My name is Brian Penny, and I’m a recovering Sprint customer and ongoing data addict.
After blowing the whistle on the banks in 2011, I kept my phone bill going for another 3 years before finally allowing it to die out in January 2014. Since then I’ve had about 10 phone numbers through VoIP services like Google Voice and Skype, along with prepaid cell phones from WalMart/TMobile and Virgin Mobile/Sprint.
Sprinting Away from Bad Wireless Service
The only reason I stayed with Sprint so long was because the company offers unlimited data. Unfortunately with the move from 3G to 4G and LTE WiFi service, Sprint’s lack of tower expansion put it far behind the other carriers.
Having worked for Verizon Wireless in my 20s, I’m aware of their dedication to expanding their network to provide the fastest data. Verizon has more cell towers built across the US than any other wireless carrier.
Of course worldwide, CDMA carriers are few and far between. GSM carrier like AT&T rule the roost outside the US. Walmart was my first experience with a SIM card, having let Sprint before the proliferation of LTE and usage of SIM cards.
I now have a SIM card with AT&T Wireless, which I chose for several reasons after an extensive online search.
Having lived on the road for the last few years, I learned AT&T focused more on building up a WiFi infrastructure within major cities. Every Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, Convention Center, hotel chain, Home Depot, and more is hooked up with AT&T WiFi hotspots.
On top of this, AT&T bought DirecTV last year, a fact I learned at their booth during CTIA’s Super Mobility Week.
Even during each company’s keynotes, it was clear where the lines were drawn. Verizon is focused on curating content for freemium prices and adding additional entertainment-focused services. AT&T is focused on IoT, and combining all aspects of smart devices in homes, vehicles, and on people to communicate.
Sprint is revamping and trying to catch up and find a place in today’s modern mobile world.
With DirecTV being bought by AT&T, it was time for me to look at their offerings again. Merging the two services into one bill creates a $10 discount, By submitting to satellite TV (I’m still technically a cable-cutter since cancelling my Cox TV/Internet service in 2011) I could get an unlimited data plan with a 2-year contract through AT&T.
I was instantly intrigued and began my journey to sell my soul to AT&T.
Installations and Issues
The new house I’m camping at has an older SD DirecTV satellite installed, so we were able to get that replaced by an HD dish capable of producing 4K to match the TV in the living room.
That TV is hooked up to the standard HDDVR, but I called the company back a week later to add a second receiver and procured a Genie for my van (along with the SD satellite from the installation tech).
Prior to moving, I ordered an AT&T hotspot to ensure I didn’t lose internet connection for the entirety of last week, which would have had devastating consequences to my productivity. I paid upfront for the equipment costs to avoid any service contract and bought a 5GB data plan.
I then went to the AT&T store to purchase the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and start a 2-year service contract. I had to pay $210 + tax up front for the phone and $450 for a deposit (along with a $45 activation fee), but it was necessary to activate service.
The AT&T staff is every bit as pushy and annoying as Sprint (especially the retail staff in San Tan Village in Gilbert, AZ), but the manager Kat was both sweet and hot (my favorite combination), so I dealt with it.
After setting up the new service and confirming the Galaxy S7 can be used as a hotspot for gaming on my desktop PC, I called to cancel the hotspot and return it for buyer’s remorse, paying only the $45 activation fee and $9 for service used, and receiving a full refund for the equipment I purchased.
Dealing with the Devil
Now that I’ve spent a week dealing with AT&T and DirecTV in-store, online, and over the phone, I have a good idea of what it’s like being their customer.
I do realize it’s not going to be any easier than Sprint, but I’m happy to have the plan I do. It’ll be a billing cycle or two before AT&T and DirecTV update my bill to combine them, and it’ll be a struggle to pay them both until then, not so much financially, but a pain in my butt haha.
There are caveats to everything in the AT&T store. Aside from constantly trying to upgrade you with promises of “flash” sales and way overly priced accessories (the Wireless NFC charger, for example is $50 in store or $10-25 literally everywhere else), none of the sales are real at all.
The advertised free Galaxy Tab or Galaxy S7 I should’ve gotten isn’t actually free. You pay for it up front and are given a monthly equipment credit throughout your service contract. So really, it’s “Buy Two, Get Bill Credits on the Second.”
On top of this, the employees act like we should all just automatically know the completely-made-up rules of their imaginary billing system, like AT&T’s billing processes and procedures are inherent knowledge. Sorry, hipster kids with frosted tips, but you’re the ones supposed to be teaching people instead of focusing on selfish sales goals.
Ideal Use Cases of Unlimited AT&T Plans
The service is still worthy, despite these issues because of how cell phones are designed. They’ll automatically search for wireless hotspots (a function you can actually control in the S7) and with AT&T controlling the hotspots everywhere I go, I’ll be able to connect with VIP status.
Now when I’m at the Los Angeles Convention Center for E3, Las Vegas Strip for CES, Colorado for the Cannabis Cup, Seattle for PAX Prime, San Diego for ComiCon, SLC for Outdoor Retailer, etc., I’ll be lounging with a stable and strong internet connection, watching TV from my satellite.
All of this was obtained for under $100/month because I planned ahead and paid a lot of upfront equipment costs to keep the bills as low as possible.
I also will be getting a Samsung Gear VR headset in the mail this year for free through Samsung’s Gear VR Galaxy S7 promotion that ended 3/18/16.
By signing up for the Next 12 plan, I can upgrade my S7 in 12 month, and I’ll easily have my bill paid and a large stash of credits by that point. I’m not getting the speeds and clarity I would from the fiber optic lines of Cox in Phoenix, but, since I move around and travel most of the year, AT&T and DirecTV was the choice for me.
Now I have a $100 bill that keeps me entertained, educated, distracted, and productive. It’s a worthwhile investment I’m glad I finally made.
I can continue being a pirate indefinitely at this rate, and by 40, I should be much better positioned than my peers with mortgages. Until then, we work…
If you want to sign up for DirecTV, Call 844-534-0099 and use Promo Code 506453 to get started for free.
If you want to sign up for AT&T, click this link and tell them Brian Penny sent you.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned Whistleblower, Troll, and Freelance Writer. His work appears in Huffington Post, High Times, Fast Company, and Hardcore Droid, and he’s a frequent guest on podcasts, TV, radio, and more.