acceptable to me or to our family, and that’s the biggest reason we’ve now switched to T-Mobile’s alternative.

T-Mobile has and continues to make LOTS of network upgrades that have made their network an equivalent option for us to AT&T’s, living in northwest Oklahoma City. They are adding 40 more towers in our area this spring, but already we’ve found over the past year that their network coverage is very good where we live and regularly commute in the OKC metro area. In the tests I conducted last Monday and documented in my post, “T-Mobile and Verizon Hotspot Mobile Data Shootout,” I’ve found that the LTE data speeds on T-Mobile in our area are fantastically fast. Overall, I’m VERY pleased with our switchover to T-Mobile on multiple fronts.

If you’re in a similar situation to our family, I recommend you use the T-Mobile “Simple Choice Plan” family calculator” to figure out your monthly costs and compare them to your current carrier. These are the options we went with. Now that both my wife and I are on T-Mobile, it’s just $10 per child to add both our older kids to our cell plan – AND they both get wireless data. We’re paying less per month for more services than we had before, for our kids. I have a new iPhone5s, and am on the T-Mobile “unlimited” data plan which also includes 2.5 GB per month of wifi tethering for my laptop or iPad. I LOVE these plan features and monthly prices. Our current features are:

  1. I’m the primary account on T-Mobile for $50, with an extra $20 for “unlimited data and 2.5 GB monthly tethering. I’m also paying $10 per month for the “jump” plan, which provides better device insurance and lets me upgrade after 6 months to a new iPhone and thereafter upgrade twice per year if I want, keeping my monthly iPhone payment at $25. So my line is costing $105 for all these features. With AT&T, I was paying $130 per month for myself alone, had an iPhone5 with no “jump” upgrade option, no additional device insurance, and no tethering. I’d held off this update because I was on a “grandfathered” AT&T unlimited data plan, but with T-Mobile I have unlimited data.
  2. We are paying $30 to add my wife’s iPhone to our plan, plus an extra $10 per month so she has 2.5 GB of monthly data instead of just 500 MB. Previously we were paying much more for her extra line with AT&T. When she was by herself on T-Mobile we paid $50 per month for her, with only 500 MB of data.
  3. We’re paying $10 per month for my son to have unlimited talk and text, with 500 MB of data. Previously we were paying about $20 per month for unlimited texting, and 10 cents per minute for talk, without any cellular data.
  4. Ditto the previous for my older daughter. Just $10 per month now for those features.

When our youngest is ready for her first cell phone, it will be an older, unlocked iPhone and just cost us $10 per month with T-Mobile. I also should mention that T-Mobile’s data service is actually unlimited for ALL family members, even though I’m the only one paying for an “unlimited data plan.” Everyone else is capped on high speed data (just 3G speed for the iPhone4, but 4G/LTE for iPhone5’s and newer) but their speed drops to 2G (EDGE) after they reach their monthly limit. This is another GREAT feature with T-Mobile, we won’t pay any monthly overage charges on our family plan – and no one is ever completely “cut off” from mobile data.

I expect we’ll shop CD-R Electronics in south Oklahoma City in the upcoming year for unlocked iPhone5 / iPhone5c / iPhone5s models for our kids, and weigh the benefits of upgrading them using T-Mobile’s $25 per month payoff plan. I expect our kids will continue to inherit paid-off, older iPhones, until they choose to start paying some or all of their cellular costs in college. Depending on the T-Mobile coverage in your local area and where you regularly travel, the path we’ve opted for may not be a fit for you. If the coverage is good, however, I strongly encourage you to make the switch.

AT&T and other cellular carriers need to learn charging families of 4 or 5 over $200 per month for wireless service is unacceptable. This message will hopefully be strongly and persuasively communicated by families like ours, who opt to ditch AT&T for T-Mobile based primarily upon their MUCH more reasonable family plan pricing structure.

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  • Korren Pugh

    AMEN! Our family did the same only we joined SPRINT for unlimited data and text, etc. We were tired of never being rewarded for customer loyalty!! News, Views & Stews

  • William Danforth

    And you have no skin in the game? This is alot of research just to share with people. I know it must have taken you a long time to write all this up but since you penned this article, AT&T has made some changes to their Family plans. Enjoy the sub par wireless network.

  • http://www.speedofcreativity.org Wesley Fryer

    William: Can you define “skin in the game?” I fully disclose any financial connections / payments / relationships I have to products, businesses or organizations on my blog. If you mean by “skin in the game” am I being paid by T-Mobile to write this or encouraged in any way to write it, that answer is no. I don’t work for any cellular providers, I’m an elementary school teacher and a speaker/learning consultant professionally.

    Yes, it took me awhile to write this post, but I frequently write posts on my blog that take me more than an hour to compose and edit. It’s something I enjoy. :-)

    As I wrote in this post, in OKC the 4G/LTE network of T-Mobile is currently fast and reliable where we live and work. I’m not saying or trying to represent the position that switching to T-Mobile is the best option for everyone. For our family with all the factors to consider, it is. The day after I wrote this post I drove to Dodge City, Kansas, and documented the cell data coverage of T-Mobile as well as Verizon using my MiFi hotspot. Based on those tests, if I lived in rural Oklahoma at this point in the areas where I drove I’d definitely have Verizon or AT&T instead of T-Mobile. Their rural footprint in our state can’t compare yet. But here in OKC it’s great.

    http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2014/02/17/geomap-comparison-of-cellular-data-speeds-between-okc-and-dodge-city/

  • http://beyondpencils.com/ Geoffrey Kotarides

    Unfortunately I agree with you and want to do the same because our family bills are ridiculous however im stuck with two phones on installments. So to get out I have to pay the full price of the phones because it is the old business model its the new one. Should I just pay for the phones outright and make the switch? How did you unlock your phones?

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Made with Love in Oklahoma City