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Tech

How to Switch Phone Providers

I have switched phone providers a few times. Here are some things I learned along the way.

The following is just what I have experienced. Your experience may be different.

Temporary Changes

If you are traveling with an unlocked phone, you can temporarily use a different phone provider. This can be handy if you go to a country where your usual provider would charge you a lot of roaming fees.

If the change is temporary, you just need to get a prepaid sim card and swap it for your usual sim card. Then you can swap back when you’re ready to go back to your usual carrier. There is more about that in the Three Ways To Avoid Roaming Fees post.

Permanent Changes

It takes multiple steps to permanently switch phone providers. If your new provider is a big company, you may be able to get this all done by walking into one of their stores and talking to the person at the counter. For smaller companies, you will have to do a lot of it on your own.

Here is a high level overview of what’s involved. It’s just meant to give you an idea of what the process is like. If you need help with the specifics, your new phone provider should be able to work out the details with you. If they can’t, that’s a sign that their customer support is not going to be good enough.

Step 1: Pick Your New Provider

Pick your new provider and start a plan with them. My favorite provider right now is Ting, but I have had good experiences with Verizon. I had a bad experience with FreedomPop.

If you want to keep using your old phone number, ask your new provider if you can keep your old number. I have never been told I can not keep my old number, but I have heard that some numbers can not be ported.

Step 2: Use Your New Sim Card

To connect to the new phone provider, you will need to use the new provider’s sim card. A sim card is a little piece of electronics that fits inside your phone.

You will need a new sim card to switch phone providers.
You will need a new sim card to switch phone providers.

If you are buying a new phone, they will probably set it up with the new sim card, so there’s really nothing for you to do here.

On the other hand, if you already have an unlocked phone and you want to bring it to the new provider, you will need to buy the sim card from the new provider for anywhere between $0 and $10.

Replacing the sim card was an easy, no-tools procedure in all the phones I have used. If you aren’t able to do this with your phone, there is probably a shop in your area that can do it for you. If your new phone provider does not have physical stores, try a phone repair shop.

Step 3: Activate Your New Sim Card

You must activate your sim card before it will work. Some providers send their cards “pre-activated”, meaning they will work as soon as you put them in your phone. If the card is not pre-activated, you will have to follow some instructions from the new provider. For me, this involved logging into a web site and typing in the number printed on the sim card.

Step 4: Port Your Old Phone Number

When a new provider starts service on your phone, you get a new phone number. If you want to replace that new phone number with your old number, you can “port” your old number to the new provider.

The new provider will need some information from you. The exact information varies. For example, that may include your account number with the old provider, and a pin from the old provider. The new provider needs this so they can contact the old provider and work out the details.

It can take anywhere from an hour to several days to transfer a phone number. It takes the most time when the old provider is a VOIP provider, like FreedomPop.

Step 5: Cancel Your Old Plan

It is really important that you keep your old plan active while setting up the new plan. This is especially true when you are porting your old number to the new provider. If you cancel your old plan too soon, you might not be able to get your old number back.

Once your new plan is working like it should, make sure your old plan is cancelled so that they do not bill you again.

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Tech World

Three Ways to Avoid Roaming Fees

Traveling with a phone does not have to involve roaming fees. Here are a few things I learned about saving money while traveling internationally.

What Roaming Fees Are

If you have a United States phone provider, and you take your phone to another country, you may get extra fees on your bill at the end of the month. Those are roaming fees.

If you continue to use your phone outside the United States, those fees can get ugly. The fees can also get ugly if you just have your phone turned on. Your phone may be doing things on its own like checking email and receiving text messages over the cell network.

The surest way to avoid roaming fees is to turn off your phone completely. Putting your phone in airplane mode and leaving it that way also works.

For three ways to use your phone while keeping fees down, read on!

Solution 1: Make A Deal With Your Provider

Your cell provider may make a deal with you, if you contact them ahead of time. Verizon, for example, offers a service called TravelPass. TravelPass is a flat daily fee you pay in order to avoid normal roaming fees. The service costs $5-$10 per day, depending on the country. I’ve had good luck using this service while traveling in Canada.

