Oct 02 AT 6:25 PM Taylor Wimberly 141 Comments

7 things you should know about pre-paid smartphone service before you switch

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It is no secret that I despise carrier contracts and locked Android devices. As Amazon puts it, “A locked cell phone benefits only the carrier by keeping a customer using their service. Unlocked phones give consumers more control of plans, pricing, and services and make carriers work for you.”

This year I cancelled my Verizon contract, paid the early termination fee, ported my number to Google Voice, and joined the pre-paid revolution. Since then I’ve been enjoying unlocked Android phones on several different networks and exploring different pre-paid options.

Over the last five months I have learned a lot of things about pre-paid wireless service. It was a pretty easy transition for me, but not everyone will have a smooth ride. Read on to see if pre-paid smartphone service is right for you.

1. You monthly bill really could be cut in half

Let’s start with the obvious. There are many benefits to pre-paid wireless, but the number one reason for switching is to save money. Do the math. Please. I switched from Verizon Wireless to Straight Talk and I instantly cut my bill in half, from $90 to $45 per month.

There are an endless number of mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), and their pre-paid plans range from $30-50 per month. Most include unlimited talk and text, with varying levels of data. Since most of these MVNOs operate on AT&T or T-Mobile’s network, you can expect the same coverage and data speeds.

Most pre-paid plans offer flat rate pricing, so there are no overages, hidden fees, or mystery taxes. You will still have to pay sales tax on your monthly service plan, but at least your costs will be the same each month.

Pre-paid wireless service is almost always cheaper than a post-paid plan, but there might be some exceptions for family plans with a lot of devices. With pre-paid you normally buy one service plan per line, instead of having a family plan that covers multiple lines. Not every line needs the same services, so you can still mix and match plans and come up with a cheaper bill than post paid.

2. Pre-paid is suitable for power users

A lot of critics like to dismiss pre-paid wireless and say it’s not designed for power users, but I’m here to tell you they are mostly wrong. I think “power user” is often associated with “data hog”, but most of us don’t consume 5-10 GB of mobile data per month. In fact, the overwhelming majority of Android users do not even consume 1 GB of data per month.

I consider myself a power user, and I have access to WiFi at home or work. I still consume a ton of data, but most of it is done over WiFi and not a mobile network. When I’m out and about, I can still access 4G HSPA+ data that is often faster that my home’s cable internet and the coverage is great.

Unfortunately, no pre-paid service plans offer access to 4G LTE networks. If you need a high-speed download and upload connection, then pre-paid might not be for you.

The good thing is that recent surveys show T-Mobile’s 4G HSPA+ 42 Mbps network is “LTE fast.” I have been using a Samsung Galaxy S III on T-Mobile’s network through the Solavei pre-paid plan and I found the speeds to meet my needs. I average download speeds of 10-15 Mbps and my uploads are 1-2 Mbps.

3. Customer service is hit or miss

The reason that pre-paid wireless plans are so cheap is because the companies offering them don’t have all the overhead of running retail stores. If you constantly go to your local carrier store for support, then you will not want to switch to pre-paid.

Your experience will differ with the company that you choose for pre-paid, but most of them offer support over the phone and the web. This is where things are really hit or miss. You might get an answer to your question right away or it could take days to resolve an issue.

If you absolutely rely on your cell phone for work or other matters, it is always good to have a backup. If your pre-paid account is abruptly shut off for unknown reasons, then it might take awhile to resolve. You could always run to the store and buy another SIM card to pop in your phone, but that might not be an option for all.

I don’t want to mislead you about customer service, so I’ll share a quick personal story. My brother Clark switched to Straight Talk SIM and he has experienced issues with data on an unlocked HTC One X. I had the same setup in a different part of Texas and my service was exceptional, but Clark had a bad experience. He has had quite the struggle trying to resolve his issue, and I think he is working on a longer post to detail his pre-paid adventure.

4. If you want total control of your mobile number, port it to Google Voice

I read a couple horror stories when I was doing my research on pre-paid, so I went ahead and ported my number to Google Voice so I could have full control over it. The porting process cost me a one time fee of $20, plus an additional $20 to keep the existing Google Voice number that I had been using for work.

Google Voice has some limitations, such as the lack of support for MMS (multimedia messaging service), but I found it to be an enjoyable service overall. I like the level of control it gives me (like personalized voicemails for different incoming numbers), and the Android app has greatly improved over the years.

If you switch to pre-paid, there is a higher chance that you might try different plans over the course of a year since you are no longer locked into a contract. It can be a hassle to keep porting your number from carrier to carrier, so I found it was just easier to port it to Google Voice and then forward your number to whatever new pre-paid number you get.

5. Switching devices, numbers, and SIMs is mostly painless

One of the main benefits of going pre-paid is having the freedom to switch devices and plans whenever you choose. I have found this process to be mostly painless with Android phones. All my contacts, documents, and photos are synced with Google, so it is a breeze to jump from device to device.

Over the last couple of months I have used the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Galaxy S III, and LG Optimus 4X HD as my daily phone. Some of that time was spent on AT&T’s network with Straight Talk and the other was on T-Mobile with Solavei.

Switching back and forth is a pretty simple process. You just swap your SIM card, sign in to your Google account, and setup your APN (access point names) settings to access mobile data.

6. You can always have the latest version of Android

Wireless carriers control what software is loaded on their locked devices. This means your carrier branded phone likely has a ton of bloatware and Android updates take months longer to reach your device.

If you want Android updates directly from Google, then you can purchase an unlocked Nexus device from Google. These devices receive software updates in a timely fashion because wireless carriers are not involved in the process. Even if you don’t buy a Nexus device, the chances are you will receive faster software updates on an unlocked phone compared to a locked phone.

