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[INFO][GSM] Own Your Cell Service ..with Prepaid and the Galaxy Nexus [UPDATED 5/24]

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Angry [INFO][GSM] Own Your Cell Service ..with Prepaid and the Galaxy Nexus [UPDATED 5/24]

WARNING: This guide should not be considered definitive nor accurate at all times. I'm going to try to keep things up to date if only to serve my own needs, but the responsibility to make your own choices in cell providers and how you spend your money are yours. Please do your own research.



Hey... up until recently I've been a loyal Sprint customer. Ten years worth of arguing with my friends who passed through Analog, TDMA, and finally GSM. I had better coverage, better data speeds, and frankly, a whole raft of why CDMA beat out GSM in technical merit. But what I did have in common with all my friends was a contract. The revolving 2 year door was a giant chain around our necks. When in 2008 I got laid off from my job at a hedge fund, I tried to get Sprint to let me out of my expensive data card contract and just keep my phone. They didn't.

Since then I've become rabidly anti-contract as cell service becomes more and more a commodity. But few people really understand what it means .. or even how .. to commoditize their cell service. We've become so used to the 2 year contract setup and postpaid system (as well as stigmatized that prepaid is for losers and deadbeats) that I've had to walk out on wireless store clerks who still argued data speeds, coverage, and their lineup of phones. The phone is becoming a PC, we want hardware features (dual core, screen size, amoled) and not software .. we bring what our phone does with us, just like our laptops and desktops. So why would we treat it any different from commodity hardware in other parts of the market? Insanity.

What is a commodity market, why is it good for me, and how do I participate?


A commodity market, simply put, is a range of products that are interchangeable with each other. Using one product does not provide a substantive difference from another. In the case of cell service, we all want three things: minutes, texts, and data. There are some differences in the products in this space, but they're negligible. Sure, one guy may have more coverage than another .. but the networks are built out enough where unless you live in some kind of hole, you can choose. Phone calls all sound (roughly) the same, text messages are all the same, and data rates are all very similar (1.5-5Mb/s is 'good enough', though some providers have some seriously high speed stuff .. with the data caps, I'm just going to download the giant BlueRay Rip on my home connection so it doesn't matter.) For most of us, all providers do the same thing. And this is good, that means we as consumer can choose based almost solely on price. Whoever has the best price will get the monthly fee, and whomever sticks it to their customer gets left with lots of people jumping ship. Overall, prices go down. But it only works if you take on the mentality of dealing with a commodity ...

Rules for Participation
- Define your minimum needs. I need unlimited minutes and at least 2GB of data a month. You have tons of tools to figure out your average usage, so work it out.
- A cell provider SHOULD NEVER be a commitment. Contracts are like HIV, once you get it they're not going away unless you have Magic Johnson amounts of cash.
- Names, branding, and customer service are to be ignored. I don't care if this month I'm using Retard Cellular, if they've got the best deal for my minimum needs I'm using it!
- Reevaluate the market regularly. I need to make sure I'm not blindly paying into my provider, I need to reward the best priced provider with my money!

That last line is really important and it's part of what makes our shiny new GSM phones absolutely brilliant. If you want you can jump between providers EVERY MONTH. We can do everything that is GSM and it makes no substantive difference. With the inclusion of the AWS bands usually only found on stuff labelled "T-Mobile" (or i9020T) this frees us from the horrors of vendor lock-in and truly makes commoditization of cell service possible.

Question: What about non-GSM providers like Sprint and Verizon?
Good question! Screw them. Both Sprint and Verizon have the ultimate in vendor lock-in, they have every phone they'll ever activate in their databases custom made for them. It's a dying model. GSM/LTE style SIM based technologies are the way forward. It's a worldwide standard and you'll be likely to see mega-band radios (5 or more!) as we progress into the future.