This is a very simple way to avoid surprises on your bill.

Solution 2: Using Wi-Fi, Not Cell

If you want to disconnect from the cell network, yet still get internet from Wi-Fi, your phone may allow it. The first time you do this, I recommend checking with your cell provider soon after to see if you’ve triggered any roaming fees.

On my phone, I enable airplane mode to disconnect from the cell network, then tap the Wi-Fi icon to enable Wi-Fi. I don’t know if it works the same way with all phones.

wifi enable icon
On my phone, the airplane icon lights up when I’m in airplane mode. If I tap the Wi-Fi icon, Wi-Fi gets enabled but leaves airplane mode on.

This works well for checking email during layovers. It also works well in cities with a lot of Wi-Fi. This worked for me while traveling in Spain. When I needed internet, I stopped by coffee shops and other places with free Wi-Fi.

What Wi-Fi Can’t Do

In most cases, you won’t be able to make phone calls or use text messages once you’re disconnected from the cell network.

I say, “in most cases,” because there are internet-based services that provide voice and / or text without using the cell network. For example, Skype is a way to do both using the internet. Facebook Messenger works for written messages. This approach will keep your costs down as long as they are accessing the internet through Wi-Fi, not the cell phone network.

If you plan to do the Wi-Fi only thing, it’s best to do a bit of pre-travel preparation. Figure out what apps you want to use, and try them out with people you may want to contact.

Solution 3: Using a Local Provider

If you really need cell phone service in another country, and you will be there for more than a few days, you can temporarily hook your phone up to a local phone provider.

To do this, buy a local sim card. A sim card is a little piece of electronics that fits inside your phone.

sim cards
Four sim cards. The other sides are just cardboard with logos and printed ID numbers.

Any phone I have used has a way to replace the sim card. It might involve a little drawer in the side of the phone, or popping the phone case open. If you Google “replace sim card” and your phone model, you will probably find instructions.

The sim card controls the identity of the phone. So once you replace your USA Verizon sim card with an Irish Vodaphone sim card, your phone will connect to the Vodaphone network, and you won’t be using your Verizon plan any more. Verizon won’t recognize your phone until you put the Verizon sim back in there. Your smart phone will still have all its apps.

Airport shops often sell sim cards for around $25. Some countries require identity verification before buying a sim (showing your passport may be enough.) In my experience, these cards are prepaid. Prepaid cards come with a certain amount of local voice and data. This has been enough to get me through a week, as long as I connected to Wi-Fi for any heavy internet use.

Local Provider Gotchas

I have had good experiences with local sim cards, but there are some things to watch out for:

  • Do not lose your original sim card! You’ll need to swap it back in when you get back home.
  • Read the small print on the local sim card. The service may only be good for a small area;  it may not allow you to phone or text home without extra fees.
  • Your phone number will change! Your original phone number is attached to your original sim card.
  • Applications on your phone may notice that the sim changed, and ask you to log in again (Gmail, for example.)
  • If there is anything that needs to reach you at your old phone number, changing your number may be a problem. For example, if there is a web site you log into that needs to send you a text message when you log in, that text message will go to your old phone number, and you won’t get it.
  • Your phone must be unlocked to take advantage of a local sim. If you don’t know whether your phone is unlocked, your phone provider should be able to tell you.
Categories
Tech

Verizon Phone Service – A Review

Verizon is a premium service, on a premium network, at a premium price. Verizon was the right choice for my family for several years, but we eventually moved on. Our experiences are summed up below.

Verizon Advantages

Easy Support

Verizon’s size allows them to provide more support than smaller providers. If you want to talk to them on the phone, their customer service number is available seven days a week. They answer the phone more than twelve hours a day, so it’s easy to find a convenient time to call.

They also have physical stores. The physical stores are great if you need to hand your phone to someone so they can fix it. They are also good when face-to-face is the best way to work out your billing questions.

