While many of my clients have incomes that are not necessarily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, investments have been drastically affected. I know that some of you are still working or are volunteering for organizations that are feeling some serious pressure right now. There is a natural inclination to want to save on costs. I have just a couple of ideas for you. T-Mobile, ATT, and Cricket (a subsidiary of ATT) are all offering plans that are $15 / mo for unlimited talk and text and 2 GB of data. I would say 70% of my clients use less than this much data in a month. Sick of paying $200 – $300 a month for a cable bill? If you are not a big TV watcher (so depressing these days, right?) why not consider going Internet only. In West Hartford, Go Netspeed is an awesome fiber optic option for $50 / month. If you can get solid speeds with the phone company (like 25 mbps or greater), you can usually get service for about $50 a month. Finally, you could go Internet only with a service like Comcast, you can get a plan for about $75 a month (and possibly less with a promo). If you are going to do Cable internet only, purchase your own modem and save the $15 / mo rental.
Technology Built with Slave Labor?
I only read this one story by the Associated Press so far and I am looking to confirm this against other sources. However, if it is really true that gadgets made by Lenovo, Apple and other companies are being made with forced Muslim slave labor — I think we need to change how we shop for technology. It’s a sickening feeling. Do we really know what it takes to make our high tech gadgets? I will report back when I know more.
There are some products relevant to many of you — such as a low cost iPhone and new Mac Books with the GOOD 2015-style keyboards — that were expected to come out as early as the end of this month. Given the disruption to the Chinese supply chain, it is now expected that you will have to wait a little bit longer. If you wanted one of these items, try to hold out a little bit longer. If your tech goes kaput before then, you will just have to choose from a product currently available.
Carrier Cell Phone Stores – Shopping Advice
I think I may have shared on this before, but I promised to touch on it again. There is nothing wrong with shopping at an ATT or Verizon store to buy your new smartphone. However, if you choose to go this route as opposed to buying online or buying at the Apple store, make sure you buy a couple of accessories from your salesperson. Some customers will go into the store and be insistent on just buying the phone only. Also, they may “shop” in store, buy online and then come into the store and expect the salesperson to set up the phone. I used to think it was no big deal, but then I heard from some real in-store sales staff. If a customer comes in a store and buys a phone without accessories, the sales rep can get fired for that. It’s a reality. These sales jobs are good middle class jobs. With this said, I offer you the option of buying your online with me and let me set up your phone for you. However, I know that you may ultimately want that in-store, hands on experience. If so, try to make it a sustainable transaction for all parties involved.
I just wanted to send this note out to a few of you whom I thought would be very interested to know.
The source is today’s Wall Street Journal, on WSJ.com. Apple has reversed course from previous guidance. Disinfecting wipes, like Clorox are now OK for the iPhone. Sprays are still bad.
Super Bowl Recap
What a game last night! Technology was a big part of the game — as there were 4K viewing options — and furthermore “tech” was featured prominently in the ads. Verizon and T-Mobile were jockeying for position regarding their 5G networks. Should you be concerned about 5G? It’s just getting off the ground and available for consistent use in a limited number of places. When Apple starts selling phones with 5G features — then you can take it seriously. If you need a phone right now, there is no need to feel bad about not having 5G. Get the best phone for yourself. Speaking of other ads, Google had a very touching ad where an older man used Google to take notes to help him remember his favorite memories with his wife. You too can use Google like this and use the Google Photos app. Google does invade our privacy a bit, but I don’t think they are doing it to be a malicious company. Plus — they do let you see all the data they have saved on you and you can download or erase it at any time. Google is an advertising company and I don’t like how they have “blacklisted” people in certain industries, like the health field Ultimately, one of their mottoes used to be “Don’t Be Evil” and I think for the most part — they are not. Were any of you up out of your seat during the halftime show? I was dancing a bit and my wife was laughing at me. Don’t worry, I will not ask you to dance at our next appointment. I know some of you are getting older and have a lot of aches and pains. After all, Shakira would say — the “Hips Don’t Lie”.
