Signal reception, data use and phone brands

This is the third in a series of articles about mobile phones and plans.

When buying your first smartphone, questions such as “which mobile service provider (aka carrier),” “which mobile data plan,” and “which smartphone” are common.

Although you may get the urge to walk into a carrier store without any research, I recommend doing this first: ask your neighbors about their signal quality of their carrier. Signal quality, i.e. reception, at your abode is important so basic functionality such as calling and texting are reliable.

With the ubiquitous nature of smartphones, some people are ditching traditional landlines, or telephone services sold to them as a “bundle,” in favor of smartphone as the sole communicator. One exception: people with chronic ailments requiring dial tone for making emergency calls.

Once you decide on the carrier, you want to review your smartphone use case to see how much mobile data you would need when Wi-Fi is not available. There is no exact science to understanding the right mobile data allotment you need monthly; it is more a trial and error exercise. Of course, you would not need to “rightsize” the mobile data plan if you choose the unlimited tier but not everyone can afford it nor is it appropriate depending on their use case.

So which “use case” would appropriate to have a large monthly mobile data allotment or even the unlimited plan? If you do things like stream movies and music, use your smartphone as a turn-by-turn driving direction-spewing GPS device, videochat, use it as a hotspot so your other Wi-Fi only devices such as a laptop can get onto the internet … doing these things and more while not connected to Wi-Fi is a typical use case where it is appropriate to purchase a large data plan.

To Apple or not to Apple, that is the final question. Specifically, an Apple smartphone (iPhone) or one of the many Google Android-based smartphones made by different licensee manufacturers.

Here are some other industry lingo you may come across while smartphone shopping:

  • Even though many carriers say they got rid of 24-month contracts, if you decide to finance your premium-priced smartphone at the carrier, you’ll hear the term “carrier locked.” This simply means that until you pay off the balance on the phone, the smartphone will only work with that carrier you chose.

  • After you pay the balance, or you pay for the phone upfront, you can either get your phone “unlocked” or outright buy an unlocked phone. An unlocked phone can be taken to other carriers (be cognizant of the restriction regarding GSM and CDMA as discussed in the first installment of this series).

  • You may opt for a prepaid plan where you pay for that month’s usage upfront or go for the postpaid plan where you are billed at the end of the month for your usage.

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 10, Issue 20, Posted 10:01 AM, 10.16.2018