Tradeoffs part of finding right cell phone plan

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Can you hear me now? Likely not if you are in Kraemer
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From shrimp boats to the tech world, Terrebonne native finds niche
July 18, 2012

Not very many industries can declare they have a product for everyone. What has been known as the cell phone business is one that can make that claim.

“We are not just a cell-phone provider,” Verizon assistant sales manager Marley Breaux said. “The industry has evolved past being just a voice industry … we are a service provider.”

According to the International Telecommunications Union, at the end of 2011 there were an estimated 6 billion mobile subscriptions in existence, equaling 87 percent of the world’s population.

Market growth and rapid introduction of the latest and greatest smartphones, tablets, jetpacks, notebooks, netbooks and whatever else might be new today, have also spurred a variety of product packages including pre-pay, no contract and multiple-contract arrangements.

Even a multitude of available companies, most of which are affiliates to big-name carriers, can afford to target markets or sell to the general public.

Accesscom President Jeff Giles, who deals primarily with businesses, said the driving force behind telecommunication service involves consumers looking for value and ways to save money.

“Of the 540 businesses we provide voice and data services for, I might have two people that are on month-to-month contracts,” Giles said. “It is not a very big percentage.”

Giles said in the long run no-contract plans, although they might charge as low as $30 to $50 a month, could end up costing more than some contracts because of the features users want to add onto the limited basic unit.

“GoPhone is our pre-paid option,” AT&T spokesperson Sue Sperry said. “Because of the cost savings, they can get the latest smartphones and tablets at highly subsidized rates.”

When it comes to pre-paid, no-contact offerings, Breaux said he does not know of any specific client demographic that exclusively fits a product, whether it is a no-contract or one of many contract arrangements.

Verizon store manager Adam Barton said the only element that might indicate a specific market with no-contract phones is that one must be over the age of 18 to sign a contract. “A younger user would want to go with the no-contract option just from the legality standpoint,” he said. “Anyone can get a no-contract.”

“People like the idea of being able to move to the latest and greatest, especially in the wireless field,” Giles said. “They just buy the phones themselves.”

Giles recalled when cell phones were new and many companies would boost sales by offering a free, inexpensive phone, the cost of which was generally covered by what the consumer paid per month.

“People were realizing that they’ve got a whole lot of money invested in a contract for a wireless device that they could have bought the device six times over,” Giles said. “So they moved to the latest and greatest deal.”

Barton said each product plan, regardless if it is pre-paid with no contract or one of many contracts, has its corresponding features and limitations.

“What we have in the no-contracts is $50 a month gets you unlimited talk, text and data,” Barton said. “Now, that would be on a simple feature phone, not a smartphone. You have four phones to choose from.”

By contrast, Barton and Sperry agreed that many people elect to go with contracts because they generally get more for the money.

“The advantage of contract plans vs. pre-paid plans is that contracts allow you to take advantage of our 4G, which is 10 times faster than our 3G service [with no-contract],” Barton said of Verizon’s product. “It gets you better coverage with 4G and more devices to choose from on the contract.”

The telecommunications experts said consumers should remember that billing, whether it is pre-paid or contract, is charged by how many devices are associated with a billing statement. The price on most contracts, as well as pre-paid, is based on the person having one device. For each added device the price escalates accordingly.

“[Our] standard voice plans vary from $39.99 [450 minutes] to $69.99 per month [unlimited minutes] with rollover and unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes,” Sperry said.

AT&T also has what it called senior plans for $29.99 monthly, which are designed for people interested in using a cell phone simply as a cell phone. Other low-price packages are available for those not concerned with having the newest features.

On the other end of the options spectrum, Barton said his company has launched the Share Everything Plan, which may be the ultimate combination of devices and options.

“These are an opportunity for an entire account to share everything across the board,” Barton said. “It can be up to 10 devices. It’s unlimited talking, unlimited texting and a shared amount of [Internet] data.” The Share Everything package offers data allowances that range from 4GB to 10GB. Prices also vary slightly depending on the combination of jetpacks, notebooks, netbooks, USB modems and tablets.

Many carriers have similar plans because users share many products.

In the battle of technology service providers, market share is the ultimate goal. “Everybody survives by market share,” Giles said. ”There are four major [carriers] left. They are killing each other to see who can get the most subscribers. So, they offer these tremendous plans.”

Giles said he was in the process of moving his personal service to Verizon from AT&T simply because of a contract plan that appeals to him. “I’m not afraid of a contract. We have been in plans now for 30 years with all kinds of companies. Now, a two-year contract is nothing. I go through them five times.”

“I would say most of our customers look at wireless service as a need and not a luxury,” Barton said.

Each of the providers agreed they could not single out any demographic based on selected contract or no-contract plan. The only common thread was their impressions that consumers want what they believe they deserve.

Verizon assistant sales manager Marley Breaux, left, and store manager Adam Barton say a wide variety of products and service packages means what has been known as the cell phone industry is more than just a cell phone business.