About three years ago, I signed up for a Verizon contract cell phone plan. In exchange for paying a fairly steep monthly rate, and committing myself to paying that rate for about two years, I received a free Android phone. My plan included unlimited data (3G was state of the art at the time), and an ample allowance of talk minutes and text messages. At the end of the two years, I could renew my commitment and get a new free or subsidized phone, or I could continue with my old phone as a month-to-month customer at the same monthly rate.
Somewhere along the line, things changed. Verizon started rolling out 4G LTE service, which was much faster and which, I assumed, stimulated data use for streaming videos and music, since it could do so without the problems one encounters at slower data speeds. In response, Verizon decided that any customer desiring a free or subsidized phone would have to go on a limited data plan.
While I could understand this response, I felt it was a little unfair to ask a customer who has paid off her or his phone under a two year contract to keep paying the same monthly fee for service and not get anything in return, except the ability to cease being a Verizon customer without penalty. I therefore set out to find a way to upgrade my phone to a 4G capable model and keep my unlimited data plan. When I went to my Verizon store, I was offered the option of buying a new, unsubsidized phone, but the $500 and up for a new phone was far more than I wanted to spend. Instead, I bought a refurbished phone on eBay for about $80, including tax. It’s not the latest model, but it’s years ahead of what I had and seems to be performing very well.
Getting the phone to work required a trip to my Verizon store to have a sim card installed and my account transferred to the new device. The process took about 15 minutes and I was not charged for the “device switch.” Incidentally, I mistakenly assumed that because my new phone required a sim card that it was GSM capable (i.e., capable of being used, with roaming, in most of the rest of the world). That turned out not to be the case — all 4G phones require a sim card, and most, like mine, are not GSM capable. If roaming abroad is important to you, and you are a Verizon customer, you have limited choices, and you should check on the web site or with customer service before you buy a phone.
While traveling, I’ve often found that hotels (usually, ironically, the more expensive ones) do not offer free wi-fi. While one can pay Verizon an additional $20 per month to turn one’s phone into a wireless hot spot, I chose not to do so, believing that if I want to use my data on another device, I should not have to pay twice for the privilege. Two programs, PdaNet and FoxFi, provide a great solution to this problem. They can turn a supported phone into a wi-fi hot spot (with password security if desired). The basic program is free, but it maintains a connection for a limited time. For a small, one-time fee, the program can be unlocked to provide a continuous connection for as long as one desires. My old phone supported FoxFi, but my new one does not. Fortunately, PdaNet can provide internet access to my tablet and laptop through Bluetooth, which is good enough for me. Information on supported phone types and various products offered is available on www.junefabrics.com. A list of supported Android phones is available at http://pdanet.co/help/devices.php. I have heard that Verizon and other carriers are looking for ways to block or otherwise defeat these kinds of free tethering programs, so there is no guarantee they will continue to work. However, for less than the price of a day’s wi-fi access at most hotels, you can support a pro-consumer company and enjoy the internet access you pay for on other devices.