Cingular's confusing data plans: a lesson to the wise

I don’t know how it works with other wireless carriers, but Cingular has some work to do to clear up confusion over their Internet access options and what works (and does not work) with each of their phones and PDAs. Picking a voice plan is easy. You decide how many minutes you want and pick the plan that offers just a little bit more than you expect you will use. Any leftovers go into rollover so you can use them on months that you go a little over.

The problem with the data plans is that you can pick a plan that you think gives you unlimited access, but you have to be very clear on exactly what you’re getting, otherwise you will be billed on a per byte basis.

Follow any Cingular 8125-related forum and you’ll see mass confusion and misinformation about what plan goes with what phone. What your phone is capable of doing and what you will be charged for are two very different things.

For Cingular 8125 owners, it’s a choice between:

MediaNet: This is the plan that’s for regular WAP enabled phones and smart phones. It’s what people who don’t have a Windows Mobile phone select, as well as a phone like the Cingular 2125 smartphone. The key difference appears to be whether or not the screen is touch enabled. If your phone comes with a stylus, you shouldn’t be on this plan. Unlimited (with a voice plan) is $19.99 per month and includes text messages and other features that don’t necessarily require a full-featured PDA to work. Here’s the tricky part: by default, the Cingular 8125 is set to connect to wap.cingular with a proxy. The proxy won’t work if you’re connected to the Internet through a wifi hotspot. The 8125 is one of the first Cingular devices that has both wifi and EDGE/GPRS support, and out of the box you can’t switch smoothly between them. You have to either uncheck the proxy, which may mean slower connections or use a browser like Opera which ignores the proxy setting altogether. If you change your connection to the more open isp.cingular and disable the proxy and you have the MediaNet plan, you may be charged per byte even though you have what you think is an unlimited plan. MediaNet is supposed to connect to wap.cingular, not isp.cingular. Cingular doesn’t want 8125 owners to use this plan, although many do because they ordered it online, had it “grandfathered” in from a previous phone or they got a clueless Cingular rep who didn’t know better. The Cingular 8125 works just fine with MediaNet and it’s the cheapest option, but if you’re not careful on how you configure the phone and how you use it, you may have a tremendous bill. It seems that Cingular reps are telling customers that they’re using the wrong plan when and where they can. Some have a clue, many don’t.

PDA Connect: This is the plan that is supposed to be selected for the Cingular 8125. It’s the lowest level of Cingular’s business data connect plans. Unlike MediaNet, it doesn’t include any text or instant messages so you are charged a dime per unless you also add a MEdia plan. With a voice plan, it’s $39.99 month for unlimited access. You can use the isp.cingular address for your EDGE/GPRS connection, with or without Cingular’s proxy settings. Here’s the catch on this plan: If you use your phone as a USB modem for your laptop (also known as “tethering”) then you will be charged per byte. Laptop connect is only on the much more expensive plans (around $80 per month). I bring this up because this review from PC Magazine says:

EDGE performance was excellent on Cingular’s network. I got download speeds ranging from 117 to 182 Kbps using Pocket Internet Explorer and using the 8125 as a USB modem for a Dell laptop.

Now, it’s likely the reviewer already had a Laptop Connect plan on her wireless number since she tests multiple devices, but it’s very unlikely that anyone reading this review does. I will be sending her a link to this entry. She really needs to be clearer on this. It’s not even an option to add to the phone without going through a Cingular customer service representative. Yes, you can use an 8125 as a modem…but those per-byte charges add up and Cingular does not give you any kind of warning…on the phone, in the box, or on your account screen…that you are racking up the bucks until the day of reckoning (the monthly bill) arrives.