A Bit of Guidance on Xfinity Mobile
I just wanted to brief you on some developments with Xfinity Mobile. Some of my clients use this newcomer in the cellular field. They are a “virtual network operator” and run their calls through the Verizon network. There have been some changes to the offerings that started last year and fully took effect February 1st. XM offers a very simple pricing model — $12 for 1 GB — a low use plan or $45 for “Unlimited” — a great plan for very active users. There was a loophole that some customers who signed up prior to “fall 2019” were able to latch on to. If you used VERY LITTLE data, less than 100 MB (or 1/10 of 1 GB) your bill for services was $0 and you would only pay $3 or so for taxes. Obviously, how long could that go on for? Some customers abused the system. So now it is a minimum of $12 per month their low use “by the gig” plan. The next tier up from the $12 plan is $30 for 3 GB of use. The $45 “unlimited” plan is still in effect. I will also give a word of warning about buying phones from them. As is the case with many carrier sold phones, these devices are LOCKED to the network. You cannot get them unlocked unless the phone payment plan is paid off in full. Again, this is often standard practice out there for financed devices — with some exceptions. The other thing I want to make you aware of is that Xfinity Mobile has poor options for international travel. By poor options I mean — they are expensive. You can just resolve to use your phone on WiFi only overseas or use it lightly. Those are options. However, they don’t have a $10 / day Day Pass type option like Verizon or ATT where you can just take your plan with you when you go. With all this said, I just want to be totally up front with you about XM. I still have a line in my name that a family member uses.
The End of Deals?
I mentioned how I helped a client save over $500 annually on their Comcast bill last week. Unfortunately, that might be the last notch I can put in my “service savings belt” for a while. One thing I predict is that it is going to be harder to strike deals with them in the new year due to their “Vision 2020” campaign. This is an internal company framework which states that they are not going to give discounts to existing customers like they used to. The reason why I was able to save the aforementioned client so much was because she was paying for a pricing model that was out of date for the package she had. There were no contracts or promotions signed up for. Of course you can save money by cutting services, but when I bring that up not many have an appetite for doing so. Be flexible, consider competitors, especially those areas of West Hartford where Go Net Speed exists.
Cell Phone Market Is Changing – Part 2
I see real changes coming to the market toward the end of the year and going forward. Remember, back in the day, when Verizon was known for those “Can you hear me now?” commercials with Test Man Paul? (He works for Sprint now, go figure!) Their greatness was built on their CDMA digital calling network which launched in the mid 1990s. As analog was phased out in the early 2000s, that Verizon CDMA signal was known to penetrate everywhere — especially buildings. Starting in around 2014, Verizon, ATT and the other carriers began rolling out calling on their LTE data network. Some would argue that the calls are clearer, but I think the signal just doesn’t have the reach of the old CDMA and legacy calling networks. ATT shut down their GSM network a few years ago, but they still have 3G calling to fall back on along with LTE. Verizon’s CDMA calling network will be completely shut down by 01/01/21, after extending the deadline by a year in 2019.
Verizon says the CDMA shutdown is necessary to fully roll out LTE and 5G everywhere. This is a last call for all of the Verizon people out there. If you have an iPhone 5s or older, old Android phone (non LTE calling), or old flip phone — You will need a new device by the end of 2020. Verizon has no 3G calling network to fall back on. I really wonder if the improvements to the LTE calling network will make up for the elimination of CDMA. Furthermore, 5G will add new wavelengths and capacity that we can communicate on but 5G phones are cost prohibitive right now and owned by so few. Wait until Apple starts selling 5G phones, then you know it will be the right time to buy one. Then you will know that this new technology is ready for everyday use.
One score and one miss.
I will start with miss first. I know that some of you are likely looking for a quality laptop this year. You know how I rave about the Lenovo Thinkpad (IBM’s old line) and the Dell Latitude systems. In fact they are better than the current crop of Mac Books. For what seemed like this weekend only, Lenovo was offering an unbelievable $629 price on a fully decked out Thinkpad T480. It was brand new, even though the T480 was the 2018 model. I wish I could have gotten this information out to you sooner but I just wasn’t able to. By Monday morning, the price had jumped back to $2029. This 14 inch laptop is every bit as high quality as a 13 / 15 inch Mac Book Pro and in my opinion better.
