Join our hosts and resident money-saving experts as they dive into the world of discount cellphone providers, exploring the benefits of switching to a more affordable plan, discussing the most common reasons people switch providers, and offering tips on how to make a smooth transition.
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Al: “Hey Chris, we’ll give you a deal. You can fill up as many times as you want in a month, for 600 bucks a month. You don’t have to worry about it. You get unlimited gas.” What would you say to that?
Chris: I would say, “That’s too expensive.”
Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, …
MOe: I’m MOe Carpenter, …
Chris: And today, we are going to be talking about switching cell phone carriers. This came up because in our episode called, “Money Moves to Kick Off 2023,” I mentioned that I recently changed cell phone carriers to Visible by Verizon, a discount cell phone service provided by Verizon, that costs just 15 bucks a month, though it does go up to thirty after an introductory period. And we thought we would bring on a tech expert, Al Puzzoli, to talk with us about the mechanics of switching to discount cell phone providers. He’s done a lot of research into this, and, uh, is just, kind of a geek in general. Uh, so that we could find out what the pros and cons of doing this might be in case you’re considering making the switch yourself.
Al thanks for being here.
Al: Hello. Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Chris: Tell us about yourself and your blindness to start us off if you would.
Al: Okay, so, um, I have been blind since birth. I have been, my whole life, as just pointed out, kind of a technology geek because it was just, you know, obvious from the beginning what sorts of paths technology would open for me as someone who is blind. So, um, I learned at a very young age, when I would put off my homework to play around on the computer, that I probably should go into IT and computers as a career. So, that’s what I did. I uh, started my career in about 2000 working for Humanware. Then after that, I worked for a number of years at Michigan State University in the disability office doing IT for them, and uh, these days, I work for Vispero, um, as a member of TPGI, which is um, our web accessibility arm, and um, I do various things depending on the day for them. I’ve always been involved in technology, I’ve always been interested in technology, I play with technology, I work with technology, and I research technology.
Liz: What are some of your non work, quote unquote “play” aspects of technology that are your favorites? Do you have a favorite piece of technology that you’ve used over the years, either that you’re using now or that you previously used, maybe that isn’t useable anymore, sadly?
Al: Um, I’m into a lot of retro technology. I mean I can talk to you for hours about the Apple 2 E, which, I’m sure that’s not happening in this episode, but I think the most life changing technology that I’ve seen in the last twenty years, obviously, has been smartphones. You know, prior to that, the, I was heavily involved in the note takers, and that sort of thing, you know, and I’m a bit of a gamer. You know, I used to have enough vision to kind of get into the video games and the Atari’s, and stuff like that, but that’s not the case anymore. Although you can play some of those things with sound, and, and, there are new avenues of accessible gaming happening, which is great.
MOe: Moving to the topic of the day, talking about the cell phone carriers, what made you decide to switch?
Al: Um, a number of factors. I think the most obvious one is pricing. The average phone bill in America is probably between sixty and eighty dollars a month, if you’re, if you’re going with the big carriers on their highest priced plans. You know, and that’s before you even think about financing your phone. If you’re financing your phone through your carrier. So, you know, if you’re adding that on top of it, you’re looking at, you know, over a hundred dollars a month for a phone line. So, you know, the, uh, discount carriers offer a lot of flexibility in terms of pricing. And the way that you can really lower your pricing is to really understand your cell phone plan and kind of understand how much data you really need. You have to look at your history over the months, and kind of get a sense of your usage patterns and understand, how much data are you really using? And these MVNO’S, and I’ll explain what that is in a moment, offer you that path. Um, one analogy I always kind of like to use when we talk about cell phone plans that’s gonna really help us, you know, in, in … considering how to move forward. Say the Peterson family had a car, and they filled it up 3 times a month with gas, and maybe say each fill was $50 a month. I’m just making these numbers up, but they’re based on national averages. A hundred dollars a month. Right? So, let’s assume that the gas station came up with a new offer, “Unlimited Pass for Gas.” And they said “Hey Chris, we’ll give you a deal. You can fill up as many times as you want in a month, for 600 bucks a month. You don’t have to worry about it. You get unlimited gas.” What would you say to that?
Chris: I would say, “That’s too expensive.”
Al: Exactly. But we’re conditioned to not even think twice about that when we are paying for unlimited data, which most of us don’t need. So, that’s why I switched.
Chris: So, when you switched, what were some of the concerns that you had, and how did you research them or address them?
