I just switched cell phone carriers and I didn’t have to sign a contract.
All I had to do was take the T-Mobile chip out of my phone, put the AT&T chip in and pay an activation fee. I could do this because I own an unlocked GSM phone, which is also handy for travel abroad for reasons I’ll get to.
I didn’t have to sign a contract because I supplied my own phone. AT&T isn’t subsidizing the cost of the equipment, so it doesn’t force me to sign up for a fixed period. So I got a standard plan that I pay monthly, as if I had a contract, but I can cancel at any time.
Because my phone is unlocked, I can switch back to T-Mobile or any other GSM carrier (meaning NOT Verizon or Sprint) just by switching the chip, or SIM card. Had I bought the phone from AT&T, switching SIM cards wouldn’t work because the phone would be locked to the AT&T network.
Owning my own unlocked phone also enables me to do something I couldn’t do with a typical phone supplied with a cellular contract and locked to the carrier’s network. I can buy a chip in another country and use my phone with a local number on a local network, without paying roaming costs. I have done this in Spain and in Russia.
For this, the phone must not only be unlocked, it must also work with the two GSM bands used throughout Europe and around the world. These are different from the two bands used in the United States, so I have a quad-band phone, which covers all four bands. (I blogged about this two years ago, and most of what I wrote then still holds true.)
I bought my unlocked Motorola Razr phone from an Internet retailer several years ago, and it’s getting old. I’m planning to buy a new one that is wi-fi capable. This will enable me to sign onto wireless Internet connections to check email and what have you, whether I have a cell signal or not.
I’m considering a used Blackberry with wi-fi because the keyboards are convenient for messaging (although I do fear that my husband will throw it down a storm drain because he hated the Blackberry I had in my last job.) Blackberries are designed to work with a cellular data plan, costing an extra $30 or more a month, but can be used without one. So I’ll take advantage of the wireless feature without paying for the data connection.
Mine is not the usual cell phone strategy, but it is economical, flexible and good for travel.