Of Gadgets, Upgrades, and Mobile Plans

I love gadgets, and I’ll be the first to admit that I love Apple and its products. In fact, I have: an iPhone X; the AirPods with a wireless charging case, and I’m typing this from a MacBook Pro. For a while, I was even torn between buying an iPad, or an Apple Watch.

I got neither – unfortunately, it wasn’t driven by being fiscally conscious. Instead, I took too long to decide and lost interest in getting them.

Fun little side story: In 2006, when I was but an impressionable freshman, I came up with a pitch in 15 minutes for an ‘MacPhone’. This is pre-iPhone, and you can see a speech outline I drafted. Everything about it, from the features to the price point, makes me laugh now.

More than being an Apple fangirl, though, I also generally love technology and the gadgets it demands. Considering that I’m designing apps and experiences on these devices, keeping up ahead of the curve is almost mandatory.

The costs of yearly upgrades

I worked at a telecommunications company for four years. Not just any telecommunications company too, but the incumbent company, selling plans at a premium for “good customer service” and “unbeatable service”.

What’s worse (oh yes, it gets worse) is that as part of the design team, I knew every psychology trick that the sales division leveraged, and every tactic that the marketing division employed.

And yet, I bought into that myself as a consumer.

At that time, I thought I was gaming the system. Hacking the business model and getting an excellent deal too!

This is how it works:

  • There are, at my last count, seven 24-month postpaid plans
  • You can get the device at a subsidized rate, depending on the cost of each plan
  • As you go up in plans, the devices get cheaper
  • As an employee, I got an additional 40% staff discount off my monthly cost

At first glance, getting the highest tiered plan and receiving a new device every year sounds like a great idea. A new device every year!

Unfortunately, this still meant that I was paying $144 a month for 12GB of data. Here, I’ll hang my head in more shame and admit that I’ve regularly gone over that limit, and have had to pay $10 – $30 extra per month for each GB of extra data consumed.

Enter the almighty MVNO.

Luckily for us, the industry is getting a shake-up with new players, offering flexibility and data, and traditional telcos realizing that they needed to retain the folks who are leaving for the new players, as well as needing a way to diversify their brand.

Here in Singapore, we have a few options, though they all largely run on the same networks as the traditional telcos.

OperatorsNetworkPlanCost/month
GOMOSingtel20GB
200 mins
200 SMSes
$20
GigaStarhub25GB
1,000 mins
1,000 SMSes
$25
Circles.LifeM120GB
100 mins
25 SMSes
From $18 - $28

Personally, I’ve been on the Singtel network for as long as I can remember. I also know the faces behind GOMO, so that’s who I’ve gone with for the past few months with no complaints!

A caveat here is that you’ll have to pay for early termination charges, if you are still within your contract. I had to do that to a tune of approximately $250, but since I had nearly a year left under the contract, it would have meant paying ~$1440 if I rode that out instead of the $200 I will now pay for that same duration.

What happens when I need a new phone?

I’m still rocking the iPhone X I’ve had since December 2017, and with any luck I would be able to extend its life for another 3 years. It’s a good thing that the newest iPhone refreshes were mostly just hardware upgrades, and improved cameras aren’t that enticing to me… yet.

My plan is to just get an unlocked phone when this one dies. Maybe even a generation behind the latest model, whatever that may be.

Other than that, I know for sure that I will never go back to paying hundreds of dollars a month on a phone plan for the privilege of owning the latest and greatest.

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