Al: I think the concerns that I had were, um, just that I didn’t really understand what was going on initially. What switching really would mean. And the way I addressed them was by doing research. You know, I needed to understand, what, “What is available out there? What does it mean if I’m switching to an MVNO?” So there’s two different things. There is a mobile network operator, which is a MVNO, that’s the big guys. That’s like Verizon, AT and T, T. Mobile, those guys have their own networks, and what they will do, is they will resell service to other providers. And, and basically, you know, it’s kind of like if you go to Costco and you buy coffee. And you really like the coffee, and, “What is this coffee?” It’s, well it’s Costco brand. You know. But really, if you dig into it, I don’t know, it might be Folgers or something. And it’s really somebody else’s product, but it’s just being resold. And that’s the same thing that happens with these um, with these MVNO’S. It’s kind of a win win win, because the big carriers can resell this capacity to these smaller carriers. They don’t have brick and mortar stores typically, so they can pass those savings on to the consumer, and the consumer gets a better deal. But one of the concerns I was concerned about was reliability, and you’re not gonna really deal with any reliability issues, because you’re really still dealing with either the Verizon network, the T. Mobile network, or the A.T&T network.
Liz: Since switching, what has your experience been like?
Al: Very good. Um, it’s been, I’ve obviously saved a lot of money. Um, I am right now paying a total of $22 a month for 2 phone lines. I’m paying for myself and for my mom, and it’s $22 a month. And I can do that because I have an understanding of how much data we both use. I know that, you know, for myself, I probably use maybe 2 or 3 gigs a month, ’cause I mostly work from home, and I’m on wi-fi all the time, and then when I’m out, you know, I’m not really doing anything that involves a lot of data, and if I do, if I go road tripping or something, I can cap it off for that month, and still come out way ahead for the year. I haven’t had any reliability issues. Right now I’m actually with T. Mobile directly on a pre-paid plan that’s only $15 a month for my personal line, and I have my mom on a T. Mobile MVNO called Tello where you can customize the plan, and she’s only, her line only costs $7 a month ’cause she doesn’t use a lot of data. So, the reliability’s been great. One of the things to consider, though, it’s, it’s not necessarily a con, but it’s just something to consider. Most of these MVNO’S and pre-paid plans don’t offer the ability to walk into retail stores to get support. So, if you’re technical, and relatively comfortable with dealing with technical issues, and you think you can trouble shoot your own issues, then, you know, that’s another thing to think about. Do you want to take on that responsibility? Because you’re gonna get customer service, but it’s gonna be E-mail, it’s gonna be chat, if you really want to walk in and have somebody fix something for you, then uh, there are some options, but some of these MVNO’S might not be right.
MOe: Do you think that there is a big difference between, especially for like our community, in the blind community, um, the Apple vs. Android, and going with a discount cellular plan?
Al: Um, I don’t think that it really matters as far as Apple vs. Android. I think the issues that our community would face are the same issues that anybody else would face, really. You know, are you comfortable switching carriers, or, there’s a process you have to go through when you switch. You know, are you comfortable doing that yourself or do you want to have assistance doing it? Are you comfortable installing your sim card, which we can talk about in a minute, you know, those sorts of things. But they’re, I don’t think that they’re specific to our community exactly.
Chris: So we got some questions from the audience that prompted us recording this episode in the first place. And the first one was, “Is my coverage still gonna be as good as I expect? Or am I, am I going to have coverage issues by switching?”
Also: Your coverage will be nearly identical. You know, so if you switch to, like, Visible from Verizon, you’re gonna have Verizon coverage. You’re using the Verizon towers. The only reason I even said “nearly identical” is because sometimes, and this is very rare and you probably will never notice it, is that the big guys will deprioritize an MVNO customer, like if you’re at a ball game or something and there are thousands of customers at the ball game, the Verizon people are gonna maybe get a higher priority. Which means that if there’s like, you know, think of it as like traffic. They’re gonna get to go first. Which might result in slightly slower speeds for you or something like that, but it’s not noticeable. I’ve never had an issue with it, and for the amount of money that you’re saving, it’s definitely a trade-off worth making.
Liz: The second question we have from the audience is, “If I do switch, can I keep my number, or will I have to memorize a new number, and will other people who have my current number have to memorize a new number. If anyone even does that anymore because we all have people in our contacts, but, you know.
(Liz and Al chuckle.)
Al: Yeah. Um, yeah. You can absolutely keep your number. The thing to remember, though, the uh, the first rule is, do not, when you’re gonna switch, tell your old provider that you want to cancel. What you need to do is switch, and, and, sometimes what will happen is, you’ll switch and you’ll get a temporary trial number from the new carrier that you can play with for a few days or whatever, and once you’re ready to switch, you want to go through the number porting process with your new carrier. So you tell them, “I want to initiate a port,” and then they will ask you for information about your old carrier. “What, you know, what’s your account number, what’s your name and address that is on file with the old carrier,” there might be a security pin from the old carrier that they need. They will initiate the switch. Um, once it’s done, then your old plan is automatically canceled. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to alert the old carrier.