7. Stick with the GSM carriers that support unlocked devices

Not all pre-paid wireless service providers are created equal. Some operate on GSM networks and support unlocked devices, while others operate on CDMA networks that don’t support unlocked devices.

For the best experience, avoid pre-paid service providers on CDMA networks. These include Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, and several others.

An unlocked phone will cost you more in the beginning, but the long term savings will pay off big time. Best of all, unlocked phones have a much higher resale value because they can be used with a variety of service plans. You can buy and sell used Android phones on GlydeGazelleSwappa, and many more online retailers.

Final Words

Pre-paid wireless service meets all of my needs, but I am not a typical user. The lack of in-store customer support and lack of 4G LTE access will be deal breakers for many. The cost of breaking a contract and the initial cost of buying an unlocked phone will also turn some people away from switching. If you can get past those issues, then pre-paid might be for you.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • Alexander drzfr3shboialex

    Amen to that!

    • pearl

      Yes I paid my contract at verizon… I paid $125 to end my contract, and now I am with t-mobile for unli text,1500 minutes for call and no activation fee and no contract. I am happy and same morethan 65 % compare to verizon. I used verizon for years and always have problem of bill. No txt and only few minutes of calls.. and charge me a lot of money… Now I am happier T-mobile prepaid phone same number for 7 years … no worries and same me money.

      • pearl

        Save money I mean

  • Derek

    How have you dealt with MMS and Google Voice? Especially with today’s use of iMessage, which sends messages to groups as MMS, there’s no way of knowing when you miss a message if they send it your Google Voice number.

    Considering I’ve had this number for over 10 years, that’s the only thing holding me back from that part of this switch. Otherwise, I’m all for pre-paid and a Nexus device.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      I don’t really use MMS. All my pictures are shared via Instagram, Facebook, Google+, etc.

      • Jimmy_Jo

        As a Sprint user my Sprint number is my Google Voice number… would I still have to port it?

        • Sam

          Yes. The number is still owned by Sprint. So if you cancel your account you will lose that number.

          • Daniel

            This is not true.

      • gemma

        Google voice is for individual who cheats on thier wife! You want privacy? Are you a cheater? Get google Voice!!! I did, but my wife aint no dummy. She figured it out.

        • kat

          yes you are right. i have been suspicious of my husband for some time now. about to bust his bubble. it works.

        • milton aberbacker

          that is the stupidest post i’ve ever read in a long time..just because you are a cheater doesn’t mean that a great service by google is…

    • Adam

      Google Voice works with MMS if you have it setup right. Whomever uses Google Voice needs to have it setup where your sms messages are forwarded to your email. What happens is, whenever someone sends me an MMS message it goes to my gmail inbox, and you receive a message in your google voice app saying “MMS received”. You then visit your inbox to see the picture and it works great. I setup a filter in gmail to automatically flag my MMS messages as (MMS) that way they are easy to keep track of. The only downside is people using Google voice can’t send MMS messages through the app, but they can reply back with pictures via gmail.

      • Jason

        I still don’t understand why Google Voice doesn’t just work with MMS… the technology has been around a LONG time (in mobile terms), and there are other “virtual” services that support it (like mogreet.com, a Twilio competitor).

        I really don’t want both a text and an email every time someone sends me a text… I just want my Google Voice number to support the same technology my dumb phone supported years ago.

        • co.ag.2005

          same here. while I don’t use MMS a lot, this is one of the only things holding me back from the Google voice number switch

          • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

            That’s actually the *only* feature which is holding me back from porting to Google Voice. I receive far too many MMS messages to deal with a secondary number.

        • Jimmy_Jo

          You have to remember, before ICS, Google Voice was not a widely used product. It was more of a niche product. It’s integration was paltry. Now it has given a better platform to be of use to Android end-users. It should only continue to gain steam. The Google Voice-Voicemail integration in the call log is one of the best new features added to Google’s core UX devices.

          • co.ag.2005

            I do look forward to the app getting better… I know it will.

            However, at this current time (this may change), I still prefer MMS to arrive/depart as it always has.

            I have friends who tell me, “only sms this number, only call this number, and don’t send mms”. I’m not ready to be that guy, especially since my wife’s family all have dumbphones and love to send MMS’ of our nephews and nieces.

            When this issue is fixed and that first MVNO to offer LTE, they’ll get my money! :)

          • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

            @co.ag.2005: I’ve had friends who did that to me too, and I just continued to use their primary number for everything. They’d get upset that I was incurring them fees, after which I told them that if they want me to be their secretary and manage their contact numbers for them, they should start paying me.

      • Kevin

        That’s called a workaround. MMS does not work with Google Voice. Pictures work with email. Not the same thing. At all.

      • andyo

        This only works when the sender is on Sprint.

      • GVuser2013

        I have SMS set to forward to my email. But MMSs are not able to be received. Anyone else have success with the MMS? I Googled this subject and it seems Google hasn’t fully worked out the bugs of MMS on GV.

    • Hue Three of Five

      It’s an adjustment but I use gmail as a second messaging app after Google voice. Now that all my friends know I use gmail for MMS, they send me pics like they would before but just select gmail instead of my phone number. Its all in ones contact card in the same place. And people get email notifications directly on their phone just like texts. Its worth it for me to save $40 a month over what I was paying on Verizon.

      • Bozz019

        How is the data speed on the straight talk service?? and is there anything negative about using straight talk?

        • EllieC

          I had Straight Talk for some 5 years and never had an issue. I then switched to AT & T when I got a phone that was an AT & T phone. AT & T has terrible service and terrible reception.

          I am switching back to Straight Talk at the end of this month when my data is finished with AT & T.

    • J.A.V.

      You dont necessarily have to go through google voice. I’ve had the same number for 5 years and I just outright ported it to straight talk. It took over a week to complete the port because my former carrier made a mistake somehow. I’ve now had straight talk for almost a year running on my Gnex

    • mandi

      Some pre-paid service providers do let you keep your old number from another carrier. I know straight talk does, but not sure what other ones do.

