I switch smart phones like they’re going out of style. Mostly because they are always going out of style. I’ve broken more carrier contracts and paid for more devices at full retail price than I care to admit. Last month, it all happened again. I’m one of those defectors who ditched their iPhones with AT&T Mobility and switched to Verizon Wireless. I’ve been an on-again, off-again iPhone customer with AT&T Mobility through every version that Apple Inc. has released since the summer of 2007. I’ve had many ups and downs with the device and the quality of service AT&T Mobility provides. As a result, I have been tempted away various times along the way to other carriers and devices. But I kept coming back for more.
This time was different though. Usually I’ve convinced myself that I am buying the latest and greatest iPhone out there. Not so with the iPhone 4 from Verizon Wireless. I bought the same (almost) iPhone 4 that I already own. That’s not very exciting at all. Still, I felt so strongly about getting an iPhone on a different carrier that I was gladly willing to cancel my contract, pay the early termination fee, buy the same iPhone with a different carrier and sign up for an entirely new account. As expected, AT&T Mobility points out that many of its iPhone customers are locked in. It takes a lot of money and effort to get out of a contract with any carrier. Earlier this week, CEO Ralph de la Vega downplayed the actual number of defectors like me who have left AT&T Mobility for an iPhone on Verizon Wireless. At the same time, he declined to say how many iPhone lines have been closed. Everyone has different opinions about carriers. Results do vary. I can only speak to my experience. I’m not going to say Verizon Wireless has the greatest network ever, but I will say that I have cursed my carrier and iPhone a lot less in the past few weeks. Not once have I had to fight the urge to throw my iPhone at the nearest blunt object. I no longer have to stand up from my desk and walk closer to a window or corner of my house to get a good enough signal for a phone call. Those spinning graphics that indicate a never-ending data load have been replaced by shorter wait times, but the same spinning graphics. Overall, I find myself doing a lot less waiting and wondering what the heck I’m paying for in the first place. For the record, I’ve had business with all four of the top U.S. carriers at one point or another dating back to 1997. And I have not completely left AT&T Mobility as a customer. I still have another line with them, which I reserve for my BlackBerry. That’s where it gets tricky. I don’t have so many complaints about AT&T Mobility as a BlackBerry user. Calls are more stable and data is less of an issue overall because, frankly, I expect anything data centric on a BlackBerry to be painfully slow. If I had never used an iPhone on AT&T Mobility, there’s a good chance I would have never canceled any of my lines of service. All devices are not the same and results with the same device on different carriers vary in my experience. It makes no sense. At the risk of sounding like an iPhone apologist, I’m not fully convinced that the quality of service issues that plague some iPhone users on AT&T Mobility are all Apple’s fault. Here’s what makes sense: If a BlackBerry on AT&T Mobility can handle a complete call in places where an iPhone on AT&T Mobility cannot, it must be a device issue – not the carrier’s fault. In a simple world that would stand true, but it doesn’t and this world is far from simple. Somehow a BlackBerry just works on AT&T Mobility where an iPhone doesn’t, and an iPhone on Verizon Wireless works where an iPhone on AT&T Mobility doesn’t. Figuring out who’s to blame and why is less important. I’m going to focus on paying for things that work. In my unscientific, therefore realistically consumer-like tests in the field, an iPhone on Verizon Wireless simply delivers a better baseline of service than what I experienced with AT&T Mobility. I’m aware of all the tests that show AT&T Mobility’s average upload and downloads speeds are at least double that of Verizon Wireless’ data speeds, but Web page loads are almost identical (except, of course, for those places where a Web page will never load on AT&T Mobility). Averages don’t mean anything if a basic level of service can’t even be delivered. Keep everything up and running, then let’s talk about however many Gs of data you want to claim I can have at my disposal. My favorite part in all of this is the seemingly undying belief among some that it’s all the biggest data hogs that are leaving AT&T Mobility. Good riddance, they say, as they conjure up some Utopian dream wherein AT&T Mobility’s network will return to some level of greatness. If things are bad in your experience with any carrier, they’re not going to get better anytime soon. If you have crappy service where you live or work, there’s little chance of that changing anytime soon. I gave up after waiting years for AT&T Mobility to “fix” its network, and overall experience with the iPhone, in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles – for all intents and purposes, the center of my world. That’s why I made the switch, and for now at least it’s working. Until it doesn’t and I change my mind again.