MOe: That’s really great information. Uh, another question from our community asks, “What happens if my cell phone breaks?”
Al: You know, depending on what kind of um, warrantee you have, you might have Apple Care or something like that, you know, you can get it taken care of that way. UM, but, with these pre-paid plans, typically, you’re not financing your phone, um, you know, and the company really has nothing to do with replacing your phone, but, you know, if you’re paying 15 dollars a month, and you’re not paying finance costs, you know, whatever, I mean you could buy a new phone every couple years. And you’re, you’re saving enough money where if you had to make an emergency phone purchase or spend money on repairing your phone, you’re still gonna come out ahead of where you would be if you were spending $70-$80 a month on a phone plan, plus another 30 month finance charge.
Chris: So here’s a, another question we got, and I’ll preface this by saying I had trouble doing this myself. So, while this question didn’t come from me, it’s one that’s, that’s interesting to me, and, and it, and it is, “Can I change my sim card by myself, particularly as a blind person, or is that way too technical?”
Al: Yeah. And that is something that you may have some problems doing the first time, but it’s one of those things that takes practice. You know, and there’s a little tray on the … on your phone, and it depends on your phone where it is. It’s probably, I think on my phone it’s like on the upper right edge, and you have to find this little hole and insert a tool that pops it out, and then the sim just comes out. It’s just a little tiny card that you insert into the phone. And it’s, it’s very tiny, and it just, it’s a delicate operation, but you can do it. You know, you need to understand which way it goes into the tray, and um, and how to put it in there. I think the first time I did it, it took me like 20 minutes to do it. Now I can do it in, you know, maybe, a minute or 2. ’cause it’s, just after you’ve done it enough times, it makes sense. The interesting thing, though, is that that’s becoming less and less of an issue. There is now something on newer phones called an E-sim, and you can have your new plan activated on an E-sim, which is basically a virtual, electronic sim in your phone that’s already there, and when you switch carriers, all they have to do is activate a new E-sim in your phone. You basically just download some data to your phone. You download the sim, and it’s, it’s active. So, the I-phone 14, for example, doesn’t even have a physical sim anymore. You can just have E-sims in it.
Liz: I can speak from someone who has successfully done a sim transfer, it is, is doable, as someone who has no vision. So, I’ve done several of them. The last question we have from our audience is, “What sorts of phones are supported by these types of carriers?”
Al: Really any phone today. I mean you can buy pretty much any I, I-phone or Android and it’s gonna be supported, and I think probably even other flip phone devices as well. Uh, but the main thing you have to do is ensure that whatever phone you’re, you’re bringing to the carrier is unlocked. If you are financing a phone through your carrier right now, um, you know, and maybe you have a year left or something, that phone may be locked to your current carrier. Once you’ve paid that phone off, they can unlock it for you, and you can check, on an I-phone you can go to “about,” and it will say something like, “Sim unrestricted” or something like that if it’s unlocked. But as long as you have an unlocked phone, you can, you can bring it to pretty much any carrier. ’cause now-a-days, I-phones run, you know, you can buy one model I-phone that will run on CDMA or GSM. So it doesn’t matter anymore as much as it used to.
MOe: Al, do you know if the Blind Shell Classic 2 is available for this carrier switch?
Al: Um, I don’t know, but the way to know is, um, what carriers does it work with right now? For example, if you know it works with Verizon, then it will work with Visible. You know, or if it works with T. Mobile, then it will work with Mint Mobile, or any of those. Um, what you want to kind of do when you’re looking at switching is figure out what network you’re using right now, and if you like that network, then you want to find a carrier that uses the same network. And, basically, as long as your phone is unlocked, if it’s working with the big guy, then it will work with the MVNO as well.