  • Chris Yackulic

    Great article Taylor, My TMO contract is done next month and I will be going the same route!

  • NegativeOne13

    The biggest kicker for me is lack of GSM coverage. I live in rural Kansas where CDMA is still slightly spotty. Yay go team!

  • Heetskore

    Customer service is a load either way.
    Plus, I’m not dependent on LTE. Half the time I don’t even get LTE speeds anyway. prepaid wins.

    • Hue Three of Five

      HSPA+ is actually faster than LTE in some areas for me.

  • redraider133

    I am going to look into this once my contract is up with verizon. Would be able to save some money and also not have to hope verizon picks up a certain phone. Great article.

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Depending on your ETF, you might actually save money in the long-run by terminating it now, even after the cost of a new device is factored in. http://www.whyprepaid.org/why-switch/

      • Kris

        Indeed this is very true. In fact, cancelling your service and paying the ETF SOONER rather than later can save you more money than if you wait for your contract to expire. My wife and my contract with T-Mo was up next June, (8mos away) and even with paying TWO ETFs totally $400, I’ll start saving money on the deal by February. We switched from paying $165/mo for our 2 lines on a family plan to just $90/mo with 2 separate Straight Talk packages.

    • pearl

      I used to be verizon user but switch to t-mobille prepaid and save money.. same number no activation fee no contract.

  • Desmond Smith

    You wrote a good article but you left out the 2 largest CDMA prepaid carriers metroPCS and Cricket Mobile, both are about 50% cheaper than Verizon and at&t.

    • http://androidandme.com Taylor Wimberly

      I did mention those two carriers in the part where I said to avoid CDMA. No point to use their service if you cant use the device that you want.

      • art4rm

        My verison acct is done come the 24th. Wish I had a step by step means of keeping same , number and getting prepaid service, with google voice. I’ve been reading the blogs, but at 74, I find it difficult to imagine doing all that stuff! Anyone want to email me the steps. Should I just go to Walmart, or try to do it online by myself?

        • art4rm

          also, I have no idea what CDMA or PCS, etc., mean!

    • Jason

      MetroPCS is now going to merge with T-Mobile… wonder what will happen to their CDMA technology (I can’t imagine them supporting both GSM and CDMA).

  • Ichigo

    I’ve been using prepaid for the past 3 years and I have never been happier. I used to be on sprint,, t mobile and ATT postpaid, always had issues with my bill being too high, very restricted in terms of switching phones anytime you want. then in 09 I used flexpay T mobile and it was great, they mad a mistake and my internet was free for the last 10 I was with them. but then they stop flexpay and I switch to gophone, even better cause att supports international unlocked phones. At first it sucked cause they highest data package was 500mb but now with the 1gb, its more than enough and data rolls over when unused. F*ck a contract!

  • Kinz

    I have been considering this move to prepaid for about a month now. It looks like straight Talk will be the way I go. I am waiting for the galaxy note 2 unlocked version. The porting to Google I did not know about. I am wondering why you had to pay for your Google number that you already had? But i will be loooking into that. Also i would be curious on the mms because i use that alot.

    • ichigo

      i got my galaxy note 2 unlocked version this morning. im using gophone, i love it!

  • halo0

    What about the fact that data roaming is not included with most prepaid plans? I just recently switched to T-mobile’s $30/100 minutes/5GB data plan and had to go back to AT&T after one day because I was on EDGE data almost everywhere on my Galaxy Nexus :(

    • jj14

      That actually is one of the biggest issues holding me back from bailing on Sprint. I’ve been out of contract for a while, and am keen on switching to a GSM carrier (prepaid for cost savings, GSM for using unlocked phone overseas with local SIM and for non-fake Nexus device), but I do travel within the US. That could be a problem with T-mo’s prepaid network coverage being terrible.

      • co.ag.2005

        Get ATT then. I’ve had them for over 10 years and have had no issues. I tried T-Mobile here in Denver (pre-paid sim on my GN) and data was slower than ATT despite T-Mobile’s 42 Mbps HSPA+ claim. And when I travelled, I was always on EDGE. ATT has a better 3G (or 4G, whatever you want to call it) footprint over T-Mobile. Get an StraightTalk ATT sim and give it a try!

      • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

        You could go with Straight Talk. They support AT&T and T-Mobile’s network. It’s just a matter of popping in the right SIM card (of course, into an unlocked device).

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      How the hell did you use 5 GB in one day??

  • Adryan maldonado

    The only minor bad thing about prepaid and Taylor partially covered it is that while straight talk offers unlimited data they can and will throttle you around 5 gigs and in their terms of service it mentions they have the right to cancel your service abruptly. But as taylor mentioned if you make use of wifi enough it wont be a problem but if you forget to use wifi and are a heavy/power user be careful

    • Derek

      Actually they throttle you if you use over 100MB/day or 2.5GB/month on a consistent basis. So, their “unlimited” isnt unlimited, but it’s still pretty good for $45/month.

  • Adryan maldonado

    But other than that im going to be joining the prepaid smartphone revolution as well as soon as my contract is up.

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Why wait for your contact expiration? Depending on your ETF, you might actually save money in the long-run by terminating it now, even after the cost of a new device is factored in. http://www.whyprepaid.org/why-switch/

  • Bpear96

    Straight Talk FTW! I’ve been using there service for quite some time. With a Galaxy s ii at first and more recently a One X. Service has been great, however I did get throttled once, but my cable was out so I tethered my phone to my PC and used 4gb in one day :p. When you use to much data in a single day ST throttles you. But usually I am fine and so will most people. Throttling is better then no data in my eyes. It was around 200kbps when they throttled me.

