BlackBerry Price Study: Comparing Cellular Carriers


By Anton Wahlman (TheStreet)

Shopping around for the best cell phone plan can be time consuming and dizzying. Don't fret, though, Blackberry users. We've compiled a thorough look at the five major cellular carriers. It focuses on one specific scenario: Unlimited-everything service for a BlackBerry (Stock Quote: RIMM), purchased by a regular individual consumer -- not an enterprise. The comparison is divided into three parts:

1. Unlimited U.S. domestic voice plus SMS and e-mail/Internet on the BlackBerry handheld.
2. Having your BlackBerry serve as a modem for your laptop.
3. BlackBerry data roaming outside the U.S.

Unlimited Domestic Voice

Verizon: $150/month, consisting of unlimited voice ($100), unlimited BlackBerry/Internet ($30) and unlimited SMS ($20).

AT&T: $150/month, consisting of unlimited voice ($100), unlimited BlackBerry/Internet ($30) and unlimited SMS ($20). In other words, identical to Verizon.

Sprint: $100/month, which happens to be the simple all-in price for everything, including GPS and TV.

T-Mobile: The baseline scenario is $125/month, consisting of $100 for unlimited voice and SMS, and $25 for unlimited BlackBerry/Internet. However, if you qualify for the $50 unlimited voice loyalty plan, the total is only $85, because you add $35 for unlimited e-mail/Internet/SMS. These plans also include unlimited calling over WiFi, a technology not available from any other U.S. carrier.

MetroPCS (PCS): $50/month, which happens to be the simple all-in price for everything.


Using BlackBerry as a Modem

Verizon: Adds $30 per month for a BIS account; $15 for a BES account. 5 gigabyte/month soft cap.

AT&T: Adds $30 per month. 5 gigabyte/month soft cap.

Sprint: Used to be $30 per month with the customary 5 gigabyte/month soft cap, but was recently discontinued in favor of no such service at all.

T-Mobile: Free on EDGE devices, which is going to be slow. However, for people who intend to use it only rarely as a back-up to other connectivity, it could be a good option. Free is good! Once T-Mobile launches its first HSPA (3G) BlackBerry soon, expect some form of paid plan to follow.

MetroPCS: Not applicable.


BlackBerry Data Roaming While Abroad


Verizon: Unlimited monthly use adds $35 in the form of a $65 plan replacing the $30 domestic-only plan. You can change the plan forth and back at any time.

AT&T: As an individual/residential account, no unlimited plan is available. You have to pay $25 for 20 megabytes, or a higher amount for a larger plan. The fatal flaw with this approach is that you don't know how much data you are consuming, so you can easily exceed the 20 megabyte (or whichever larger number you purchase) without knowing, racking up hundreds or thousands of dollars in a matter of days. If you convert your account to a business/enterprise account, there is a $65/month plan available, replacing the domestic-only $30 plan, but you have to subscribe for a full year, making the incremental cost effectively a $420/year plan.

Sprint: Unlimited monthly use adds $40. You can change the plan forth and back at any time.

T-Mobile: Monthly e-mail and Web browser-only use adds $20. You can change the plan back and forth at any time. Keep in mind that this plan covers only e-mail and Web browsing on your BlackBerry. All of your other applications are not covered. In most countries, use of those other applications cost $15 per megabyte, which of course is impossible to measure, so just as with AT&T, you can easily rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars in a matter of days without knowing.

MetroPCS: Not applicable.


So, to sum it up:

1. For regular domestic handset use, AT&T and Verizon are the most expensive, with MetroPCS being the cheapest. Sprint and T-Mobile are in the middle.

2. For using the BlackBerry as a modem for your PC, power users are best served by AT&T and Verizon. Infrequent or emergency users are best served by T-Mobile. Sprint fails this test.

3. For using the BlackBerry abroad, for the purpose of using data (not voice) services, Sprint and Verizon are the only acceptable choices. T-Mobile and AT&T fail this test miserably, because their customers can very easily rack up dramatically large bills without knowing. This conclusion is of course ironic, because T-Mobile and AT&T are the GSM operators who led in this area only as little as a year ago.

Special award to T-Mobile: As a result of UMA technology (GSM tunneling through WiFi), a T-Mobile BlackBerry can be used for making and receiving calls for free while on WiFi abroad. This saves $1-$5 per minute, depending on the country. All other circuit-switched calling on U.S. carriers, while roaming abroad, is prohibitively expensive.

The bottom line is that there is no one BlackBerry solution that is optimal, because all U.S. operators each have flaws in their pricing structures. Different users have different priorities. What is clear is that while Sprint and Verizon were behind as little as a year ago, they have now caught up and at least in the area of international data roaming they are the only acceptable choices by a very wide margin.

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