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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

Boston Calling by Sam M. '07

Everything I know about having a phone at MIT.

This entry is ostensibly a guide to purchasing an appropriate cell phone and carrier intended for incoming ’09s and even for prospective students. In reality, however, it’s just an excuse for me to advertise this great new cell phone I got, because I’m really excited about it.

Well, I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of American youth culture (and I’m not premed anyway), but my experience was that in high school, a few people had cell phones but nobody really used them that much. Then, suddenly, when I got to MIT, they became completely ubiquitous. The first week of orientation, I had to get out my cell phone all the time to give people my number because I had given it out so infrequently in the past that I never bothered to memorize it.

Starting next month, MIT is going to start charging $17 per month for any non-MIT calls (I believe this includes even receiving long-distance calls, and placing them costs extra), so getting a $40 per month cell phone plan isn’t as staggeringly costly as it once seemed. Even if you do already have a cell phone, figure that when you come to MIT you’ll be moving to a different area code and might want to look into getting a new area code or a different carrier.

As far as carriers go, Sam’s Mom and I both had Cingular up until last month and we both found that its service in Boston was generally atrocious. I couldn’t get reception anywhere east of Massachusetts Avenue (basically every academic building on campus) and found a fair number of dead spots throughout Boston… while I never had any probelms with dropped calls, I was in general surprised at the lack of service in such a large urban area. Even though I like Catherine Zeta-Jones, I’ve heard that other people have similar trouble with T-Mobile, which is unsurprising since even their own literature seems to admit that their coverage area is much smaller than that of their competitors.

An informal poll conducted by Sam’s Mom outside of Pizzeria Regina last month revealed that Sprint customers are, in general, very satisfied in Boston. However, it seems that, by far, Verizon the most popular cell phone provider amongst MIT students. Since getting my new phone two weeks ago, I’ve been able to get reception in subway stops, in my underground laboratory (where I work), and even in an elevator once. Their $40 “America’s Choice” plan is on par with similarly-priced plans offered by Cingular and T-Mobile, and gives you free nights, weekends, and in-calling (which is great, because everybody seems to have Verizon at MIT). Cingular does seem to offer better rates on family plans, but, as I noted before, having Cingular service in Boston is like eating ice cream and an onion.

Even if you have a cell phone already now is definitely the time to get a new one on Amazon.com if your contract is running out. I found out from economic genius Spencer ’07 that they’re currently running a promotion that gets you a $200 rebate on a wide selection of phones with the purchase of a one-year contract for a $40 plan. Well, let me tell you, my old cell phone was so old that it predated the invention of keyguard, so it’d randomly call people by brushing against my wallet and waste tons of minutes and then they’d call me and wonder why I left a voice message consisting of 25 minutes of scraping noises and mufffled conversation. Now, I got a new flip phone with a built-in camera (I hate camera phones), a color monitor, and, well, a lot of other cool stuff that I don’t really care about for the low price of -75.00. If you hate cell phones like me and just want to find a cheap, simple phone, the LG VX7000 and the Samsung A670 seem to get the best customer reviews from a variety of sites. If you want more features, of course, they seem to be offering this $200 rebate promotion on a wide selection of phones.

Of course, I actually paid $125, but it’s gonna take a while before I’m able to claim the two rebates associated with the product. In particular, the $150 Amazon.com rebate requires you access your “digital locker” and then to send a copy of your paid second month’s phone bill and the packing slip included with your phone. Hmmm… almost like they don’t really want you to claim the rebate. It’s a little difficult, but since you’re either already an MIT student or planning on applying to MIT, I think you’ll be able to figure it out.

Well, that’s my experience with cell phones at MIT, which I figure to be pretty representative since I really don’t like them and just wanted a simple phone for making plans, calling Sam’s Mom (you should call your parents once a week) and ordering Thai food. However, I’m sure it’s possible that I’m way off base here, since, after all, I’m just a chemical engineer. If any of you MIT people have found a much better place to buy cell phones or get service, just let me know and I’ll add it here.

Well, see you tomorrow.

This entry was not sponsored by Verizon or Amazon.com. It’s just that, seriously, dude, Cingular is horrendous for Boston students. I think.

…and I do live by the river.

EDIT: In her comment, Stephanie brings up an excellent point that I forgot to mention above–the inconvenience of switching phone numbers. If you already have a cell phone in your hometown and buy a new one in Boston, I’m pretty sure that you’ll have to change your phone number entirely because of the area code difference. This wasn’t a huge issue for me because I only had about 40 contacts, so I just sent them all a mass e-mail. If you have a cell phone at home and then buy a new one at home, keeping it in the same area code, I believe that it’s possible to keep your phone number even if you’re changing your carrier. The whole business is a little hard to understand, but I looked into this a lot when buying my phone and was told that there’s basically no way to keep your number if you change area codes. For information on keeping your number when switching carriers, look here: Here’s the Lowdown on Keeping Your Number.

5 responses to “Boston Calling”

  1. Spencer says:

    Haha yeah keyguard (or a flip-phone) is important. One of my friends forgot to activate his keyguard, and inadvertently called his mom while his phone was in his pocket. She proceeded to eavesdrop at a rather inappropriate time.

  2. Ben says:

    I’ve had three different carriers including Verizon (which I’ve now had for over a year). I definitely concur that Verizon has the best service in Boston/Cambridge. It rocks. And calls to other Verizon customers don’t count against your minutes…

  3. Mitra says:

    Reading your blog/being friends with you is like eating ice cream and an onion. *Garlic* ice cream.

    I have Cingular (AT&T?) and it’s okay. Sort of like how a pot of smelly oil that sits on the stove for 3 weeks is okay.

  4. Ruth says:

    I have Verizon, and it doesn’t work in the student center either. Then again, there are a lot of problems with the way that place is designed, so I’d be curious if any body got reception in it all the time.

    I kept my 770 number when I got to Boston, but mostly because the contract had just started. But now that it’s about to expire, I’m not tempted to change it. I guess people know I’m a college student, so having a strange area code isn’t suprising, and can be a conversation starter. I don’t plan to change it, as long as mom is willing to pay my bill back home. Maybe when I graduate.

    Of course, having a 770 area code has it’s own perks, and anyone that likes Ludacris knows…

  5. Stephanie says:

    I use Cingular, and it works well enough on my walk home from campus to Next House, so I dont worry about it too much. I do agree that you don’t get reception too well in main campus buildings. and of course the student center is next to impossible to get service in.

    And I just kept my home cell number because it’s easier for my family to call me. but if you’re going to be more Boston call heavy, i guess it’s good to get a phone with a 617 area code.

    -Stephanie