Chris: I thought it would be interesting to pause and to talk about my experience with switching from T. Mobile, which is what I had, to Visible by Verizon, which is what I have now. We did it on 3 phones, and we were paying $140 a month for 3 phone lines on T. Mobile. And, when we switched to Visible, now we’re paying $45 a month, for uh, I think 6 months. And then it will, uh, increase to $90. Which is still quite a bit cheaper than what we were paying before. And the process was really very simple, and I don’t know that this is the same type of process that you would follow for every carrier that you would switch to, but, but what it was like for me was, uh, 2 of our phones were unlocked, and so, all we needed to do was get the sim card, and put it in the phone. The number porting process was very simple also, although Visible asked for a pin number. And that was a little bit confusing to us, because it’s not the pin number that you use to access your account. It’s something called a transfer pin, and we actually had to get some help from T. Mobile customer service figuring out how to, how to get that transfer pin, but they were very, very nice about it, they didn’t pressure us to stay or anything, they just told us where we could find it. And uh, once we had that transfer pin, switching those two phones over was seamless. Now, my third phone was locked, but I was eligible to get it unlocked because I wasn’t under any sort of contract anymore, and I had had the phone, it was all, all paid off, and, and I’d had it for several years. So, for that, I needed to call T. Mobile and ask them to unlock the phone before I switched, and they were able to do that, and it took, I would say, probably uh, half a day, or maybe a full day, for the unlock to, to take effect, and then I was able to follow the same process. The one thing that I had, and I don’t have a lot of experience with this, I had trouble opening the drawer on the side of the iPhone to get the sim card out. So I needed help finding the little hole to, to press on to get the drawer to pop out. Once the drawer popped out, uh, the sim card was just sitting in the drawer. It feels like a really tiny SD card. It even has, uh, if I remember correctly, 1 corner cut out so you can’t put it in accidentally the wrong way, and I took the new sim card out of the, um, out of the package, and dropped it in the drawer and slid the drawer back into the side of the phone, and, and boom. I was done. So, for me, it was a really simple process, and uh, I think the only thing that I had trouble with was that switching of the sim card, and like Al said, if I had had a phone with an E-sim, it would have worked fine. And by the way, I was using my existing phone that was on the T. Mobile network, on the Visible by Verizon network. So, uh, I didn’t even need to buy a new phone. I was able to, to use my existing phone, in all three cases. So, it, it has worked out great for us, and we’ve had no problem. We’ve been, uh, switched over now for, about uh, 3 months. And Visible offers an unlimited data plan, which is a little bit of a misnomer, because they actually will allow you to use, uh, a limited amount of data, I think it’s about 50 gigs a month, and then they’ll start to throttle you back. So your data doesn’t get shut off, but it gets slower. Uh, if you use more than that fifty, uh, gigs a month. So, that’s the catch, I guess, to that particular plan, but it saves us 50 bucks a month, which, for our family, is a pretty big deal.
So uh, Al, are there any other things you wanted to add here that we haven’t thought to ask?
Al: Um, I think we’ve covered most of it. I will say that uh, with E-sims now, there are a lot of uh, trials. I mean, with an E-sim phone, you could literally go online right now, if you wanted to try, like T. Mobile, for example, has a three-month trial. It’s totally free, you, you download the T. Mobile app to your phone and they can activate an E-sim for you, and you’re trying T. Mobile within 5 minutes. You don’t have to go to the store or wait for a sim or anything. And there are other trials like that that are available. You know, the E-sim opens up a lot of doors. Um, for example, even if you’re, you know, you could have Verizon as your primary carrier and if you’re going somewhere that you know maybe T. Mobile is better, you can buy like a month’s worth of T. Mobile data on your second E-sim. So just a lot of things you can do.
Liz: If you’re comfortable with people contacting you if they have questions, Al, how can they do that?
Al: I am on Twitter, um, my Twitter handle is a l p like Paul, U Z Z, so Alpuzz. Um, I also recently began using Mastodon, so on Mastodon I am Alpuzz, A L P U Z Z, at mastodon.social. And that’s m a s t o d o n dot social. Um, there are also a number of websites that I use that are very good resources in terms of reviewing phone plans, and um, offering, you know, uh, comparisons of phone plans, and I don’t know what the best way to share those would be. I can just reference them verbally or I could E-mail them to the podcast, or to uh, Chris, um, how would we want to do that if we wanted to pass those on to the listeners?
Chris: Why don’t you just send them in an E-mail and we’ll stick them in the show notes.
Al: Okay, perfect.
Chris: And, also, if anyone would like to send a question by E-mail, we do have Al’s E-mail address, and, and we would be happy to forward on legitimate inquiries to him and forward his responses back to you as well. So, look for a wealth of information in the show notes, and if you’re thinking of making the switch, it might be worth doing. It certainly has worked out well for me, it’s worked out well for Al, and a number of other people that I’ve spoken to. And uh, cell phone plans are, are very, very expensive. They’re kind of a necessity in this day and age, so, why not try to save a little bit of money on them here and there, where you can?
Liz: If you would like to get in touch with us via E-mail to E-mail a question, that E-mail address is
Chris: That’s right. Al, thanks for being here. We appreciate your help.
Al: Thanks very much.
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and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. And for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: I’m Liz Bottner, ….
MOe: And I’m MOe Carpenter.
Chris: Thanks for listening, and have a great week.
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