After AT&T quietly increased its “administrative fee”, I decided to switch. See: David Ruddock’s AT&T is screwing customers by almost tripling a bogus fee, and slash dot and boing boing’s commentaries, although I’m puzzled as to where the $800B total comes from.

But, it really was a last straw sort of thing. AT&T has been complicit with federal spying on American’s communications for a long, long time. Take a visit to Room 641A, for a quick example.

I’ve also been spending a good amount of time on /r/NoContract, reading other people’s stories about working with MVNO’s instead of the big carriers, prior to AT&T’s rate hike.

I’d taken a look at:

  • Cricket - Also AT&T, but whatever.
  • Republic - Android only and I have an iPhone.
  • Mint - Terrific prices paid way in advance, but lacks visual voicemail and wi-fi calling for iPhone.
  • Ting - “Pay for what you use” sounded right up my alley, but as a I wobble between being a “moderate” and “heavy” data user, was uncertain if this would actually save me money. I rarely talk on the phone and in the age of IM (including iMessages), I don’t really use SMS at all.
  • Straight Talk - Walmart will not get any of my money for how they treat their employees, so pass.

To be fair to AT&T, I have had zero issues with their service. Any time I’ve been out of coverage has been in places where it hasn’t surprised me. It’s held up fairly well in areas that are cell phone dense, like concerts or protests. Their wi-fi calling has been nice. In the building that I live, wi-fi calling has been a real bonus, since cell service indoors has been so-so for me.

I had been paying ~$45 for one line and 3GB of data with AT&T. I had a government discount applied to the plan. 3GB seemed to be the sweet spot for me, since most months I would exceed 2GB, but would usually not go over 3GB unless traveling. Looking at Cricket, they had a 5GB plan that would save me about five bucks, or a 2GB plan that would save me fifteen dollars a month up front, but after getting dinged for going over three or four months out of the year, I’d probably lose those savings. Plus I couldn’t claim any sort of moral high ground for dumping AT&T, since I’d be leaving them for a AT&T owned company.

After going through the other MVNO’s that I had earmarked as possible choices, I was strongly leaning towards Mint. The two big things that were holding me back from pulling the trigger were: Mint didn’t have wi-fi calling or visual voicemail for iPhone and during my years of selling and servicing iPhones, T-Mobile (the network that Mint runs on) had slightly better credibility among customers and co-workers than Sprint. The features, I eventually decided that I could live with out. The coverage and performance issue was handled by Mint selling a “starter kit” for five bucks on Amazon that let me test the network out. If it was terrible, I was out five bucks. If it worked out, I’d be paying a third of my cellular bill during the year.

I activated the test SIM, and after a day of using it, if it wasn’t for the friends and family who were pointing out difficulty getting ahold of me (because the test SIM didn’t have my phone number associated with it), I would have forgot that I wasn’t using AT&T.

I decided to pull the trigger and paid ~$260 for 12 months of unlimited talk and text with 5GB a month of data. I also intentionally started this progress while going out of town for the weekend. Having sold iPhones for a couple of years, I knew that the porting process should take somewhere south of an hour. Typically a port would be so fast that it would be completed before a customer left my store. Mint’s iPhone app claimed that it could take up to 48 hours, which is a strange claim to make since the FCC ruled about a decade ago that they should be completed under 24 hours. I figured a MVNO probably has a clunky process for doing it, so I let it go.

I was unable to test Mint’s coverage at Harper’s Ferry, West Virignia. The following day in Shepherdstown, West Virginia (a terrific place I’d recommend to anyone to visit), I called Mint and said it’d been 36 hours and was getting anxious. The guy on the other end of the phone told me that he’d follow up on it and call me back. He didn’t call me back, but about five minutes later, I got a text message (phone was still active on AT&T) saying that the PIN that I had fed the porting process was wrong. Using the iOS app, I put in the request again, using a second guess at it. Within minutes, I lost AT&T service, switched to my Mint SIM and it activated just fine.

I’m at the end of week #1 with Mint, and I’m not feeling that this was a regrettable choice.