You have to dig into Cingular’s “Explanation of Rates and Charges for Current Cingular Customers” which is buried at the bottom of their Data Plan page to read (bolding mine):

CINGULAR DATA CONNECT UNLIMITED PLANS—ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The Data Connect $79.99 and PDA Connect plans may only be used with approved, certified devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing, (ii) email, and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force and field service automation). The plans may not be used with server devices or with host computer applications. Such prohibited uses include, but are not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, continuous JPEG file transfers, automatic data feeds, telemetry applications, automated functions or any other machine-to-machine applications. The plans may not be used to provide full-time connections, including without limitation, private lines or frame relay. Cingular PDA Connect plan: may only be used with compatible palmOne Tungsten W, palmOne Treo, Siemens SX56/66, Motorola MPx200/220, Audiovox 4100 or similar Cingular-certified devices provided that the device is not being used as a modem with other equipment (e.g., computers or ruggedized handhelds) through use of connection kits, other phone/PDA-to-computer accessories, Bluetooth or other wireless technology.

So there you have it…while the Cingular 8125 can physically and technically be used as a modem, the unlimited plan you probably have doesn’t allow for it. And you can’t buy a Laptop Connect plan easily (for $80 per month, why would you want to?).

And even if a customer is on the right plan, Cingular’s billing is still run by hamsters on a wheel. Check out what greeted me when I went to check my bill online yesterday after my first full month with the PDA Connect plan:

Cingular1

A heart attack is a nice way to start a Saturday morning, don’t you think?

It appears that even though I was on the correct unlimited PDA Connect plan, something somewhere went wrong and I was charged for every byte of those 41 MB I consumed last month. First thing I was asked was if I used the phone as a modem. The answer was the truth: no. I have enough trouble right now with ActiveSync, I didn’t want to do anything that had the potential of disabling my computer’s connection to the wired or wireless Internet. Just isn’t worth it. When I want to go online with the phone, I use the phone. The folks at Cingular don’t know what went wrong but they agree it’s wrong and the charge is being reversed.

bk_keywords:Cingular 8125

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129 thoughts on “Cingular's confusing data plans: a lesson to the wise

  1. Judi Sohn says:

    Casey, you don’t need a data plan to send text messages, but you do need text messaging on your account. A data plan is separate.

    I don’t send enough text messages to make one of their plans worth it. I just pay $0.10 per message as I use them. I have yet to go over $3 extra a month (their cheapest plan is $5 a month).

    On my bill it lists:

    MULTIMEDIA PAY PER USE $0.00
    TEXT MSG PAY PER USE $0.00

    This is what you want to add, unless you’re going to be sending and receiving at least 50 text messages a month and then you’ll want something like “Messaging Starter” which gives you 200 messages a month for $4.99.

  2. Cingular is awful. Confusing data plans, lots of dropped calls, and poor reception. What a complete mistake. I switched from Sprint after many years to have access to GSM on my Treo 650. I will be back to Sprint soon enough. As soon as the next solid and functional phone comes out that beats the Treo 650 in helping me do what I do.

    Tom

  3. Klod says:

    Currently I have a Nokia N93 and a plan for MediaMax 200 which has unlimited internet access and 200 text messages. It connects through wap to the internet. One day I used it as a laptop modem to see if it works. It had real slow dial up access to the net. Will I be charged for that/ Also I am considering the 8125, will it work with the medimax access thopugh wap to access the net or do I have to switch to the PDA data plan? Thank you

  4. There is a fine definition of what phones can be used with which plans.

    If it has a QWERTY keyboard, it’s a PDA, or Blackberry plan. (if blackberry, it has to run blackberry software)

    If it’s a regular phone form factor (smartphones), they get the Smartphone Connect plan.

    If it’s a regular phone (non-smartphone), you get the media net or media max plan.

    The main problem is there are people (customers) that have used the media net plan on their PDA devices in the past and have gotten away with it, so they tell others to use it, and the other people run with it (causing the problem). If someone wants a PDA in our store, but doesn’t want the plan, we don’t sell them the phone, or make them sign a disclaimer saying we told them about possible charges if they use the internet. There are also unscupulous (spelling?) sales reps out there that just want a feature (commission), so they go along with the customer, which also causes a problem. Cingular is addressing this with future updates to the billing system that will only let plans compatible with the phone listed on your account to be added (either online, in stores or through customer service), but it’s still a ways off.