The down side is that there can be a wait, if the store is busy. Wait time varies. Busy downtown locations can have a longish wait, but I’ve never waited more than twenty minutes. More remote locations are less busy, and I typically talk to an employee within five minutes at those places.

My experiences at the stores have been good. Any employee I’ve spoken with has been well-informed and got me what I needed efficiently. And the stores have been easy to find — any town I’ve lived in recently has multiple stores to pick from.

Verizon Store
Verizon stores can be found in a lot of cities.

Big Network

We switched to Verizon from AT&T after moving to a town where the AT&T coverage was spotty. Once we switched to Verizon, we had no complaints about coverage, wherever we went in the United States. For example, I remember camping in Yellowstone National Park, and noticing that Verizon phones worked in our camp ground, while AT&T phones had no reception.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are places where some other carrier has better coverage than Verizon, but I didn’t find those places.

Predictable Pricing

We were charged what we expected to be charged. Our data needs changed over time, depending on travel and WiFi coverage wherever we were spending our days. But we could always log into Verizon’s web site and see how we were doing. When we needed to increase our plan size, it was easy to do so.

Verizon Disadvantages

Sticky Pricing

I was traveling enough that I was interested in trying a provider that catered more to international travel. However, Verizon was familiar and comfortable for us, so it made sense to leave my other family members on Verizon.

The catch was, taking just one person off the plan would increase our monthly costs, even if the other plan was cheaper. This is because the biggest expense with Verizon is the core plan, with unlimited minutes & texts. Adding more lines is cheap with Verizon, unless data usage also increases.

In our case, we were paying $50 per month for the Verizon medium plan, and another $20 per month for each line. With three people, that meant $110 a month (plus various taxes and fees, but I’m keeping this simple for sake of illustration.)

That averages out to around $37 per person. I could find some phone providers that suited my needs well for $30 per month, but if I switched, our total monthly costs would grow to $120 per month.

Ultimately, we did switch, but the idea of our family costs going up so that I could try something less familiar did make us hesitate. The Verizon price setting team has my respect for that!

Premium Pricing

Picking a Verizon plan is very simple; “pick a number of gigabytes, and a number of phone lines.” But if one is willing to deal with more complex pricing, there can be cheaper options.

As I started to look at other providers to satisfy my travel needs, I learned that Verizon’s pricing model was pretty different from some of the alternatives. My family could be saving a significant amount of money by switching away from Verizon.

Summing Up

Verizon provides good service, and I would not fault anyone for using it. The simplicity of the pricing and availability of physical stores makes it great for people who want to keep their lives simple.

For us, though, we were willing to invest effort in reducing our monthly costs. After trying FreedomPop and Ting, we eventually settled on Ting. It looks like our family phone costs going forward will be $55 / month plus fees, compared to Verizon’s $110 plus fees. We’re happy to be saving $660 per year.

The pricing worked out this way because of my family’s phone use patterns (voice minutes, text messages, data, phone count.) The math may be different for your use case.

Categories
Tech

Ting Phone Service – A Review

I switched to Ting recently, and am very happy doing business with them. They have been reliable, they are easy to talk to, and the price is low.

What I Was Looking For

My family of three had used Verizon phone service for a long time. I got to wondering if there were cheaper options. There are.

Each of the people in my family has a different usage pattern. One uses more data, one uses more texts, and one uses more voice.

After some research, I tried FreedomPop and had an unsatisfactory experience. The other family members tried Ting and had a good experience. Now all of us have switched to Ting.

Simple Pricing

Ting’s web site gets right to the point:

Ting: use less? Pay less.

Ting’s big selling point is that you pay for what you use. There is no need to guess how many texts / minutes / bytes are needed per month. Ting will charge based on what you use.

This is very different from the traditional approach of phone plans. With other phone providers I have dealt with, there are packages that allow a certain amount of texts, minutes, and data. None of those plans exactly match what I need. I pick the plan so that there’s enough of whatever I use most, but I’m also paying for too much of whatever I don’t use so much.

