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Contracts vs. prepaid: there are some benefits to knowing what you’re going to get

Smarting from her Great Debate trouncing, Denise Amrich attempts to explain one last time that prepaid phones are a Wild West of chaos and off-brands. Contracts are the basis of the Service Level Agreements that every IT operation knows and loves, for good reason.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

I am not, by nature, a highly competitive individual. I like to live and let live. On the other hand, I’m not exactly a fan of losing.

I say this because of a recent Great Debate between Chris Dawson and myself. I like Chris. In fact, he was the person who introduced me to ZDNet as the potential health blogger, a few years ago. So, when we had the opportunity to engage in a debate, I gamely took it on.

The results were interesting. I took the side of “contracts are good,” looking at the need for contracts from the perspective of the IT organization. Chris took the side of “prepaid is good,” looking at the preference for prepaid (or a lack of lock-in) on the part of most consumers.

You could, in theory (okay, and pretty much in practice) say that Chris won, because 95 percent of the popular vote (and the judgment of our editor) sided with Chris’s argument. You guys gave me a measly 5 percent.

My argument was predicated on a simple concept: the prepaid plans are a Wild West of chaos and off-brands. Sure, the Nexus 4 is now available for purchase without a plan, but there’s no indication on the Google site of what phone service will work with it.

Overall, from the perspective of the typical techie, who is willing and able to research the ins and outs of each individual gadget and plan, prepayment is a freedom that’s hard to beat. But from the point of view of a typical consumer who barely understands the difference between Android (“Isn’t that just a Droid”?) and iOS (“What’s that? I want an iPhone.”), navigating the intricacies of prepaid plans, communications networks, and devices could become seriously problematic.

From the perspective of the IT organization, dealing with a never-ending stream of BYOD users, bringing in phones and devices of all types, from services known and obscure, simply makes the challenge of managing a network substantially more difficult. It also opens the door to an almost mind-boggling array of security problems.

So here’s how I see this whole debate. Prepaid is great for individual techies who want control and want to save some money. I, personally, might even go for a prepaid plan when my iPhone contract is up. I don’t want to spend $100+ a month and not make more than five phone calls.

But contract deals with reliable carriers are far better for IT organizations and may, also, be far better for people who can’t navigate between weird carriers. For example, I got spam the other day hawking CREDO Mobile, a “progressive” phone company that claims to be “more than a network, a movement.” Who knew? There are hundreds of these weird, off-brand, cheap “no-contract” mobile companies out there that IT people are going to be cursed with supporting.

I would venture to guess that there will also be a few scams out there that will make the contract termination fee look like chump change. The support challenge (and possible disappointment level) from those who buy their plans and can’t predict their service levels could be quite substantial.

Also, from an IT perspective, think about this: why do so many companies insist on Service Level Agreements? These are, essentially, contracts. Companies and lawyers and stockholders like contracts. So, I see contracts as here to stay.

You folks, on the other hand, voted against that in unprecedented numbers. 5 percent to 95 percent is quite something. You might say I lost this battle, but I choose to reframe it.

I may have gotten a lower percentage of support from readers for a Great Debate than any other debater in our history. So, from that perspective, I probably set a new record. Let’s see someone beat that!

Slightly amused sour grapes aside, it’s always fun having these conversations with our readers. I truly enjoy these debates and maybe, next time, I’ll take a side y’all agree with just a little bit more.

Let’s see, how about “Fast cars vs. root canals?” I’m thinking if I take the “fast cars” side, I have a better chance of winning. What do you think?

Hey, throw me a bone, here, okay?

P.S. Seriously, I had a blast. I love you guys!

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