(or ‘How to be cheap with your smartphone bill’)
It has always annoyed me that carriers in the US (and most places) make you buy talking / texting plans in order to get data.
I don’t tend to use my phone for calls much, and although mobile data is essential for me, its actually pretty rare that I am far from wi-fi.
I used to have an iPhone on a plan with AT&T and the cheapest monthly plan was $79.
I never got close to my usage limits, but did manage to rack up overages for data while overseas (despite knowing the risks), a couple of international pocket dials (doh), and also the occasional late bill payment fee (ok, maybe even one disconnection + reconnection fee during one of our startup’s leaner months).
I travel internationally quite a lot and AT&T only let you suspend your plan once per year unless you really argue with them.
All in all, I was keen to try something different, and I just returned to the USA with an unlocked iPhone 5 purchased in New Zealand (Incidentally over there I was paying only $19 per month on prepay, although it did have a few drawbacks..).
Here goes the results of my findings:
Page Plus looks interesting - It uses Verizon’s network (which is the best apparently), and there is a $29.95 monthly plan with 250MB of data, 1200 minutes, 300 texts. Possibly enough to scrape by on, either that or grab their $55 plan with 2GB and unlimited texts / calls.
For the bold / those prepared to take a risk / waste some time, this might be a great option. I dropped it from consideration in the end because:
- iPhone 5 isn’t supported out of the box and it seemed uncertain as to whether there was a working ‘flash’ at all.
- They technically aren’t allowed to run iPhones on the network and it looks like there is a bit of cat and mouse to get one of their agents to activate your phone (This service activates based off your ESM number instead of using a sim). There is a risk you will have your service cut off if Verizon decide to crack down.
If you have a 4 or 4s this might still be a good solution for you, here goes a handy thread with help.
Other resellers like h2o dont seem to be much cheaper than what AT&T will give you (and use AT&T’s network). T-Mobile (this was 6 months ago when my friend was using it) sucks in NYC and you will end up on a barely working 1g network.
I would be interested if anyone can tell me otherwise, but I don’t think Verizon will sell you a prepay card that does data. Thats what their reps say anyway.
So.. that leaves our old friends AT&T..
I saw this post a while ago about how a developer managed to get a pay as you go calling plan with bolt on data for an iPhone. This is kindof the holy grail.. No monthly fees, just pay $25 each time you want to add 1GB of data, use it as you please. Pay 10c per minute if you make calls.
Maybe I am not as good at blagging AT&T sales reps, or maybe they have changed their plans in the 9 months since the above post was written.. but the rep I talked to was adamant that there was no way to get data on a pay as you go plan.. nada, nothing, zip.. even though I was carefully ambiguous about what phone it was for (“hmm, not sure.. my friend asked me to pick up a sim, i think its just a feature phone, but they do want the option of data.. etc…”)
The best offer I could get was a $25 monthly plan (250 anytime minutes, unlimited text), then a 1GB data add on for $25.
On the plus side the data add on doesn’t expire at the end of the month so 1GB can potentially stretch over 2-3 months depending on how I use it.
I did eventually grudgingly admit this was for an iPhone, but I am not sure if that would be a deal breaker or not.. I think the rep was just sick of me being trying to be clever by that stage and had also figured out my cunning plan (as I was leaving he told me to come back if I had trouble adjusting the APN settings :) )
So I got a gophone micro sim (no nanos), loaded it with $50 for my first month (including 1GB of data).
I cut the sim down carefully with scissors and got a nice fit (you basically just trim off all the plastic around the chip + a tiny bit more).
A visit to unlockit.co.nz and the APN settings were in.
Seems to be working nicely and tells me its on 4G.
So in summary:
I am still on AT&T as opposed to Verizon.. But AT&Ts network is… well, I guess the best way to describe it is ‘good enough, except when it isn’t’.
Anticipated monthly bill $35-$40, max of $50. Maybe $75 on a super blowout 2GB month.
Thats around half what I would pay on a plan which is great, and there will be no struggles if I need to pause my plan etc to travel.
If I didn’t already have an unlocked iPhone 5 I would possibly have just opted to go for a Verizon iPhone on a plan because its a better network .
I would be interested to hear if anyone has recently managed to get a cheaper prepay deal without the ongoing $25 per month.
And I guess its up to you to decide whether this is a principalled stand against carriers trapping people into pricing models that dont suit them, or just a start-up guy being a cheapskate :)