    I’ve seen to many people being charged fees like this and have gotten SOME credits if they signed up for the correct plan.

    Also to the poster with the Nokia N93, you will need a Laptop connect plan if your going to be using your phone as a modem to connect your laptop to the internet. If you don’t have it, your run the same risk of getting charged per kb.

    PS: use the website I gave as my URL, if you go to the data (blackberry, pda) pages, it shows what you can use with those plans. (current devices only). I’m working on listing available plans on the individual phone pages as well, but it takes some time to organize them.

    If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me! cingularinfo@yahoo.com

  5. Bill B says:

    I just ordered the Blackberry Pearl from Cingular and already have the 450 min. voice plan with basic media pkg. I will be using the Pearl for e-mail and internet access. No one I talked to at the 1-800 # could really explain what I needed in the way of data plans or services to my satisfaction. Their Web site shows Blackberry “plans” from 34.99 to 74.99. Under “services” data features can be added from 29.99 (internet service plan) to 44.99 (unlimited plan) with very little description between them. Does anyone know what the 29.99 internet service includes? Is there any use for my existing media package with this phone? The guy who sold me the phone at Cingular’s 1-800# was admittedly as clueless as I am.

  6. Dave says:

    “If it has a QWERTY keyboard, it’s a PDA, or Blackberry plan.”

    Great post Mike. Appreciate when folks actually in the business help to explain.

    However what separates Windows smartphones from Windows pdas is the different operating systems. The only physical difference is the fact pdas use touchscreens. Windows software for PDAs will not run (as a rule) on Windows smartphones.

    QWERTY keyboards are not one of the differences. The MotorolaQ from verizon, the Dash from Tmobile, and the Blackjack from Cingular are all Smartphones with qwerty keyboards, not PDAs. Many other smartphones are coming out with keyboards as well, including the sony/erickson p910.

  7. Judi Sohn says:

    You’re absolutely right, Dave. There are many people who have a 8125 and describe it as a “Smartphone” so they see software for “Smartphones” and think it applies to them.

    The short answer that I use that doesn’t appear to have any exceptions: If you can touch the screen and make something happen, it’s a PDA. If the only way you can get around is by pushing buttons on a keyboard or on the device itself, then it’s a Smartphone.

    You can also go by price…if you spent less than $300 even without a contract, you probably got a Smartphone. 😉 The PDAs are always more expensive.

  8. TJH says:

    You can also go by price…if you spent less than $300 even without a contract, you probably got a Smartphone. 😉 The PDAs are always more expensive.

    Well, Almost. I suppose it depends on who you know! I have a psuedo-relative that works for a “Go Wireless” store (Verizon). I was able to get my PDA (Verizon XV6700) for $200 out the door. To do this, I had to sign up for their full data plan and an $80 per month voice plan (because my psudeo-relative needed to get enough commission earning things sold to me that she could drop the price of the hardware).

    After reading this thread, I am glad that I finally dumped Cingular. I had been a customer of Cellular One/AT&T Wireless/Cingular since 1995 and finally decided to go to the ‘dark side’ because I had the hookup for hardware from my pseudo-relative. Plus, I work for a Govt organization so I get 15% off my service costs with either Cingular OR Verizon.

    I too was disheartened at the facts that my old AT&T pattern of only being charged for text messages received went away when I switched providers (now I pay for send & receive). It sounds like Cingular does this as well. Go figure. (I was still on an AT&T Billing plan when I finally quit. No way was I going to switch to a useless Cingular rollover plan and lose my 7pm evening discount and all my “bonus” minutes that I’d had on the AT&T side.

    So, I called Verizon because in 1/2 a month paying for both sent and received text messages, I was well on my way to $5. Verizon offers a $5 text/picture message plan where you get 250 messgaes a month (either text or picture, sent or received) for only $5. That will cover me. The rep also explained to me that the $80 voice plan + the unlimited $40 data plan could be “bundled” for a smidge cheaper saving me $10 a month. I’m not sure how many minutes I’ll end up using; so I’m hesitant to drop to a lower plan… I’ll soon get validated on my 15% government discount; so that will help take some of the sting out.