With Ting, using more than expected just creates a small, temporary price bump. For example, I use a bit more data, I’ll just be charged a bit more for the data usage. I won’t have to upgrade to a whole different plan, where I am also paying for a bunch of unneeded texts and minutes.

The Ting web site has a nice price calculator so you can see what your prices would be. After being on Ting long enough to see my bill, I can attest that it is accurate.

On-Target Web Site

Ting’s web site does not mess around. It gets right to the point by telling me how their pricing works, and what I will get. It delivers that message in simple terms.

Compared to the competition, that is a relief. As seen below, the first thing Verizon’s web site shows is a big advertisement for the most expensive phone they sell. FreedomPop’s web site has simple text, but the text is misleading; one does not get unlimited service at the $10 / month tier, nor will it only cost $10 a month. Also, the name of the company one will be dealing with (FreedomPop) does not appear anywhere on the front page. I have written more about that elsewhere.

Ting’s frankness and clarity carried through to the rest of my experience doing business with them.

Support Experience

Ting’s customer support number is easily accessible from a link on their home page. After signing up, I called that number with some questions.

The representatives who answered (I made two calls over a couple days) were courteous and knowledgeable. They were well-spoken, and seemed to be answering directly, without reading from a script.

Being able to talk to a human, and get useful, frank answers, made me much more comfortable doing business with Ting.

Ting Phone App

Ting provides a phone app that provides real time usage reports, billing history, and other handy info. The app is easy to use.

My favorite feature is “current usage”, which shows clearly how much I’m paying for what, and how close I am to needing to pay a few more bucks.

Summing Up

Ting provides good phone service, low prices, and has good customer support. My family will be staying with Ting!

If you’re interested in trying Ting, click this link to get $25 off. Full disclosure: I get a discount on my bill if you follow that link when getting started.

Categories
Tech

FreedomPop Phone Service – A Review

I tried FreedomPop. The phone service worked, but it fell short of the expectations FreedomPop had set. By the end of the first month, I was eager to do business with a different carrier. Here is my experience.

The Pitch

The Unreal Mobile web site advertised $10 per month for unlimited mobile, risk free. Sign me up!

I clicked the “bring your own phone” link at the top, started filling out forms, and got an error message about their system having trouble. The error message suggested calling their sales department.

FreedomPop error message
I got this error message after filling out the online form. Two months later, I tried again and saw the same error message.

Talking To Sales

The phone number took me to a computerized phone menu. I selected the option to bring my own phone. After a brief time on hold, a man answered. He seemed not to have gotten the message from the computerized system, and started walking me down the path of buying a phone from them.

I gently stopped him, clarified that I didn’t want to buy a new phone, and asked some questions. He gave useful answers, and I learned some things that were not clear from the web site.

  • FreedomPop provides the phone service. “Unreal Mobile” is just a brand they use in marketing.
  • The web site says “unlimited mobile”. Actually, data costs extra after the first gigabyte.
  • The $10 plan is only if you buy a phone from them. If you bring your own phone, it’s $23 / month.
  • I would not be able to start at the $23 level. I would have to start at a $25 tier (so that I get 2GB before I start to pay for more data.)
  • The plan required a sim card that would cost me $20. That sim card comes with a free month of service at the $25 tier. If I paid an extra $7, I could speed up shipping to get the card in a couple days.
  • Transferring my old phone number to FreedomPop would cost $10.

I had started the call thinking I would get $10 / month service. During the call, I learned I would pay $37 to get that first month of service. I signed up anyway, and accepted the offer of an extra sim card for one cent.