I am pleased to report that I was successful in helping a client save big money on their Comcast bill. I was able to get them an annualized savings of $576, with monthly pricing going from $268 to $220. The name of the Comcast package was called Select Triple Play. The particulars that influenced this deal included a phone modem rented from Comcast ($14 – 15 approx.) 2 cable boxes, and HD service was included in the deal. The Select Triple Play includes the Digital Preferred cable TV package, one level higher than the “standard” TV package, and Blast internet (300 mbps). This deal is apparently an everyday price, no strings had to be pulled and no arms had to be twisted. Fees can go up in the future, as always. Please see my last update. In this scenario, the client could save the modem rental charge by buying their own telephone capable modem (approx $200) but it would take about 1.5 years for the cost savings to equal out. Given that this particular client’s house is known for lightning strikes and modems have been replaced in the past — renting is likely the best option.
If you are wondering about the Standard Triple Play, pricing will be a little less. If you can get a promotion guaranteed for 12 or 24 months, pricing will be even lower but you will have to sign a contract on those promos. What I can say is this, if you are getting all 3 services from Comcast not including any extra packages – $175 to $225 is very normal these days. As with the computers, promotional packages can be here one week and gone the next.
Preview: Cell Phone Market is Changing
I am going to get into this more in a future update. However, I see the cell phone market changing a lot as we move to the end of 2020 and beyond. Old networks are being shut down and the carriers are going to rely exclusively on advanced networks like LTE and 5G. There have been a ton of layoffs and I think this has put a lot of strain on delivering positive customer experiences.
Based on personal experiences and helping clients, I would say my ranking of best providers in terms of customer service are
1. Consumer Cellular (ATT Network)
3. Xfinity Mobile (there will be some changes coming Feb 1, however)
*Verizon has really fallen in my opinion. I also don’t have a lot of data to go off of with ATT directly, that is why I did not mention them. A provider can have great service on technical merits, but I think what my typical client (age 60+) cares so much about is the level of customer care provided. No one wants to wait on the phone for 2 or 3 hours to be heard.
If I were to think of my customers’ cellular plans as a whole, I would say most are with Verizon or AT&T. Coming in 3rd place would be Consumer Cellular and 4th would probably be one of the Tracfone brands. Verizon and AT&T are increasingly trying to push their customers into Unlimited plans. I want you to be careful about what you are getting sold. Verizon and ATT offer multiple levels of Unlimited plans. Sorry to make this into a comedy sketch — but isn’t Unlimited – Unlimited? What’s going on here? Why do you need 4 plans called Unlimited, Verizon? Here is the problem, Verizon’s LTE network is very congested in many parts of the country. It’s getting better, but still jammed. The same could be said for ATT, but I think it’s not as bad. To compensate for this, Verizon and ATT have set “deprioritization limits” for their unlimited plans when network congestion occurs. So you have Unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited use of data. However, during those times of congestion — you will not be able to access data with the same priority / speed as other prioritized customers. This means when you really need to search something on Google or send an important e-mail out or other activity that uses data, you may struggle to surf the Internet. (Keep in mind no part of this discussion applies to use on your home WiFi.) The first level Unlimited plans with Verizon and ATT actually have a 0 deprioritization limit. This means you are subject to deprioritization at ANY TIME. You may never be affected by this, but I just want you to know the facts. If you are a heavy data user and like to watch video on cellular data – I would suggest at least the 2nd tier Unlimited plans. On the ATT Unlimited Extra plan, the first 50 GB of data is prioritized. On Verizon’s Play More Unlimited the first 25 GB of data is prioritized. Better unlimited plans exist with each carrier. If I needed Unlimited I would start with those plans. By comparison, T-Mobile’s base level Magenta unlimited plan (including the age 55 and over 2 for $70 plan discount option) comes with a 50 GB deprioritization limit.
The good thing is, many of my clients don’t use that much data. You are on “metered” data plans giving you 2 GB or 4 GB, etc. of data per month. If this is you; you are in the fast lane. These monthly billed, metered data plans from ATT and Verizon are prioritized. You will have priority over the fake-o Unlimited, always deprioritized plans.