    Once you’ve had unlimited data, it’d be really hard to go back.

    As far as Tethering goes on the Verizon side, it’s the same in some ways as Cingular: You’re *technically* not supposed to do it without paying for the tethering plan. However, Verizon’s billing hampsters don’t have any easy ways of knowing you’re doing this unless the data usage suggests otherwise. Basically, what I’ve heard is that as long as you’re not abusing it (streaming audio/video, using the device to host a web cam, etc.) you’re going to probably stay well under their radar. I’m in a situation right now where I’ve just had to move and the place where I’ve rented a room doesn’t have an internet connection. Being able to tether has saved my butt and will allow me to function until I get my ISP there. In addition, it’s been huge in that when surfing on the PDA, there are some websites that don’t work right over the PDA’s browser.

    Again, Interesting thread. I read it for a friend that’s thinking of getting the 8125. It’s funny how it’s basically the same machine as my Verizon xv6700 (although my processor is twice the MHZ as the 8125. Personally, I’d rather have the horsepower even if it draws a bit more battery.)

  9. TJH says:

    Oh, one more thing: for those of you that might wonder, how much is too much?? Well, I can’t answer from a Cingular perspective; but from verizon’s perspective:

    When talking about how their “unlimited” plan isn’t unlimited because they don’t want you streaming or hosting or doing continuous up/downloads, “A person engaged in prohibited uses, continuously for one hour, could typically use 100 to 200 MBs, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GBs in a month.”

    So therefore they draw the conclusion, “Anyone using more than 5 GB per line in a given month is presumed to be using the service in a manner prohibited above, and we reserve the right to immediately terminate the service of any such person without notice.”

    So at least I know the threshhold that I have to stay below to avoid having the data plan gestapo coming after me!

    Here is Verizon’s verbage that says they don’t want you to tether without paying for their tethering plan, broadband connect:
    “Unlimited PDA/smartphone and BlackBerry® Plans: These VZEmail plans cannot be used: (1) for access to the Internet, intranets, or other data networks except as the device’s native applications and capabilities permit, unless you subscribe to BroadbandAccess Connect; or (2) for any applications that tether your device to laptops or personal computers other than for use of the Wireless Sync or the BlackBerry solution, unless you subscribe to BroadbandAccess Connect.”

    Obviously, I know this is more of a Cingular 8125 thread, but I thought I’d provide some info on what the competition does and how they limit their plans; as they likely have similar business practices in regards to limiting over-use of supposed “unlimited” plans.

  10. While I agree the “industry” standard for classifying pda’s and smartphones are pretty much a grey area, Cingular isn’t that grey.

    If it has a keyboard and runs anything other than Blackberry software, It must have a PDA plan. Any other smartphones get the Smartphone connect plan. Software isn’t much of the equation anymore, E62 runs Symbian, Palm runs Access(palm OS), and others run WM5, etc.

    Part of the misconception in this area comes from Cingular’s own definition for a PDA. The blackjack, while defined by Samsung as a Smartphone, is deffinately defined by Cingular as a PDA.

    TO an earlier poster, the difference between Blackberry plans (29.99 vs 44.99) is actually very simple. If you are a personal user, you use the 29.99 (BIS) plan. The 44.99 (BES) is meant for corporate users who actually have a Blackberry server (Enterprise server). If you don’t know if you have an Enterprise server (or a comparable forwarding program), chances are you don’t and will be fine with the BIS plan.

    To the last poster who touched on the subject of “tethering”. The carriers have to have a way to protect themselves against uses of their network for something other than what the customer paid for. There isn’t really a ‘line’ that you need to cross. Most of what they look for is heavy uses for extended periods of time. (your PDA won’t stay powered for long if your using Gigs of ‘airtime’ at one sitting). You’d more than likely have to be plugged in to an outlet, or hooked up to a laptop. (most phones charge while connected to a laptop via USB cable).