  • blarelli

    T-mobile prepaid has been fantastic for me. Yes, 100 minutes is pretty low, but Skype and google talk helps to expand it. The physical t-mobile locations help me out if I have a problem, and I never have to buy refill cards, it’s just auto-deducting from my credit card.
    Having the galaxy nexus makes it even better. I get a fast phone, pretty decent data speeds, jelly bean and good customer support all for $40 a month less than I was paying on Sprint.

  • jamal adam

    A well written piece. It seems like a great idea and perhaps, might be in my future.

  • n25philly

    Awesome writeup. My plan with t-mobile is up in november and I am most likely cancelling then and moving to straight talk. I have an international Galaxy Note, so just getting 3g will be a big upgrade.

  • boss

    I have a att prepaid already, can I port my prepaid number to google voice so I can switch to a different prepaid carrier?

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Yes, but porting your number to Google Voice means you lose MMS as you currently know it (there are workarounds). See above in this comment thread where Taylor explains it.

  • Joel Rosner

    The article is interesting, but there is no discussion of location-specific issues regarding service. I’m curious how the prepaid analysis differs, if at all, if you live in NYC, where certain carriers are known for less-than-complete coverage, or any other similar location where only the biggest wireless companies have adequate coverage.

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Prepaid or postpaid, you’re on the same network. If you’re in an area where T-Mobile has excellent service, it won’t matter if you’re prepaid or postpaid. The inverse is also true.

  • Spideralex90

    My problem is data coverage, and the fact that the phones themselves cost so much. I’d only be able to switch phones maybe once a year because I can’t afford to drop $600-$700 on a whim, especially when I can get a phone for free generally with a 2 year contract. I got my Galaxy Nexus that way.

  • Orion78

    Good article. This is the route I may take when the new Nexus comes out.

  • ibap

    Ting (ting.com) allows the use of 4G on the Sprint native network, and provides Sprint with full roaming capability for voice. So it is CDMA, not GSM with SIMs for easy switching, but very shortly (nearly) any Sprint phone will be able to be moved from Sprint to Ting and back.

    Ting is not truly prepaid, but is truly pay-for-what-you-use and no-contract.

  • Spook Murphy

    Yes, the phone makers need to spread some unlocked CDMA love.

    Virgin Mobile prepay with 300min, unlimited data/text (throttled after 2.5 gig) @ $25 per month.

  • Max.Steel

    Why would you tell anyone to sell a device to the crooks at Gazelle.

    • Ardrid

      +1. It’s really a shame what Gazelle has become. I used them a few years ago to sell some things and got great value. Now they don’t pay out anywhere near what your item is worth. They’ll give me $40 or so for a Captivate in excellent condition; I can move the same on Glyde for at least $100.

  • Felix Estrada

    I just switched to T-Mobile $30/mo pre-paid and the only issue I’ve had with it is that they don’t do call forwarding which means no Google Voice Voicemail. They recently took this feature away even though it’s still on some of the pre-paid pages. If I were able to read voicemail transcriptions before using up my minutes I would be completely happy with the service. As it stands, I let most calls go to VM and use Groove IP or a landline to check them later.

    • Luke

      I’m having the same trouble with Google Voice with StraightTalk (ATT network). They don’t support call forwarding, which means your VM’s are not directed to Google Voice. This is a big deal if you use Google Voice. I still haven’t found a workaround.

  • Derek

    I just did the same thing sort of. I got my company to provide me with a company phone and ported my previous number over to google voice. But straight talk with an AT&T sim is probably the best way to go. Larger network than T-mo but slightly slower data speeds.

  • leganzish

    Taylor, great job with all of the very informative pre-paid articles in the last several months. They were the last push I needed to make the jump. I have a couple questions though that I haven’t been able to find any answers on. I have a G Nex on Straight Talk with a T-Mo sim, and I am getting terrible speeds compared to my old Sprint speeds with an OG EVO. Based on everything I read though I should get pretty nice HSPA+ speeds, shouldn’t I (assuming good coverage)? Is there anything on ST other than changing the APN that needs to be done to have good speed. I’m changing to an ATT sim soon to see if I have better luck there. One thing that makes it hard to evaluate is not knowing what kind of network my GN is connected to. I haven’t been able to find anything firm that states what the G, E, 3G, and H that appear above my signal bars are exactly. I know some, but not the others. Do you know what they are? I have read about a mythical H+ that appears but I have never seen it. Maybe this is my speed problem.

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      If you’re not seeing the “H”, that *is* your problem. You should see a data indicator next to your service indicator. Are you running a custom ROM?

      • leganzish

        No, I’m running stock. And I see the “H” pretty regularly, but my data speeds with H are usually slower than when I’m showing “3G”

    • D34th

      Straight talk only supports max 3g speeds and throttles pretty heavy. They shut off my service and I never got 4G speeds.

  • steven

    I have the unlocked nexus but was concerned @ trying them.the custserv so far has been horrendous..like most prepaid they advertise unlimited data but don’t provide it. They said you can’t stream music or video so for me no YouTube or my Google music and for u heavy users forget Netflix, July or Pandora. They won’t say it but everywhere online I hear you can only use 100mb per day up to 2 GB per month..then they threaten to cancel you. I’m worried @ number porting and it taking days..and changing APN.. telling me MMS might not work, and what happens if theirs a problem..I don’t have a landline or work phone..I also don’t clearly understand how Google voice is or if it would benefit me..ST also wouldn’t tell me if I’d get same service as my T-Mobile prepaid or would still get HSPA+21 still… So I’m worried. I need a higher data plan and $45 is better than the $60 2gb prepaid plan..is $15 a month savings? I’d like some input from StraightTalk or Simple Mobile customers, who told me similar things. Thks

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      Porting takes about an hour based on friends’ reports, and yes, you’re right about the lack of MMS if you port to Google Voice. Look higher up in the comment thread where Taylor talks about that. The benefit to Google Voice is that you don’t have to port it again if you switch to another prepaid provider. You port your number to Google Voice, then setup Google Voice to forward all calls and texts to your new prepaid number. You setup Google Voice on your Android device to report your Google Voice number on all outgoing calls/texts, and it’s seamless.

