calculator

So one of websites that I check daily is Consumerist, a pro-consumer website run by the fine folks at Consumer Reports.  Today Consumerist pointed out this very cool Wireless Savings Calculator whipped up by the Wall Street Journal.  You plug in your wireless phone needs—number of phones, minutes, texts, amount of data—and it gives you the price for each of the Big Four providers.  It’s pretty nifty.  Go try it out.

While you’re trying it out, ponder this:  it costs AT&T and Verizon less per customer to run their business than it costs T-Mobile and Sprint.  (Without getting too wonky about the subject, it works like this:  there’s a minimum amount it costs to run a phone network.  The more customers you have, the more you can spread out those fixed costs.  So more customers=lower operating costs per customer).  But when you spend some time fooling around with the savings calculator, you’ll find that AT&T and Verizon plans universally cost more than identical T-Mobile and Sprint plans.  What I like about the calculator is that it cuts through the confusion involved in digging through four different web sites to try to compare a bunch of slightly different plans.

There’s quite a bit of social science showing that when people can’t really evaluate a product before buying it, they tend to assume that price and quality are somehow related.  It’s fair to assume that wireless providers know this.  It’s obvious that some of them are taking advantage of it.  Thanks to the Wall Street Journal, you don’t have to let them.