Sunday, 3 October 2010

Mobile Phone Upgrades

Something to think about if you're on anything other than pay-as-you-go.
Why should I?
  • You want a new phone, more features, new call plan, different mix of airtime or a cheaper tariff?
  • Is your current contract ending within the next month?
Don't assume your provider will remind you; they'll be making money on you on the old tariff for as long as you let them. Free and subsidised phones cost the providers money, they need to recoup that on tariff plans over as long as they can.

If you're switched on, however, you can get your new toys and and more airtime for the same money or less...

Before you start
In order to claim "free" upgrade, you’ll have to sign another contract. This will tie you in to the tariff and phone for another 18 months or 24 months. This means you’ll miss out on any of the new phones or tariffs which are released in that time.

The mobile world changes fast with new phones and tariffs, so lock-in isn't good for you the customer, but it's unavoidable. Contracts used to be 12 months, but now 24 months is commonplace and 18 months seems to be offered only under sufferance. Get the shortest the contract period you can for the deal you want.

Remember this is a one shot deal during your renewal window. Your negotiating power is strong but short-lived. Once you sign up for a plan, your provider has no reason to change it mid-term other than sell you a more expensive one.

Should I stay or should I go?
To go deal-hunting or try to get something out of your current provider, that is the question.

If you are switching network for a cheaper SIM-only tariff, you can keep your existing  phone number, but you need to go through the cancellation process with your existing network so they cancel your billing and provide you a PAC code so your new provider can take your number onto their network.

Start by doing your research on what you want:
  • Make of phone (if you care)
  • Operating system; Windows Mobile, Android, Symbian, iOS
  • Features; touch-screen, camera resolution, video formats, apps
  • Tariff plans available, which should include allownaces for;
  • call minutes,
  • number of text SMS
  • Internet data limit (should be included for latest generation of always-on Internet smart-phones)
Do the math on the tariff plan.
Check the allowances across competing deals; try to compare like for like. This usually means starting with the same model phone and tryign to tick off tariffs and allowances item by item. Use your previous bills of past usage to work out what you really need, then factor in whatever new stuff you expect to use. Get an all-inclusive figure for:
  • Your monthly payment now for the next 18/24 months vs.
  • Proposed new monthly payment on the new contract.
  • Can you afford it, can you justify it to yourself and the family or employer?
Comparative safety
The phone comparison sites are getting pretty good at presenting this kind of information, however some are on commission (kick-backs) for promoting some providers or plans over others. 
  • This assumes the comparison sites can keep up to date with the providers' deals. 
  • There are also some very cheap wheeler-dealers and box-shifters who are good at cheap head-line plans but poor at delivery and support. 
  • You will find deals from suppliers whose numbers look great but whose names you never heard before.
Toys vs. Cash
  • If you want (as opposed to need) a new phone, then you either take a contract plan or you pay for the phone.
  • If you only need a cheaper plan, consider going SIM-only. This is a competitive market and you can get a mind-boggling amount of minutes and texts in your allowance. SIM-only or plans without the hardware of the phone are cheaper for the provider as there's no subsidised hardware for them to setup and send out. 
You may find you can save about £180 a year without losing any minutes, texts or data just by switching to a SIM-only tariff and could be greater if you don't always use up your whole airtime allowance.

You could switch to a different airtime mix or get a big jump in allowances for the same or less money.

Shopping Around
  • Try to research what deals are on offer, firstly with your current supplier, then take a look around the competition. There are lots of Internet deals around. Make sure you're looking at your home region!
  • Don't assume the customer service reps know the deals on offer and can offer you the best or the one you want.
      * they may not know (mine didn't!)
      * they may be incentivised to offer you the companies' most profitable deal not the best for you
      * don't fall for the slick marketing campaign
  • Bookmark the deal pages you're interested in or take good notes before you go talk to anyone or place an order.
Haggling
Don't just go for a straight renweal or upgrade through the on-line shop; not even by phoning the renewals department. Go for the jugular, get onto the Disconnections/Cancellations team (effectively Customer Retention). Be assertive and make clear if they don't cut a deal, you're leaving. The Retention Team usually has more scope to haggle and the employee incentive scheme to save your account.

Call my Bluff
If Retentions team call your bluff on negotiations and move to cancellation, don't feel forced into disconnecting, just back off; "I'll think it over and call you back" is your face-saving exit. You can always go back, with a different proposition or with some evidence you can quote to back up your request. Similarly don't get fobbed off in the heat of the conversation with a lesser handset or a poor airtime package.

Don't get annoyed or frustrated, these providers are not obligated to match or undercut anyone else's deal. 
  • A friend of mine was such a huge mobile user including international roaming his provider could afford to offer him anything he wanted short of a private jet and still make money on his account.
  • I'm such a cheap-skate, my provider stuggles to make anything out of me. My scope was limited. I chose the best deal they had and saved the embarrassment of pushing too hard. I still came out a winner with the handset and tariff I wanted.
RC

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