      The streaming issue you’ve outlined is specific to Straight Talk. If you need more data for a similar price, Solavei offers an unlimited talk and text plan and 4 GB high-speed 4G data before 2G throttling. It’s invite-only, but you can sign up under http://www.solavei.com/homncruse and give both Taylor and I referral credit (I’m signed up under him).

  • Oscar Ortega

    i was wondering which prepaid carriers have a better overall international plan?

    • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

      The only one I’m aware of which offers an international plan at all is Simple Mobile. But the beauty of an unlocked device is that when you’re going international, you simply pick up a SIM card from a local carrier (they’re all effectively prepaid internationally – the contract thing is very U.S.-centric) and pop it into your device.

  • BrothaDave

    You can mms using google voice now, it just sends it through email. Have someone text a picture to you and it will come through as a separate email with the picture. You can send one back using the reply to email function.

    • Chuck

      Thats Sprint only.

      • Discoman69

        Not true. I have T-Mobile, and that has been working for me for the past month or so.

  • mikelward

    There’s a few other things to mention:

    Data speeds on some pre-paid MVNOs are much slower. I quit using Simple Mobile because their 3G was slower than T-Mobile 2G. I’m in California, and speed test showed my traffic was going thru a proxy in Las Vegas.

    International calling sucks. In the case of Simple and Straight Talk, you have to dial an international access number, so you can’t conveniently call using your phone book. In the case of T-Mobile’s $30 plan, you can’t get the International talk and text plan, so you end up paying much higher rates.

    Roaming doesn’t work. If you get a T-Mobile two-year plan, you can use AT&T’s coverage. If you go with T-Mobile pre-paid, you can’t. See http://www.t-mobile.com/coverage/pcc.aspx and look for “Service Partner”.

    And as Felix points out, on T-Mobile pre-paid and monthly4g, you can’t forward calls to Google Voice voicemail.

    • Discoman69

      In regards to international calling, I would recommend anyone with prepaid to use Google Voice. Their international calling rates kill the rates for the major carriers anyway, so that advice applies to postpaid plans too.

  • Tony

    Thanks Taylor, you’ve convinced me my next plan will be unlocked pre-paid nexus device. Currently I’m almost 10 months into my Verizon GNexus and waiting to see what the new nexi are like this year and will switch to one only if unlocked pre-paid is offered, again thanks to this article.

  • Arex

    Any folks with pre-paid experience from Los Angeles?

    • ovivlion

      My brother has straight talk at & t sim, He says everywhere he goes he gets good cell service. Except where our parents live, he barely gets 1 bar if any.

  • Chuck

    Hey Taylor,
    I see you said you kept your original Google Voice number, are you able to still call out from that number ? My understanding is that you can only receive calls from that number after you have ported in a new “main” number. thank you.

  • Ray

    So i have a sprint number amd Port it to google voice does this end my contract with sprint?

  • Discoman69

    One of the things I recently noticed about Google Voice is that they appear to have resolved the no MMS issue. Last month I started receiving MMS picture messages forwarded to my Gmail account associated with my Google Voice number. I don’t know if that goes for other MMS types like song snippets, etc., but that kills the only negative I ever had about the service. I have had the service since GrandCentral started it though, so I don’t know if it’s rolled out to everyone. I for one would test it out!

  • cj

    I have been using prepaid service called simple mobile for a while with my Nexus S from Tmo. I have only paid about 50 a month and I never been more happier. I received all my updates including ICS and Jelly Bean rather quickly. I have an unlimited talk text and data plan cap at 2.5GB with slower speeds after but I cant notice which works out great. I got better data speed which jumped from 3G to 3.5G on this prepaid service. I also have Google voice which I have been using for the past two year. I give that number out when I do not want someone to have my number and when I call from nexus S that is the number that contact see which is good. I am ready for a new Nexus device with LTE or HSPA+ because I did not like the Galaxy Nexus enough to buy it. If they switch to Nano Sim card this prepaid carrier has had them for a while!

  • Bozz

    What I have been told, for straight talk, is that it is not unlimited everything really….they call you when you get around 2gb of data, in a months time, and tell you to not use as much data or they will discontinue your service with them. Also with the data you are not allowed to upload, download, or stream any audo or video programming or games…It says in their contract.

  • ibap

    There are a number of comments with “-1″ ratings – for what? Raining on someone’s parade? None of them are fanboy comments or rude or nasty.

  • Jim Grabo

    I am about to sign up for Solavei will this network support a Galaxy S 3 unlocked from T Mobile?
    I’ve been getting a variety of answers and opinions
    Thanks

    • Jacob Mathew

      Hi Jim,

      I hope you got a more clearer answer. I got the following from our member support community at Solavei.

      “This can be confusing and with the information we have, as long as the phone is GSM, (accepts a SIM card), and is unlocked the phone will be able to be used. Keep in mind speeds may vary depending on the phones capability”

      Hope this helps. Are you using the service now ? Any updates you can share. If you want to connect, I am at http://www.share4gandearn.com . Be glad to be of assistance.

      Best Wishes,
      Mathew

      • Jacob Mathew

        By the way, that was a response to the question, “Will the Samsung Galaxy S 3 be supported?” (dated in Aug)

  • Jacob Mathew

    Nice article.

    Costs are high because demand is high for consumption. However, there is an alternative for consumers without the need to be locked into any one carrier.

    Check out http://www.share4gandearn.com to learn how social commerce is being turned upside down with Unlimited 4g (data, voice, text), no contract for a simple flat affordable pricing of $49/mo. This is possible through word of mouth advertising.

