How far would you go for free smartphone service? (Poll)

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What are you looking forward to in 2014? Upgrading to a new phone? Sure; who wouldn’t be? And with plenty of high-profile models expected, it’s shaping up to be a year full of solid options. You can expect to see handsets running faster than ever before, offering better camera quality than you’ve ever seen on a phone, and introducing screens with more pixels than your living room HDTV.

And while maybe not anything worth getting excited about to nearly the same extent, you can probably also look forward to the year bringing numerous improvements to wireless service. Again, nothing game-changing, but just the sort of usual, ongoing improvements to coverage and capacity.

There’s already a bit of a movement going on with phone hardware, where more than just delivering great devices, we’ve also been seeing manufacturers try to produce phones that are stellar values – it’s not just what you get, but how little you have to pay for the privilege. That’s led to models like the Moto G (not to mention the Moto X), and there’s hope that we could see this trend continue in 2014.

Just like with the hardware, pricing has become an increasingly headline-grabbing issue when it comes to cellular connectivity; companies like Republic Wireless are trying to rewire our expectations by offering service plans very unlike those with which we’ve been familiar, and even the major carriers have been toying with new ways to save users money. AT&T, for instance, just started discounting subscribers’ bills after they fulfill their contractual obligations.

celltowerToday I want to grab that ball and really run with it, and see just how far we can take things: what if you could get your smartphone service for absolutely free?

Last week I was talking about an offer T-Mobile had worked out, where users on its prepaid plans that otherwise lacked a data connection could get free access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger. While we’re not privy to the specifics of the arrangement with Facebook, it’s not hard to imagine how all the parties involved might benefit from this deal: Facebook gets more active users, T-Mobile gets more attractive plans, and the smartphone owners save a little cash.

Can we take that even further, though? Could it be possible for someone to subsidize the entirety of our smartphone bills?

The idea’s been hanging around for a while. Multiple companies have come forward with the business plan of compensating smartphone users who view their ads, typically embedded on your lock screen. Ideally, you could make enough to offset a good chunk of your monthly payout, but these haven’t really caught on. And even for users who do go after that money, they’re making a lot less than they’d need to fully support their smartphone habits.

Even Google has gotten in on the action (sort of), hooking up participants in online surveys with Play Store credit through its Google Opinion Rewards program.

opinion-rewardThe problem is, all of these individual compensation programs don’t really deliver that much – a few bucks a month each, maybe, while some of us are looking at cell phone bills pushing $100 (if not well past). Does that mean that wholly free cellular service is just some pipe dream?

Not necessarily. If we both dial-up the degree of inconvenience we’re willing to put up with, and dial-down our expectations for the wireless service itself, we might find a happy medium.

Forget about those $70, $60, or even $50 plans. What about pairing a compensation program with much more affordable service – like one of those Republic Wireless plans, or maybe T-Mobile’s $30 pre-paid option (which I’ve been rocking for over a year now)?

Even at that reduced level, we’re still almost certainly talking about rounding-up a bunch of different companies to subsidize our usage; frankly, no single entity’s going to be willing to foot the bill itself. Take in a couple bucks from Facebook, a couple bucks from Google’s surveys, sprinkle in a healthy smattering of ads served by any of several networks, and we’re starting to get closer.

The big question, for me at least, is where will users start drawing the line? How many ads are too many, and too obtrusive? What’s going to make us say “forget this; I’ll just pay for service myself again?”

It’s going to be different for everyone, but I’m thinking a little poll action might at least give me a sense of where opinions lie. Does this whole concept of subsidized smartphone service just give you a bad feeling? Are you itching at the opportunity – any opportunity – to reduce your monthly bill? Let’s find out:


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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!