  11. Pura Centeno from Puerto Rico says:

    Thanks a lot Judy. Right now I was doing research in how to connect my 8125 as a moden in a PC. I got the $39.99 data plan and I thought that I can navigate the Internet, with my phone, without paying anymore.

  12. Brad says:

    So I just picked up the BlackJack a few days ago. I grabbed the PDA Connect Unltd not really knowing if it was necessary, but not wanting to get tagged with a thousand dollar bill while I tried to figure it out.

    I’ll call Cingular by the end of the week to sort it all out and I just wanted a little help with what I’m asking for. Is it that getting a rep to treat it like a SmartPhone is totally up to discretion? Or can I just insist it is and drop to a MediaNet plan at 20 bucks less to give me the same coverage? If not, and I can’t get him/her to budge, the PDA Unltd covers all IM’ng done online, email, and browsing/downloading? I already have a separate text package.

    Thanks for any help.

  13. Judi Sohn says:

    It’s amazing that after all this time, Cingular still doesn’t have it together. The Blackjack is clearly a smartphone. No stylus, no touch screen. But when you go to Cingular’s page and click on the Blackjack phone advertised on the front, and then the “services” tab it only lists the PDA Connect plans!

    Brad, call Cingular and insist on a move to the SmartPhone (formerly MediaNet) plan. It’s the right one for your phone. Keep switching reps until you find one with a clue. AFAIK, the SmartPhone plan does everything the PDA Connect one does, it’s just cheaper and right for your phone.

  14. Brad says:

    Thanks, Judi.

    I’ll keep trying. So far 5 reps and no luck. I called data direct at 8664902666 because the last customer rep actually said at one point, “I have to take out my magnifying glass to read this print.” She was trying to read the description of the plans. Then she started calling my BlackJack a Blackberry. So that was hopeless… And data direct says the BJ is considered a PDA solely because of the QWERTY and its speed, despite the lack of touch screen/stylus, and using WM5 software. He thought it was ridiculous but couldn’t change my plan.

    And to make it all even easier, when you’re signed in to your account on Cingular’s site, you can’t fully manage your features, even though it says you can. You can only remove features, not add. They’re “conducting a 48hr investigation.” As of now, you can add features when not signed in, but then of course only if you buy a new phone and voice plan like you haven’t already been a customer for years. Absurd. So, as of yet, I can’t even sidestep the reps.

    But I’m still unsure about IM’ng. How can I be sure that my IM service is provided via data rather than voice so that my data plan covers it?

  15. chad says:

    Thanks largely to this forum and the explainations herein, I have had the 8125 with the $40 voice and unlimited Data Connect for about 6 months now. I love the data connect. It’s great to be able to surf the internet while my gf is shopping for clothes or shoes (which by the way could take hours), or chat via AIM Mobile. My experience has shown that the 8125 uses the data connect in order to send and receive MMS messages. Can anyone verify that? I am hoping it isn’t a fluke…

  16. Peter Andrew says:

    I want to get push email, so I’m planning on getting a BlackBerry Pearl. I’m trying to find out what the best data plan from Cingular would be for me.

    I’ve spoken to two reps, and so far this is what I think I’ve learned:

    1)I can get unlimited internet access plus 200 text messages per month for $19.99. But with this I’d have to check for email myself.

    2)I can get a Blackberry Personal plan for $29.99. I THINK this means I can get push email for up to 10 personal email accounts, unlimited internet browsing, and unlimited text messages.

    Now that I’ve read the posts on this site, can someone tell me if I have this right?

    Thanks,

    Peter

  17. Peter,

    Your absolutely right. If you need text you can also get the blackberry Personal Max for 39.99 which also gives you 1000 messages as well as access up to 10 email accounts.

  18. James says:

    I wanted to know if I could just use my 8125 on my home network without being charged for service I pay for through my ISP. I have no need to use the internet on the go just only at home.

  19. Judi Sohn says:

    Yes, but you’ll have to be careful that you create a dummy connection for GPRS. If for whatever reason you can’t connect via wifi, your phone will default to GPRS/EDGE and if you connect there, you’ll get charged whether you have a data plan or not (they’ll charge you pay-as-you-go if you don’t have a data plan).