    Consumers can also refer friends and earn an income with their friends on the serivce.

    Cheers to no more overage charges. No unwanted surprises.

    Connect, Share and Grow.

    Mathew (Using an HTC one S on the new mobile service in Kansas city and loving it)

  • marvin nubwaxer

    t-mobile has the best prepaid plans. i pay $100 at the first of the year for 1000 minutes good for the full year. i just read that if i had a smart phone i could get a day of 200mb data for $3. in my 11th month now i still have 300 or more minutes left which will rollover if i renew.
    t-mobile also has the great prepaid plan especially suited to the nexus 4 (from google play store, not
    from t-mo). $30/month for unlimited data, 100minutes talk time.
    t-mobile has excellent coverage all over california, and no i don’t work for them, just advice to all y’all paying way too much on plans that are scams.

  • Sufalam Technologies

    It’s a great addition by Google, as they like to get their hands on every industry there is. Although Google Music might be very limited as of now, I see them expanding it’s features worldwide in a few months. They are probably just testing things out. Which is reasonable.

  • teamwoot

    Straight Talk in Austin throttled me after 3gb. Still can’t decide if I wanna make the switch. What can u say push me to make a decision?

  • stewbstewart

    good points

  • MP

    Great read! Anyone with experience on buying into a prepaid plan while keeping postpay plan (off contract) alive, especially on the same carrier (TMO)? Any rules against this? And what about unlocked hot spot USB devices?

    The TMO prepaid $30 plan for 100 min/unlimited data would be cheaper than most ISP where I live and portable! I’ve been on the same dumb phone for the past 4-5 years and I don’t think I’m ready to dive right in, so I’m trying to test the waters.

    Thanks in advance!

  • evansrus

    I have been with US Cellular for a looooong time. My family of 3 would like to upgrade to a new smart phone—— but 1 of us can not due to the restrictions of our plan. I too am so tired of these kind of issues. I am looking at pulling the 1 line and going pre-paid with Straight Talk. My friend has a Samsung Galaxy S II with Verizon that she will sale me-she upgraded. Can I use her old phone try prepaid/ will I need to unlock the phone since Straight Talk works off Verizon? Will verizon work with me to give me the info I need to unlock the phone? Trying to not spend alot of money on a phone until I know if this is something that will work for me.

  • Barbara

    A draw for a contract is low-cost insurance for lost phones. How can you find insurance with no contract services such as Solevei and Straightalk when you buy the phone unlocked?

    • Barbara

      I found a great insurance for cell phones — ensquared.

    • Barbara

      follow-up: I found a great insurance for cell phones — ensquared.

  • Jill

    Unfortunately , the Verizon Network is the very best in my area. T-Mobile is poor and Sprint is non existent in my area. AT&T is just okay. Have problems connecting with AT&T. . So I would need to go with Verizon’s network. I don’t like the smartphones that I would have to use on the Verizon network I want one that has a large display and has the very latest OS. So , I guess that knocks me out of the prepaid plans.

  • Landon

    From what I understand on the GV call forwarding I need an Android with the GV app. I have a dumbphone with T-Mo and I would like to switch to pre-paid but I would like to port my number to GV still. Is this do-able without Android and the GV app?

    Thanks

  • Fund My Contract

    https://fundmycontract.com…….

    Please let me know that how can we use Google voice process with MMS….

  • Tonya

    Thinking about switching to prepaid phones. I have had Sprint for years, I pay about 204.00 a month for 3 phones, with everything. This is to high, we have internet at home, really dont need it on the phones anymore. What plans do you suggest and can we still use our smartphones to switch over?

  • Michael

    Now you can also obtain 4G LTE based data via a pre-paid (month-to-month) no-contract arrangement. As long as your willing to purchase and utilize a HotSpot device (the smallest on ever made BTW). This is all thanks to FreedomPop’s very aggressive data process and pricing.

    Their plans start out free for up to 500MB per month in data; then advance to a 2GB and 4GB offering, which are $17.99 and $29.99 respectively. An exceptional price for true LTE, 4G data. You can even count on extra Gigabytes only costing $10, or just $.01 cents per meg, if you do go over.

  • Tim

    A sales associate in a Verizon store stated the Verizon prepaid network would not be the same as the Verizon contract network, (i.e. potentially in areas Verizon does not own the tower). Is this correct?

  • Fund My Contract

    Look at—https://fundmycontract.com
    It will provide to you a more offers and i have one great confusion that is i have a two cell of Samsung star 2 and Samsung star 3 but i do not know the main difference between both with their main uses….

  • Jon

    Your pages are a great resource but one thing I don’t see mentioned prominently enough is that prepaid vs contract means different network coverage.

    For instance comparing tmo’s coverage maps for pre- and post- paid you’ll see if you shred your contract and go to a Monthly 4G plan you will lose voice and data coverage in a lot of areas.

  • Jerry

    You cover a lot of “you can do this,” but you fail to supply supporting links. You mention prepaid companies to stay away from, but which ones are open? How do you use a ported number to google voice on your phone? What exactly are the limitations? The article is a great overview with no direction.

  • Shawn

    In regards to the #3 issue of “hit or miss customer service” in the article, I’d just like to point out that there are numerous independent prepaid dealers all across the country eager to serve customers with service and support. My store sells H2O Wireless, Red Pocket Mobile, and Simple Mobile and we assist customers in-store with a wide range of service needs. Some things can only be done over the phone with the carrier’s customer service directly, but we are able to assist our customers right in the store with things such as activations and port-ins, phone programming for web and MMS, monthly refill payments, change of service plans, troubleshoot phone issues, look up airtime expiration and data balance, issue sim card replacements, and provide phones and accessories for purchase. You can walk in the store with just cash in hand and walk out with a prepaid phone that’s activated, programmed, and completely ready to use within minutes. Check the prepaid carriers’ websites for dealer locations and the services offered at each location. Full service shops are practically just like walking into a postpaid AT&T or T-Mobile store. You get real one on one service and support, which is the way it should be regardless of the type of service you’re using. Before you dismiss prepaid over customer service concerns find a local dealer and check out their store. Ask questions to test their knowledge about the services and get the peace of mind of having somebody to come to should you have an issue with your prepaid service at some point. You’re really not limited to just phone or web support if you have a dependable dealer close by.

