I-Team: Saving money on your smartphone bill

April 11, 2014

If you think you're paying too much for your smartphone bill, you're not alone. One Illinois watchdog group estimates consumers pay almost $200 more per year than they should.

Everywhere you look there are low-cost carriers. They have deals ranging from $35-$45 per month for unlimited text and data. But top-tier carriers like AT&T or Verizon Wireless could charge you double or more for what may or may not be the same service.

"I think my bill for Verizon for the two of us is $183," said Sarita Butler, a Verizon customer. So how are these deals possible?

Tech expert and app blogger Brad Spirrison said in some cases, the larger wireless networks lease out their infrastructure to the brands offering you that cheap price.

"They are re-sellers of spectrum, they are resellers of bandwidth and because they are tapping into another provider, they are not as predictable," Spirrison said.

Spirrison said that if you go with a low-cost deal, you may not always have access to "international service," and while you may get unlimited data, it can sometimes be slow or spotty.

"If you are a heavy gamer or want to watch a movie on the bus, you will want access to a more robust network," Spirrison said.

You also need to read the entire offer. A $35 a month unlimited data and messaging deal might not include unlimited minutes to talk on the phone. For instance, the smaller print in one Boost Mobile ad says by month seven, you could pay $50 a month.

A benefit of a low-cost carrier is that there's little risk of overpaying for services.

Illinois watchdog group CUB and the wireless research firm Validas found that Illinois callers were wasting $1.4 billion per year, or almost $200 per person on the wrong data plans in 2013.

Many of those small providers also don't require a contract.

"It could very well work for you, but with any 'no contract plan', almost always you are going to be paying more for the phone itself," Spirrison said.

There are other ways to save – no matter which carrier you have.

You can look into family plans. Carriers offer great deals in hopes that your children will remain customers for life.

You can also call your existing carrier and try to renegotiate. Ask them how much data you are really using on a regular basis and see if there is a better plan for you.

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