  20. James says:

    Thanks for the info but to clarify youre telling me to put in random information that wont work. Also you would think if dont have a certain service it wouldnt let you use it at all but you know how greedy people(corporations) are these days.

  21. Judi Sohn says:

    James, yes…it’s one way, or you can modify your settings so your 2nd choice connection isn’t GPRS. Either way, you have to do some fiddling because Cingular defaults to pay-per-use for EDGE and text messaging if you don’t have a plan. If you leave the phone the way it is out of the box, it’s very likely that you will be charged accidentally from time to time.

  22. Regman says:

    Hi, I used to have unlimited PDA connect with my Treo 650 and for a month tried the Cingular 3125 smartphone. At that time I was switched to Media Net Unlimited at 19.99. I ended up returning the 3125 due to poor reception and went back to Treo 650. I am still on the Unlimited Media Net. Is this a problem. I am also going to upgrade to the 8525. Any words of wisdom with rate plans. I have read the posts earlier and seems I good get away using my current plan as long as I don’t tether the phone to a laptop.

  23. Crystal says:

    Thank god I stumbled on your blog! I’m planning a trip from Michigan to Texas next week and was excited to hear that I won’t pay roaming. Since I have PDA Connect unlimited on my 8125, I thought I would use it as a modem for my Mac laptop. Since this is a work phone, I can only imagine the heart attack that my manager would have when she sees the bill! I’ll be sure not to use it as a modem and just stick with using Windows Mobile for my Internet needs.

    Damn it all!

  24. Frank says:

    I had a T-mobile sidekick for 2 years and enjoyed it very much. .. but had friends and family on the Cingular network. Therefore, i believed it would be cost-effective to switch to the 8125. I found a great deal using the shopping section of DeafSpot.net and i got one. As soon as I got it home, i realized that instant messaging was cumbersome and not as smooth as the sidekick. Cingular counts each IM as a text-message (which isn’t included in “unlimited” data plans). The browser was significantly slower than the sidekick. So after 6 months, i put an ad on craigslist and exchanged my 8125 for a RAZR and got a data-only plan for the sidekick. I carry 2 devices now.. but they both work. The 8125 has a ridiculously slow processor (sub 300mhz) and it’s nearly impossible to see the phone on the screen to dial in bright sunlight. I would certainly not recommend the 8125 to anyone. I recommend the cheaper t-mobile sidekick $30 unlimited data plan. It’s faster and more reliable than Cingular data. Then carry a cingular phone for voice. It’s the best of both worlds… and cheaper.

  25. I had a similar problem with Cingular a year or so ago when I was still using my Treo. Somehow, I ended up on both the PDAConnect Unlimited plan and the pay-as-you-you plan, so the bill was a couple hundred dollars. It only took them a few minutes to fix it and issue a credit, and it never recurred. Oddly, I hadn’t made any changes to my account recently either. Never did figure out what could have caused it.

  26. Yiling Loera says:

    great information. I’ve been thinking of getting a smartphone or blackberry and i couldn’t figure out the plan on my own, so i was about to go to the store to ask them. but I hate to be uninformed even then, your blog totally helped.

  27. Jim Williams says:

    I use the 8525 with the unlimited PDA Connect and tether as needed when I travel. So far I have not received any grief from Cingular, and would like to keep it that way.

    I see the new ROM upgrade includes the following:

    Wireless Modem” is replaced with “Internet Sharing”.

    My fear is that this upgrade may somehow serve up to the provider the fact that this is tethered…. anyone had any recent experience which indicates the service does not change with the ROM upgrade?

    Thanks,

    Jim

  28. Lannie says:

    Well, i’m planning on getting the pda connect for the 39 bucks,my phone is still coming in the mail, but i just wanna know when iget it do i need to adjust it to anything in order to use my internet? do i get charged for kbs when i use the internet? Can i use the internet explorer it already has? and lastly can i connect my cell to the computer not for internet but just to add things onto it?

    Sorry it’s so many questions but i’m just so confused.

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