  • Selah

    Ok I am just wondering…….can I buy a new phone from Verizon say a smartphone (touch screen) and put it on the Verizon wireless $50 prepay plan?

  • Melissa

    I would like to know how to convert my phone fully over from att to tmobile. I have the unlock pass code i am on tmobile. I can make phone calls use the net but my android market wont update. It still says AT&T software update. It wont allow me to update my phone because it is on ATT still. It is an HTC Aria.

  • Lisa Gutierrez

    How do I switch my 4 Glite android “U.S. cellar” over to straight talk ? Send keep my original number?

  • Karen

    I went into a T-mobile store and the rep there told me I can go buy a Samsung Galaxy S II pre-paid phone (or any pre-paid t-mobile supports) at Walmart. He said don’t activate it, just bring it into T-mobile and it can be activated onto an existing plan (my boyfriend has a business plan) that only charges $49.99 unlimited everything (5G data). I am resisting the idea of paying $499 for the phone in installments like my boyfriend who has the value plan (installment plan). Can you help me with this? Going a little crazy here trying to figure this out and find an great phone at an affordable price and plan. Thanks!

  • CNK

    What do you mean by “ported my number to Google Voice”?

    In my virgin mobile phone I have running google talk too. However in the middle of the call from google they switch to virgin mobile call and then I loos my minitues talk. Does any one know how to stop this?

  • Evie

    Great article! I just ordered the Virgin Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II and then I read that it can be used only within the U.S. as it is on the CDMA network. I am thinking about cancelling my order.

    Do you know which carriers use the GSM network and offer pre-paid smartphones/plans? I seem not to be able to find phones that are both without a contract and on the GSM network…Any advice would be much appreciated!

  • mel

    I just got the walmart prepaid $30 100 min and unlimited data plan. Installed groove ip, skype and google voice and it does not work unless I am on wifi. The calls using groove ip or skype are really bad. I am thinking it’s most likely due to tmobile poor data network and secondly the phone or app. I live in minnesota. Should I try to buy another phone to see if groove ip or skype would work better? Any other ideas? Thz

    • Carol

      Mel, no…Groove IP will not be any better on a different phone. I thought it was just my location that was the problem. I’m in Louisiana and have had Groove IP on three different smartphones. Call quality is not great but is sufficient for making important calls. I’ve never tried Skype

  • Maureen

    Does anyone know how I can keep my Galaxy S Android and port no to a no contract carrier?
    Im w Sprint and Im not happy w their service and the fees are outrageous!

  • peggy chaney

    how can i use a verizon htc 4 g lte phone on striaght talk, as far as i know it has not been on contracts. i am having a hard time finding out. will one of the sims to change phone work ,i need help

  • kathy a

    I currently have a Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3. I want to go prepaid. I was told to buy a cheap android phone through Go Phone (att) with Sims card. Activate the phone, then transfer sims card over into my Galaxy cell & it’ll work. Help will this work?

  • Debra

    Taylor,

    Thanks for the great info. I am having a problem with Virgin Mobile. I have been a customer for a couple of years now. Service is okay. My problem is that I need to see my statements. When I go online I only see one week’s worth of calls, and no duration of calls. When I called and worked my way up to a supv I was told I need a subpoena to get my statements. What? Why? When I signed up for this service I entered into a contract, according to the terms section. They would not mail or email 60 days of statement, although they can see it on their end. He said I should be able to see it online but I don’t. I am fuming right now. I need this information for business purposes. Any suggestions?

    Thanks, Debra

  • Lisa

    Any one know if i can get a locked Sprint Galaxy S2 unlocked or use it with a prepaid data plan.
    WARNING: NEVER GO ON A FAMILY PLAN UNLESS YOU REALLY ARE A FAMILY AND YOU TRUST THE OWNER OF THE PLAN!
    I LEARNED THE HARD WAY WENT ON A CLOSE FRIEND OF THE FAMILY’S SPRINT FAMILY PLAN.

    He was doing it to help me out because i loved his Galaxy S2 Smartphone and the talk to text.
    We went to Sprint and i bought my phone and paid my first month’s bills up front. My supposed friend,
    Jerel, agreed $45/mo. Three month’s later, his plan mind you, he decided to tell me i had more services and insurance. They had everything i had, unlimited and i paid $8/mo. for insurance.
    The agent/mgr. at Sprint gave him all the paperwork and told me to take a insurance brochure. I was so excited because i was using a flip top verizon and going to a smartphone. I never thought to ask about signing an insurance agreement, just assumed the agent put my name on Asurion’s contract. Wrong!! No Paper, Nothing To Sign!!!! Three months later he decided to up my bill saying i was costing him money?!! NO Way, I paid everything, they had the same services i did except i paid $8 insurance a month. Idk what his problem was, but he disconnected my phone after 3 months because i wouldn’t pay $70 from the $45 we agreed on, he was supposed to be doing me a favor!

    Not only did i lose my number that was ported over to Sprint from Verizon, had it 2 years, but he reported my phone lost/stolen with my insurance, he had none, to get out of paying the early termination fee and got a new phone!!! I never even thought he could call in my phone lost/stolen, it was my insurance. Went back and forth from Sprint to Asurion, even talked to the CEO. Took out a fraud case on the agent and Jerel, the plan owner. Came back, he didn’t do anything wrong, it’s his plan!