Question: So besides sticking it to the man, what do I gain from going to a commoditized model?
Cost savings. That's what this all comes down to. Saving your money and being smarter about how you spend it. Sprint sure loves their $10 you-have-a-cool-phone fee. F that. Screw extra fees, screw overage costs, screw desperately holding on to that grandfathered plan that you get $5 off on. Right now you'll pay pretty much $60 a month for unlimited talk and text with 2GB of data. My guess is that there's going to be a race to the bottom of costs as this model takes off (and it is, AT&T lost a pile of postpaid - that means contract - users and gain a ton more prepaid customers in Q4 2011).

Ok, so you're sold. What do you need?

1 - A GSM Galaxy Nexus Pentaband phone.
This phone allows you to use any GSM provider and get the maximum data rates from them. But you already know how awesome this phone is, you own it already!

2 - A stack of unactivated SIM cards.
If you're going to jump providers a lot, buy a pile of SIM cards off eBay. You'll usually be able to find SIM cards for a buck ($1). Buy 10 of each vendors' and have a variety.

3 - Optionally: Google Voice
This service has really matured over the last few years. It's free and works great with your Android phone. Port your number to GV if you want to keep it, or get a new one and tell all your friends you have a new number. (My God, you people who hold onto numbers like they're your own children need to understand that your number goes into someone's phonebook and is never seen again. No one memorizes numbers anymore, get over it and go through the new number process .. you'll see it's not hard. AND you'll be able to leave some people you don't want to have your number behind.) GV allows you to switch providers instantly without having to change you number with every SIM swap. Just set your new SIM's number up in GV and you're done. Also, GV's web based (and some windows clients) text messaging is really great for cube farmers like me who'll use it all day without having my phone's beeping pissing off the entire floor of cubes.

If you don't go the GV route, be prepared to port your number a lot. It can be done, but GV is so much easier.

So, the idea is simple. Review the plans offered by all of the providers. Choose their SIM, activate it, and pay for the month. At the end of the month, do the same thing again .. or stick with what you have if you want (most can be set up to do automatic payments) After 30-60 days (usually) an unused and zero value SIM card will be permanently deactivated. Shred it.

About the Providers

Service in the USA is really only provided by 2 major GSM carriers. You know them, they're AT&T and T-Mobile. Both have good coverage and both support HSPA+ (the fast data) in most metro places. HOWEVER, these two providers lease their towers to other companies called MVNO's (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). These guys give you the same coverage and service as AT&T and T-Mobile, but often at different price schemes. Below I've got a list of TEN (10) different operators you can buy service from! And they're not all the same price or features! This is where commoditization hits home. These 10 providers change prices and play against each other. Some are even the same company using different names but using different pricing and feature sets. The beauty of this arrangement is that YOU CAN CHOOSE. At any time (though it make sense monthly on your personal billing cycle) you can switch providers.

At the core it's still AT&T and T-Mobile. So let's look at the underlying networks:

AT&T: Signal at 850/1900, HSPA+ in metros (I haven't heard of much past 12Mb/s though) with great coverage nationwide, except for Nebraska and a big chunk of Maine. 850Mhz signal penetrates buildings better and repeater systems (like the one in my truck) will work with these bands. Data is overloaded in some places, most notably New York, but data rates may suffer in any major downtown .. you need to do your homework or try an AT&T SIM in the places you use it.

T-Mobile: Slightly less coverage, but quite built out in the last 10 years. 1700/2100 AWS band has a hard time with buildings sometimes and there's no install base of repeaters. Data is FAST where available, up to 42Mb/s. Less loaded than AT&T, but again, you need to test and see what works best for you.

Most of us in the US should be covered, but if you're not, it's not my problem. Try a contract on VZW if you can't get GSM coverage. I live in a city, and though I travel rurally frequently, metro functionality is my main requirement for coverage .. and both AT&T and T-Mobile work great.

Question: What about roaming?
There's no such thing on prepaid. Take a look at AT&T's coverage for postpaid contract and prepaid. There's a difference! Same goes for T-Mobile. Again, if you're in a position that you HAVE to roam on all these podunk little operators, then do what you must. But I do suggest you think critically on whether you really need coverage at that cabin in the mountains you go to once a year... is it worth the contract game for that one weekend a year?

