Wireless Carriers: Interpreting the Numbers

7/22/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments


We live in an age of data, which gives us access to some amazing information, but data alone doesn't tell us much.  Interpretation of data is also important, because otherwise it's difficult to draw any conclusions.  Unfortunately, especially in mobile, it seems like people like to take numbers and run with them, often in the wrong direction.

The most recent example deals with a Fierce Wireless article about a report from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners that recorded the ARPU (average revenue per user) from several of the major US carriers.  The story most of the media has run with is which carrier is the least expensive.  Given, this is relevant (and highly sought after) data.  People are always looking for ways to save on their wireless bill, so it's important for them to know what the average consumer pays.

That's the least relevant data that can be drawn from this report, though.  What you're paying for is very relevant.  Of course, T-Mobile and Sprint were at the bottom of the list, and Verizon was at the top, so most headlines read something along the lines of "More Verizon Customers Pay Over $100 Per Month Than Any Other Carrier!", which would suggest that T-Mobile or Sprint provide better value, which is true in some cases, but not all cases.

The other side of this coin is a very similar headline: "More Verizon Customers Are Willing to Pay Over $100 Per Month Than Any Other Carrier!"  This speaks pretty heavily to Verizon's quality of service.  We aren't comparing apples to apples here.  Sprint and T-Mobile might have better pricing, but it's fairly well known that coverage may be lacking with those carriers.  Sprint has phenomenal coverage in some areas, but has been bleeding customers due to lack of coverage during its network rebuild.  T-Mobile, on the other hand, has been gaining a lot of customers recently, but suffers from massive dead spots, especially outside of major metropolitan areas.

Keep this in mind when searching for a new carrier.  All carriers have a return window (not just T-Mobile, even if they want you to believe that), so try out different carriers.  You usually get what you pay for, so a slightly more expensive bill (lets face it, the difference only amounts to about $20 a month in extreme cases) from Verizon may get you far better service than you'll get elsewhere.  The numbers say people are willing to cough up the extra cost.

The best carrier for you is determined by a variety of factors, not just price.  Don't go be afraid of trying a different carrier just because they are more expensive on average or have less coverage.  You want the best service for the best price in the places you go.  You can't find that out from carrier marketing, or a survey of ARPU differences between carriers.

Not to totally dismiss all tech media.  Reviews and coverage is all useful, just remember it isn't targeted.  Making decisions based on an article about which carrier is the most expensive won't guarantee the best price or service for what you need.  Odds are, whatever decision your own research leads you to will be the best.

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