A few months ago, my husband and I decided to purchase new cell phones. We opted to stay with our existing carrier and called to see what type of deals were available for new phones. When we found out that we were each eligible for a $150 rebate, we went to the store to compare the newest makes and models. It quickly became clear that we could choose a basic 2G phone or a full-featured phone with all of the newest bells and whistles—video capability, color display, camera, etc. There was no in-between. Of course, all of the new feature phones were at least $300.
We both chose the same camera/video phone and signed up for our rebate, which required that we agree to a new two-year contract. From the posters in the store, we noticed that we actually would've gotten these phones cheaper if we'd been new customers—rebate or not. Yet we were assured that there was nothing the store could do, as those deals were for new customers only.
As far as our plan went, the customer-service person compared our old combined plan to the new plans and assured us that we could definitely save money. According to her estimate, our new bill should be about $20 less a month. We were happy with this news as we went home to play with our new phones.
A few weeks later, the cell-phone bill came. It was actually about the same amount that it had been, but I knew that I had been billed at least half the month for the old plan. So I didn't worry about it. When the next bill came, though, it was roughly the same amount. I pored over it, checking it against an old bill. I recognized at least one problem: Previously, we'd been charged to have a shared account (i.e., to add another phone to a bill and share the minutes). But we were then credited back for that charge on a different part of the bill. This time, there was just the charge to add a second phone. So where was our credit? I promptly called the customer-service line. A nice person politely explained that only the old plans credited people for sharing minutes. Once I changed plans, I lost that option—and the $20 I was supposed to be saving every month.
Inexplicably, other new charges also appeared. We'd always had equipment-replacement protection, but now this fee showed up with different amounts and the words "New Service" next to it. I just noticed this on my last bill and I haven't called yet. I know I need to speak up, but I'm already sure that there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why we're now being charged differently for equipment protection.
Although I'm frustrated by the tricky offers, I know that I'm not alone. Many people are feeling just as frustrated—if not ripped off. I always think that the editors and readers of Wireless Systems Design are so lucky to be involved in an industry that is part of many people's everyday lives. Yet we're really not so different from the average consumer. We can contribute to the design of a new cellular phone. We can have a deep understanding of what differentiates the internal workings of one phone from another. But we're never safe from hidden fees, overages, and false packaging—no matter what the carriers' commercials claim. I can be reached at [email protected].