More Unpleasant Surprises

Once that $20 sim card arrived and I got my phone set up for FreedomPop service, there were more learnings:

  • FreedomPop phone service only works if you use their phone app. If I dialed a number with my own phone app, it would switch to the FreedomPop phone app.
  • Phone calls some times had a stuttering quality, and I got complaints that my voice sounded distorted. I don’t know if the app is to blame, or if it is something inherent to the VOIP service FreedomPop provides.
  • FreedomPop text messaging only works if you user their texting app. Having the freedom to pick my apps is one of the reasons I use Android, so this was disappointing.
  • Voice mail is free, in that people can leave messages. But you must pay an extra $2.49 a month to listen to the messages. A FreedomPop help document said that I could listen to my voice mail at a certain phone number without paying the extra fee. I called the number, and got a “this number has been disconnected” message.
  • Texting is free, but to be in group texts or send / receive images costs an extra $1.99 / month.

I had gone into this expecting $10 / month for unlimited service. Instead I would be paying $29.48 a month for 2GB / month.

Double Bills?

Toward the end of my first month, I got a series of emails telling me that my trial was almost over, and that FreedomPop would charge me when it was over. Strangely, I was getting two of each email.

I eventually realized that, even though I only got one order confirmation email when I agreed to do business with FreedomPop, they had quietly activated that extra one cent sim card. They would have charged me a total of more than $50 at the end of the month for the two accounts. But I clicked around on the FreedomPop web site until I found where to cancel the service I had not ordered on that one cent sim.

Later, I contacted support and explained that I did not know there would be a plan activated on that extra sim. Part of their response was:

To ensure that our customers are aware of the plan and cost a device may generate, all charges are disclosed prior to checkout and reiterated in a follow-up email

It’s nice to know that they have a policy of clear communication, but my own experience was not consistent with this policy. In practice, clear communication is not happening.

Fist full of dollars
What had started as $10 per month unlimited service was turning out to be $50 per month limited service. Photo by Burst on Pexels.com.

The Support Experience

It was clear to me by this point that FreedomPop is risky to do business with. They had not outright lied, but they had set expectations and then failed to meet them. I did not feel safe trusting FreedomPop with my credit card.

I picked a different carrier and went back to the FreedomPop web site to get my port out information. FreedomPop has a page for that…but my info was missing. From posts around the internet, it sounds like that page had been broken like this for a long time.

I created a support ticket. A day later I had no response. The ticket form had said that a response may take two days, but given the battering that my trust in FreedomPop had already taken, I started wondering if FreedomPop trying to “run out the clock” on me so that they’d have an excuse to charge me for another month of service.

FreedomPop’s Facebook page support was much faster. I sent a direct message, and had a response in just over an hour. I got my port out information there, and started the porting process.

In the days that followed, I got a response to the support ticket (just a little over 2 days after submitting.) I also sent some more questions to the Facebook page, and got useful (and faster) responses there.

Porting Out

When I ported my number into FreedomPop, it transferred pretty quickly. I don’t recall the exact time, but I think it was a couple hours or less. FreedomPop took several days to port my number out. I’ve read that porting a number out of a VOIP provider like FreedomPop just takes longer than porting it out of a traditional phone provider.

Free Plan Is Not Free

While I was waiting for my number to port out, I thought I’d switch the account to the free plan, just in case the billing date arrived before the transfer was complete. The free plan allows a small amount of phone use per month.

I went to the FreedomPop web site and followed a link to switch to the free plan. The site showed me a notice that I had to pay $20 to do so. My understanding is that this would add $20 of credit to my account in case I used more minutes or data than the free plan allowed. But, since I had no intention to use that credit, I wasn’t interested in paying for the “free” service.

FreedomPop Was Not All Bad

I didn’t hate FreedomPop’s service. It was the string of unmet expectations that soured me on doing business with FreedomPop. Had the web site said “Phone service with 2GB data for $30 a month”, I would still have tried them out, and then been happy. I would probably still be doing business with them.

The support people at FreedomPop deserve respect. They did have useful answers for me. They are contending with customers that were set up for disappointment by the marketing & sales sides of FreedomPop. Support has a tough job there.

The texting app worked fine. It was attractive and functional. I also liked that I could access a lot of account information within the app.

Coverage was decent. I took the phone on a road trip through some pretty remote areas, and had phone service in the places I’d expect.