The iPhone Dilemma

tmobile-iphone-smallYou know I’m an Apple nerd. No one who builds a Hackintosh and sticks it in a G4 cube should be considered anything less than such. Naturally you’ll be able to guess that I’m also an iPhone nerd. I owned 3 phones prior to getting my iPhone. A throw-away Nokia that I don’t remember the name model number of, a Nokia 6600, and a T-mobile Dash. With the latter two, I was certain that I’d gotten the device closest to the perfect smartphone. Both failed me though. They just didn’t do everything they were supposed to.

Though I had long argued that Apple never would, they made a smart phone… and it was glorious. Besides the occasional hiccup (MMS, Copy & Paste,etc) the iPhone was a dream. At the initial release, it wasn’t an option for me. My wife and had decided to go with Tmobile because they offered a deal that made it more practical for us. Free calling to any 5 numbers.

Smarter people than me figured out that Tmobile and AT&T are really just cousins when it comes to network technology. The iPhone was promptly hacked and come Christmas 2007, I was happily using an iPhone. A year later, we got one for my wife.

I read today about how AT&T is finally about to offer a similar program to Tmobile and Verizon’s options, and so I thought I’d check it out. There are a few things I want that my current iPhone doesn’t have: GPS being chief among them. I’ve heard some bad things about AT&T, but I admit every now and then I hear the iPhone’s siren call, or at least, the iPhone-3Gs-legit-network-supported-phone siren call.

I did the math. This is what I can back with…

AT&T Tmobile
# of Free-Call-To-Numbers 10 (per family) 5 (per phone)
Min. $$$ $89.99 $69.99
(lower than currently availble)
Number of Minutes 1400 700
Data Plan cost $30.00 + $5.00
(includes 200 sms)
(includes unlimited messages sms/mms)
Tethering Yes, well eventually… hopefully. I mean, we think so…

expecting a price though of $20-$70/month

Yes – presuming you don’t tell them
Cost of iPhone ~$300 subsidized ~$700-$1200 – jailbroken/unlocked – factory unlocked…

tmobile_logoThe thing that gets me is the plan cost vs number of minutes. Between my wife, her sister, and myself on our 700 minute plan, we rarely go over. This is because we have the “favorites” that allow us to make calls without using minutes. While the $10 difference with AT&T is not a big deal, we end up with more minutes than we could ever hope to use. We just don’t call around that much… The result is that we get a plan for that has a feature we won’t EVER use. Or rather, we use it, and we end up with an absurd amount of remaining minutes.

Because we’ve been good customers, we pay Tmobile around $115. It’s a good deal.  I’m pretty willing to move to the $160/month with AT&T, until the details start to creep ATT_Wireless_logoout… the details being that MMS isn’t included, and in the family plan it’s $30 for unlimited messaging. There’s no middle ground. And tethering is possible, but not yet… and they’re likely to charge extra for it. And the 700 minute difference makes the “free-to-call-to-numbers” irrelevant. Given that we bump up the rate on our tmobile plan for full 3G access, and noting that Tmobile doesn’t offer visual voicemail (something that is cool, but not a dealbreaker)

AT&T Tmobile
Cost per month for Account $179.99 $149.88

This is according to my calculations trying to make the most balanced comparison of what I would have vs. what AT&T offers. It does not include taxes or fees. $30/month difference.  The other difference is the phone subsidy. $299.99/32GB iPhone vs ~$850/32GB iPhone.

Let’s do the numbers (cue Marketplace music):

Here’s the initial cost of two sold-on-the-open-market Black iPhone 3Gs’


Since we’re paying $599.99 either way (The subsidized cost on AT&T), we can remove it from the equation, leaving us with:


Okay, now there’s a $30/month difference contractually. $30 * 24 months = $720.00


We can also skip the activation fees -$62.00


I think that’s probably all I can shave off of the price. Since I’m probably sticking with Tmobile for a while, I can probably subsidize myself over the next 24 months (esp because I’m not paying that extra $30)

$518.02 / 24  =$21/month

$149.88+ $21 = $170.88

A bit more than $9 difference, when all is said and done. The biggest difference between the two is that I have to have about $2000 up front. The other problems, some listed above are as follows:

a) Little-to-no support, though tmobile usually offers some help if you call.
b) No Visual Voicemail

The point of this whole exercise is to recognize that AT&T  pretty much screws it’s customers, and there is an alternative. Part of me says “Hey, capitalism! If an iPhone is worth more to me than my money, then I should get it.” Another part of me says “Hey, if I’m smart enough to work this out, and I’m not using deception or coercion, no harm, no foul.”

If I do follow through with this, one thing I can expect is a better network situation than a lot of iPhone users. A quick look at the web will show you that AT&T has major problems with their network, and with delivering the features that they’re supposed to be. One hope that I have is that at the end of AT&T and Apple’s exclusivity deal, Tmobile will start to carry the iPhone.  Assuming the data rates will be the same as the Android, it all looks like a better deal.

  1. Well, I can help you out a little here and there:

    The 3G network supports talk WHILE web browsing…and can do 5 conferenced calls at once. All over the 3G towers. That’s very impressive.

    Visual Voicemail isn’t a dealbreaker until you’ve used it.

