There has been a recent surge in price competition among wireless carriers, which is good news for consumers in terms of their cell phone minute plans.  However, pricing for mobile web access persists at $25 or $30 per month for “smart phones” and $10 or $15 per month for standard “phone-first” handsets.  For standard handsets, you have no other option if you wish to access the internet on your phone, unless you are only an infrequent user (in which case, you can buy your internet bandwidth by the kilobyte from those carriers that offer the option, such as AT&T).  But with more and more phones falling into the PDA/smartphone category, an increasing number of buyers are feeling that they have no choice but to tack on the costly unlimited internet package to their plan – and the carriers like it that way.

But you may have a choice after all.  With the increasing availability of free Wi-Fi hot spots, the casual internet user may be able to use them to avoid paying the extra charges for the carrier’s web service.  If you don’t need to access the internet every moment on your phone, and don’t mind sacrificing connectivity between hot spots to save over $300 per year, a phone with Wi-Fi capability may be all you need.  Think about where you spend most of your time, and check out whether Wi-Fi is available in those areas (keeping in mind it is now illegal in many cities to operate, look at, or think about your mobile phone while driving).  Of course, the mobile carriers don’t make it easy to avoid purchasing their internet service.  For certain phones, they simply require it (like AT&T does with the iPhone, although there is a work-around for that too – keep reading!), and for others they lock the WiFi feature unless you subscribe to their internet (sneaky!).   So you have to do your homework before choosing a carrier and phone if using only Wi-Fi is your plan.  Most mobile phone stores, and resellers like Best Buy Mobile and Radio Shack, can guide you on which phones have the Wi-Fi feature and whether the feature is active without the internet package.

One way to get around the Wi-Fi lock is to purchase an unlocked phone.  However, why would you want to spend a lot of money on an unlocked phone when you can get a big discount from the carrier by committing to a contract?  That is the reason most people get their phones from a carrier in the first place.  So there’s the rub.  However, when you consider that your savings from not purchasing their internet service is $600-$720 over a typical 2-year contract period, you may still be ahead of the game if you buy a phone at full price.

T-mobile provides a unique option that can bank you some extra savings.  They are currently the only carrier I’m aware of that offers a less expensive phone plan if you are NOT on a contract.  It’s called their “Even More Plus Plan” and it’s cheaper because they don’t give you a free or deeply discounted phone.  You can then use those savings to purchase an unlocked phone from them or elsewhere.  The cost savings of the non-contract plan is currently $10 per month per phone, or $240 over 2-years.   So, if you purchase a phone for around that amount, it will be a wash even before your savings from going Wi-Fi only.

Pricing for wireless internet will eventually come down.  In the meantime, you can take advantage of hotspots to avoid the extra expense.  And what is the iPhone “work-around” I promised , given that AT&T currently requires you purchase their internet service with the phone?  Get the iPod Touch.  It has all the same capabilities of the iPhone (including Wi-Fi) except the phone part – so no monthly charges.  Of course, you’ll need to have a separate cell phone – it will be like the old days when you carried both a cell phone and your Palm Pilot.  It wasn’t so tough, was it?

Be Sociable, Share!