    SOMETHING IS DEFINATELY WRONG! WHAT INSURANCE DO YOU TAKE OUT THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO SIGN ANYTHING, AT LEAST YOUR NAME. I THOUGHT THE AGENT DID. I SAID TO THE CEO OF THE PHONE INSURANCE, I AM TALKING ON MY LOST/STOLEN PHONE NOW WITH AN APP I HAVE ON IT BY WIFI. I JUST WANTED HIM TO REMOVE THE LOST/STOLEN SO I COULD USE IT WITH ANOTHER CARRIER. I TOLD HIM I COULD PROVE I HAD THAT NUMBER FOR 2 YEARS BEFORE PLUS HAD CANCELLED CHECKS FROM PAYING MY BILL TO JEREL, THE PLAN OWNER. AND THEY SAY, WE TAKE FRAUD VERY SERIOUSLY, BULL@$$o@!

    IF I GET SOMEONE TO UNLOCK THE PHONE CAN I USE MY PHONE WITH ANOTHER CARRIER?
    SPRINT WAS GONNA LET ME USE IT AND GIVE ME ANOTHER NUMBER AND MY OWN PLAN, BUT I AM SO PISSED I WON’T GIVE THEM A DIME!!! I EVEN LOST MY NUMBER, TOLD THEM I HAD A SCREAMER, LOOKOUT ON IT AND MY PHONE IS SAYING I HAVE IT, I CAN READ YOU ANYTHING. NOONE WOULD DO A THING.

    HELP, PLEASE

  • jillxz

    I would love to switch to Straight Talk , but the operating systems on these smartphones are so old. Gingerbread. Verizon is the best in my area , AT@T is hit and miss , Sprint and T-Mobile are non existent here. So it is Verizon only for me. So there is no way I would switch to Straight Talk until the Verizon Straight Talk phones fet Jelly Bean and 5 inch screens. No way.

  • Phil

    I made the same switch from Verizon to Straight talk. Straight talk DOES offer AT&T LTE, you just need an LTE SIM card from straighttalk.
    http://gigaom.com/2013/09/13/straight-talk-adds-att-lte-support-for-45-monthly-plan/

  • GENE Giuliani Jr

    I have something to let you all know about Target Stores offer a new Cell Phone Service called Bright Spot powered by T Mobile and offered by Target here is how it works its a pre paid service and for unlimited everything its $50 a month and after 6 paid on time refills you get a $25 Target Gift Card mailed to your house thats why I switched bc of the Gift Card option they also use T Mobile phones as well my first Bright Spot phone was the T Mobile Sparq 2 then I stayed with Bright Spot and switched to a T Mobile Android phone called the Prism 2 its a low budget Android phone but for $79.99 $75.99 if you pay with your Target red credit and debit card its worth it its a little slow but once again its worth it everyone out there look into this new cell phone service called Bright Spot by Target powered by T Mobile thanks

  • candle2525

    Aloha,

    I am confused on what phone and and pre paid company to use. I live in the Hawaii Rainforest where there is slim to no coverage. (96778) I use AT&T pay as you go but I do not have very much coverage even with wifi router. My phone is AT&T zte 990 with GMS.

    As I talk to neighbors walmart ect.., they say Verizon is the only company that has pretty good coverage. I am told at Walmart that in my area CDMA is what works. I would like to get pay as you go but I have a hard time looking on the internet for CDMA. I would like to go with Net 10, straight talk, Metro, or something similar that I can pay as I go. I read the if you go pay as you go on Verizon the phones are not as good as the other carriers. A poor rating.

    Which way would you recomend, or do you have any ideas for me on what phone to purchase and which carrier to go with? I can send a text once in a while, but no phone coverage even with a router.

    I appreciate any help.

    Mahalo,
    candle2525

  • Sarah

    I also just switched to Brightspot through Target. Used to have verizon. Got a samsung galaxy note 2 from my sister and paid to get it unlocked. I’m in a good area for service and you also save 5% on your refill cards if you use red card and they have been running 5% off sales here and there too.

  • Chris

    What if I just wanted a flip phone that can make calls and texts? Like the prepaid ones Walter White was always breaking. No smartphones or anything like that. Just a regular old cell. I wouldn’t need it to be unlocked and I wouldn’t need to pay for data. I can pretty much just check Facebook when I get home. I imagine that a prepaid phone through Google Voice would be a pretty cheap setup.

  • joe

    Hello all i live in Illinois and have straight talk for over a year now att sim…. att went live with 4g let i get 10m down 4m up use 3gb a mo no problem at all never been throttle hope this help someone out

  • Bixley

    Look into the new Cricket now owned by AT&T. They offer a Bring Your Own Phone” plan. Starting at $40, $35 if autopay. No contract and number portablilty is available. 4G LTE Nationwide with no roaming. https://www.facebook.com/cricketnation

    https://www.cricketwireless.com/

  • TLC

    A tid bid note from this one 6 yr ATT Prepaid service consumer. To avoid Sales tax, go into the retail store and use their KIOSK machine. Not all stores have them so either call ahead or ask at the door, the machines are usually in the back of the store. Does not matter what level of denomination you chose, no Sales Tax will be added to the cost. Only applies to the Kiosk,, if you have a sales person at counter, thru your phone or online account Taxes will be added.

  • Sarah

    I thought that Cricket is now gsm?

  • http://www.focuszonedevelopment.com Homncruse

    There’s also Solavei (invite-only, but you can sign up under http://www.solavei.com/homncruse to give both Taylor and I credit), running on top of T-Mobile’s network, for $49/mo for unlimited talk and text with 4 GB of high speed 4G data before 2G throttling occurs. Choosing the right prepaid plan for you is arguably the hardest part of switching. Everyone’s use case is different.