Thanks to the suggestions of several readers, I went to U.K. mobile provider 3, and I got a deal on an iPhone 4 that seems ridiculous when compared to what’s on offer in the States. I paid £69 upfront for the 16GB phone — about $111 at the current exchange rate — and will pay £35 (about $56, and that includes all taxes) per month for unlimited data and more talk minutes and texts than I will ever use. (I could have gone for no upfront cost and £45 per month for the same usage, but both plans require a 24-month committment, and I don’t know if I’m gonna be here that long, and the £35 plan becomes a wash in only seven months, and I think I will be here at least that long. And even if I have to break the contract and pay a penalty, I can sell the iPhone to cover it; used iPhone 4s are selling for hundreds of pounds on ebay U.K. Or I might be able to crack the phone to use it in the U.S.)
Compare that with the almost $90 per month (including taxes) I pay Sprint every month to use my Android phone for unlimited data and more talk/text than I will ever use. And I paid $200 for the not-iPhone phone. And it’s way better than the current AT&T plans that get you only 5GB of data for the same $56 or so — yeah, that’s a lot of data, but it’s not unlimited — and that’s after you buy the phone at $199 (or more). Plus the activation-fee bullshit. Oh! And you also need to buy separate plans for talking and texting ($70 and $20 per month, respectively, for unlimited usage on each, less if you want to limit yourself). Insane. Maybe those prices will come down once Verizon truly enters the iPhone market and provides some competition… but I bet they don’t.
3 also threw in a free month of wifi for my laptop via a USB dongle. I haven’t tried that yet, but if it’s cool, I may hang onto it after the free trial so I don’t need to worry about finding free wifi when I want to work outside. That will end up costing, after the first month, £15 (~ $24) for 5GB of surfing, which isn’t too bad as a backup. (It wouldn’t be enough if it were my only way to get online, but it wouldn’t be my only way to get online.)
Now, I’ve barely begun to use the phone yet — and I’ve made only one phone call, to set up my voicemail. But even if the service is as terrible as everyone in the U.S. complains it is there, I’m still getting a better deal. And I suspect the service will be better, because this is one of the things many Americans do not realize about America: almost all of the rest of the civilized world does telecommunications better and faster and cheaper than we do it in the U.S.
I’m already seeing the evidence of that with this iPhone deal.