Phone usage billing over the years: revisiting “A truly embarrassing truth”

Around eight years ago, back in this blog’s infancy, I wrote a post about wireless phone billing practices entitled “A truly embarrassing truth for wireless phone companies”. A lot has changed since then, so I thought I would go back and revisit the original article.

Text messaging hasn’t really gone anywhere in eight years. Despite the rise of smartphones and that feature phones (sometimes called “flip phones” or “dumb phones”) are now the exception instead of the rule as they were about a decade ago, a lot of people still use text messages to communicate. The billing has changed too: most if not all plans in the current era are keyed around smartphone data usage, with the voice minutes and messaging thrown in for free.

(And a quick aside here: unfortunately, the quality of voice calls over the public switched telephone network (PSTN) has changed to match that “thrown in for free” bit. Early in the wired phone network’s history, dropped and misrouted calls, particularly long distance calls, happened on occasion. By the 1990s, though, such occurrences were unacceptable and had been engineered out of existence. I still consider it unacceptable in 2016 for calls over the PSTN to be dropped or fade out. It’s one thing for calls over an unregulated, strictly VoIP network to have this happen (Facebook Messenger, Skype, Ring.cx, etc), but the PSTN is simply supposed to be more reliable than that.)

The only phones where voice minutes and message aren’t “thrown in for free” as said above, are prepaid pay-as-you-go plans. Even on these, text messages have dropped back down to the slightly more reasonable level of 10 cents per message, even though a one minute phone call costs the same (at least on T-Mobile, the last provider I checked).

Thankfully, rates have more or less held steady and wireless phone companies have begun actually giving more for less as technology allows. This could be largely in part due to T-Mobile, which jolted the industry a while back by getting the handset subsidy *out* of the monthly rate, and as a separate line item where it belonged to begin with. This is fairer to everyone, and has opened up the realistic possibility of buying unlocked phones from third parties (at least on GSM networks). Now, one can upgrade phones when one desires (and one’s finances allow), rather than being stuck in a never-ending series of two-year contracts. It also means if one really likes a phone, one can keep it until it literally wears out or falls apart.

Who knows what the next eight years will bring us?

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