    T-Mo will never have 3G support for any iPhone until they get a carrier branded iPhone. PLUS, they still don’t have 3G coverage in most places.

    AT&T has more nationwide coverage.

    As of right now, if you refrain from updating to 3.1, there is a way to tether on both carriers using a simple hack, without jailbreaking. It’s glorious.

    Subsidized iPhone is nice. You have to go 32 gigs, and that’s $300 as opposed to $700 retail.

    The GPS chip is great. Saved my butt plenty of times.

    AT&T ain’t cheap, but cut costs somewhere else. I eat out less due to my three line bill of $140 a month, but I’ve lost weight!!!

    Rollover minutes are great. Some months you use them, some months you don’t.

    T-Mobile wins in the customer help situation, but AT&T ain’t bad if you get mad enough over the phone.

    I’ve been with AT&T for 4 years, and they’ve been decent. MMS on September 25th. Yahoo!

    Hope I’ve helped you out a little. I’ve been selling phones for 2 years now. And phones are a massive hobby of mine.


    • While the speed issue is not a huge deal to me, you make a good point. The iPhone (in it’s current state) will never run at 3g on Tmobile. It’s a technical fault. Even with that, I’m still tempted to stay with Tmobile and spend an absurd amount of money on a 3Gs. Part of it is just the rebellious kid who wants to say “Screw you!” to AT&T 🙂

      It’s not really any of the features that are the draw of the iPhone 3Gs for me, it’s their execution. Android can do some cool things, but It’s not the iPhone. It’s not as well integrated, or a smoothly executed as the iPhone. Also, as long as I have an iPhone, I know that it’s going to work with my Mac.

  2. I was brought in by the siren call of the 3Gs on a legit carrier. I bailed on verizon and a blackberry to bring the iPhone into my apple eco system and haven’t looked back once. Had there been a way to have an iPhone on verizon it would of course be a different story and I have my fingers crossed for an LTE network and compatible phone from the bug red and apple when my at&t contract runs out.

    Anyway point of all this being while i have no experience with tmobile i have had a good experience with at&t thus far. Tmobile certainly has some of the most attractive rates for text messaging etc. I have a feeling once the apple at&t agreement runs out apple is going to be most interested in 4G networks. I don’t see Tmobile getting in on the 4G wagon anytime soon, but who knows.

    • Yeah, if anything, Tmobile is likely to continue to be on the “Catching-up” end of the mobile industry. Being Germany-based doesn’t help I think. Verizon (as I understand) is looking to convert it’s entire network to a GSM-based LTE rather than stick CDMA. In that regard, Tmobile might have a headstart, but then again, it seems like they don’t care too much. Their 3G has just barely become common-place and isn’t standards reliant anyway.

      For the time being, I’m going to wait and watch. Everything I’ve read says 2010 is the end of the road for AT&T, and given the iPhone’s success, I don’t think Apple cares to be tethered to AT&T anymore. There have been tons of reports about AT&T’s network being lousy, and I wonder if *any* network would be able to handle the abuse that the iPhone creates.

  3. So I’ve had my iPhone for about a month now (32g 3GS). I’ve been with AT&T since I got back from Brasil in ’03 (6 years). They never have the 16g in stock (that much I will admit is a conspiracy), so it was either old school 8g or new school 32g.
    As smart phones go, I’ve never seen smarter. I think I’ve used my home pc maybe twice since getting my phone, and I haven’t touched my laptop in just as long.
    Mms right now IS a bear, you can receive, but it takes you to a link and you enter a password/Id to see the MSG for 7 days, and you have to go back and forth between messages and safari till you type the password right, all very dumb. But like Ethan said- sept 25th!!

    I wish the camera were better- flash, editing. But with a couple simple apps, I’ve been gettin better at manipulating my results.

    I actually use 3g more than wifi, even at my house. Unless it’s really strong wireless, it tends to drop in and out, and 3g therefore is quicker and more reliable… For me.

    Every one of my bills, including AT&T is auto-pay. And I’ve trained myslf to keep enough liquidity to cover them as they come due. So honestly, I don’t notice how much AT&T rapes me. I know it’s around $130/month: one iPhone w/ unlimited text, and one non iPhone sharing 700 mins. But after the first few months you won’t notice the difference. I’ve always that theory about the big purchases (car, rent, mortgage) never mind the initial investment, you can save up for that. As long as you can cover the monthly over an extended period, it’s a good deal.

    I say get an iPhone, I say get it now, I say get it on AT&T. Unless you enjoy tinkering around to approach a mediocre substitute. My friends make fun, saying they’d like an iPhone, but they still need to make phone calls every now and then. The only place my coverage sucks is in my office at work, and I’m not making cell calls there anyways.

    My two pennies.

    • Yeah, and I’m tempted to get an iPhone right now on AT&T, except I just bought a house, and we’re trying to settle into the regularity of that. I love my 1st gen iPhone. That and I have a contract through December with Tmobile. I figure after that’s taken care of, It’ll be just a short while before Apple make another iPhone announcement. If history is any indication, it’ll be late June/Early July of 2010. It’ll probably be a new phone, and I’m hoping for some carrier variation – just for the sake of seeing the iPhone break down more mobile-industry walls.

Comments are closed.