The prodigal daughter: Can she bring her Verizon LTE smartphone to AT&T?

In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon answers whether it's possible to take a Verizon smartphone to AT&T and still come out on top.

Sending our children out on their own in the world is scary, but it's nice to know they can always come home. In one reader's case, his daughter can come home to Mom and Dad's wireless plan.

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help a father figure out how he can help his daughter return to the family's AT&T service plan after going out on her own and subscribing to Verizon Wireless service. I also explain how the family can save money with AT&T's new no-contract plans. And I offer some encouragement to a fellow bargain hunter who got a terrific deal on a Black Friday purchase of an e-reader.

Dad to the rescue

Dear Maggie,
My family has an AT&T Mobile Share plan with three phones for myself, my wife, and my daughter. My daughter went out on her own and procured a Verizon plan with a Samsung Note 2. Now, she realizes she cannot afford this.

So, I am trying to "pick up the pieces" to help her see what options she has. She was told by a Verizon sales rep that she can pay a disconnection fee and terminate her contract. My guess is by doing this she would essentially be buying the phone, and they will terminate the contract. If so, she would have a Verizon phone. But, what can she do with it? I am trying to determine if it could be added back to our AT&T plan. Please keep in mind, I am not interested in illegal hacks or unlocks. I am simply exploring the possibility of adding this phone to the AT&T plan.

My second question is whether or not her portion of the family plan could get the discounted service rate, even if my wife and I are still on AT&T contracts.

Thanks,
Kevin

Dear Kevin,
Let me start by saying, you are a very kind papa to pick up the pieces for your daughter. The situation your daughter has gotten herself into is unfortunate, and it happens more than you think thanks to the over-complicated service plans that wireless operators offer. It can make it difficult to see how much you will actually be paying each month and often even more difficult to compare your plan in an apples-to-apples way to other plans.

CBS Interactive

The good news for your daughter is that she does indeed have options. You are correct that by paying the early termination fee to Verizon, she will essentially settle up her contract with Verizon and she will own her device outright. According to Verizon's policy, the ETF is $350 minus $10 a month for each full month of her contract term that she completed.

Also, the good news is that because the Galaxy Note 2 is a smartphone that supports 4G LTE, it is unlocked by Verizon out of the package.

As I have explained in previous Ask Maggie columns, most devices are not unlocked when you buy them . Operators usually put a software lock on phones to ensure that you will only use those phones on their network. But phones that operate on GSM networks, such as AT&T's and T-Mobile's networks, can usually be unlocked by the carrier after you've had your contract for a set period of time and/or you pay for your device in full.

Some smartphones, such as the Google Nexus smartphones and the new Moto G from Motorola are sold unlocked. These devices and other unlocked phones can be used on any GSM carrier in the US, as well as many GSM carriers overseas.

Even though Verizon is not a GSM carrier, many of Verizon's smartphones now are so-called "Global Ready," which means they also support several GSM frequencies on their devices. And as I mentioned earlier Verizon's LTE devices are unlocked out of the box.

The reason why is that the spectrum Verizon uses for its 4G LTE service had restrictions put on it by the Federal Communications Commission, which required the company to allow "open access" to the network. So as part of this requirement, Verizon has decided not to lock those devices. That said, its 3G devices are locked.

What this means for your daughter is that her Galaxy Note 2 is already unlocked and it's Global Ready, so it supports the GSM frequencies that AT&T uses for its 2G and 3G voice and data services. When she puts an AT&T SIM card in the device, she will be able to access AT&T's voice and data service. But there is a catch.

Because Verizon uses different wireless frequencies for its LTE service than AT&T uses, the services aren't compatible. This means that her Galaxy Note 2, which was made for Verizon's network won't operate on AT&T's LTE network. But it will operate on AT&T's 2G and 3G HSPA and HSPA+ networks. In other words, her phone will work, but it won't get the fastest speed data connections she could get if she used a Galaxy Note 2 that was made for AT&T's network.

Now, I just want to note something here. In the future, some Verizon LTE devices will be able to roam onto pieces of AT&T's 4G LTE network. As Verizon begins rolling out additional bands of spectrum, which overlap with bands that AT&T uses, its devices will support both. But in your daughter's specific case, it doesn't look like the Galaxy Note 2 supports the additional band that is supported by AT&T.

Since her existing Galaxy Note 2 will work on AT&T's network, her least expensive option would be to simply keep her phone and add it to your AT&T Mobile Share plan. And since she already owns her device and it's compatible with the network, she can just add it to your family's AT&T plan and she will be able to save $15 a month on the service plan.

Now, to answer the second part of your question. I spoke to a sales representative in a local Manhattan AT&T store who reassured me that customers with or without contracts can share the same buckets of data. But because you are already existing customers, if you want to take advantage of the pricing offer for people who bring their own devices to AT&T, you'll have to switch your plan to the new pricing model. But before you make the switch, do the math to see if it will change how much you would pay in total. The whole pricing structure has changed slightly, as I explained last week in an FAQ about AT&T's pricing plans . So just make sure that you won't somehow be paying more if you switch to the new price structure and you add your daughter. But my guess is that you will be able to save money by adding her.

Other options

Keeping her Verizon Galaxy Note 2 is one option for your daughter. But it's not the only one. As I mentioned above, she won't experience the fastest data speeds with this device on AT&T's network. If this is a problem for her, she could sell her Galaxy Note 2 and purchase a new unlocked phone or take a subsidy and sign a contract with AT&T.

The current retail price of the Galaxy Note 2 is $550 or $150 for a two-year contract on Verizon. If she sells that device on Gazelle, the price today is around $154. It's not that much, considering the ETF she has to pay and the upfront cost she paid when she signed up for the Verizon service.

It's best to sit down and actually do the math to see how much the ETF will cost. As I mentioned above, the ETF decreases by $10 a month for every month of service completed. And then you can figure out how much it will cost to either a new device without a contract or on an AT&T contract. But again, the least expensive option will likely be bringing her existing device to AT&T.

I hope this advice was helpful. And good luck to you and your daughter.

Bargain e-reader vs. front-lit e-readers

Dear Maggie,
I recently bought a Nook Simple Touch on sale during Black Friday for $39.99. I'm not sure if I should have gotten a front-lit e-reader, such as the Nook Glowlight or Kindle Paperwhite, but they were more than twice the price. Does it still make sense to buy a lighting-free e-reader these days?

Thanks,
N.

Dear N.,
Getting an e-reader for $40 is a terrific deal. The e-ink 6-inch Kindle without front-lighting is $69. And the traditional Nook Simple Touch that you bought for $40 on Black Friday is usually priced around $59 at stores like Walmart and Target. I did see one available on eBay for the same Black Friday price, too. So I think you did well.

Best Buy

Also, as you said in your question, the other front-lit e-readers are more than twice the price. The Nook Glowlight and Kindle Paperwhite are both about $119.

But the question for you really comes down to how much you want to spend, and how you plan to use your device. I've already pointed out that you got a very good deal.

If you think you will be doing a lot of reading in bed or in a place without access to light, then maybe it's worth it to spend the extra money for the Glowlight or Paperwhite. But with such a huge price difference, you could probably live without that feature. If you only read in the dark occasionally, you can always read a few chapters of your book on your smartphone using the Kindle or Nook apps. I do this and it works just fine for me. I thought I'd hate the tiny screen, but if I'm into a good book, I don't even notice the smaller screen size.

Like I said above, the $40 e-reader is a terrific bargain, and it certainly makes a great holiday gift. I might have bought one for the whole family if I were you.

I hope this answered your question. Have a great holiday season!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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