REMEMBER: What works for one person may not be the right thing for another. Some people I know need only 250MB/mo .. they're on WiFi all the time. Me, I need about 1GB realistically, 2GB is my established minimum in case I need to do some tethering while on the road. Some people do just fine with the coverage of Simple Mobile (smallest national coverage) while others are better off with AT&T MVNOs. You need to make the decisions yourself. Just remember, you can change your mind at any time .. so if your test of Simple Mobile isn't working out, try an AT&T MVNO. If 2GB isn't enough, that $70 5GB plan on T-Mobile might do the trick. I always keep a few various sims in my laptop bag so if I'm on the road and I need more data or have poor coverage I can always pop in and activate a new one.

So, that's it. Free yourself from the carrier's contracts and postpaid bills and go prepaid. With a little bit of planning and effort you'll be riding the deals down in cost as the prepaid war heats up. It's just starting to boil ... and you're in a the perfect place to take advantage of it.

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


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RAW PROVIDER DATA - 02/27/2012
I'm still collating this.

T-Mobile Prepaid - http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/
Coverage: http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-coverage
$30/mo 100m unlim text 5G
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 100MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB
$70/mo unlim min unlim text 5G
Throttled to EDGE after data cap
Can disable voicemail
SIMs available on T-Mobile's site for $1, get a free SIM in-store for any of the above plans
WARNING: Activation requires an “activation code” that is not printed on the SIM. It is in the activation kit, but SIMs on eBay DO NOT HAVE THEM usually.

AT&T GO Phone -http://www.wireless.att.com/cell-pho...ones/index.jsp
Coverage: http://www.wireless.att.com/coverage...phone&opt=payg (Click GoPhone)
Pretty much crappy plans for our device. The GNex is a "smartphone" and requires a "data package", all of which suck.
$75/mo ($50/mo plan plus 500MB data) unlim min unlim text 500MB
SIMs on eBay $1, activate online

Simple Mobile (T-Mobile MVNO) - http://www.mysimplemobile.com/
Coverage: http://www.mysimplemobile.com/Simple...-Coverage.aspx
$40/mo unlim min unlim text 5-8GB (not published) at 119kb/s
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 5-8GB (not published) HSPA+ speeds
SIMs on eBay $1 – activate online

H20 Wireless (AT&T MVNO) - http://www.h2owirelessnow.com UPDATE: Data size changes
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 500MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB "500MB at 4x speeds"??
SIMs on eBay $1 – activate online

Red Pocket Mobile (AT&T MVNO) http://goredpocket.com
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 250MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB
SIMs on eBay $1 – activate online

Jolt Mobile (AT&T MVNO) - www.joltmobile.com
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 250MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB
SIMs hard to find online (ebay, ~$10), activate online
[
Skyview (AT&T MVNO) -http://www.skyvw.com UPDATE: Data size changes
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 500MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB "500MB at 4x speeds"??
SIMs Hard to find on eBay, activate online

MyBlack Wireless (AT&T MVNO) - http://myblackwireless.com/
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 250MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 1GB
SIMs Hard to find on eBay, activate online

AirVoice Wireless (AT&T MVNO) - http://www.airvoicewireless.com/
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 100MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 500MB
SIMs on eBay $1 – activate online

Pure Talk (AT&T MVNO) - http://www.puretalkusa.com/
Coverage: AT&T Go Phone
$43.95/mo unlim min unlim text 300MB
SIMs hard to find on eBay, activate online

Straight Talk (AT&T/T-Mobile MVNO) http://www.straighttalksim.com/
Coverage: AT&T and/or T-Mobile (depends on local coverage, select when you order a sim)
Additional Note: ST voice (not data) roams on other networks (including a lot of the little ones), potentially even on sister networks (AT&T will voice roam on T-Mobile and vice-versa). This likely is the largest coverage MVNO out there.
$45.00/mo unlim min unlim text "unlim" data*
* Data usage limits are not specified in the documentation .. the going theory is that 100MB/2GB a month is about "safe", though there's a lot of stories that talk about different (even more) usage. This is the sticking point of ST, you really don't know what metrics they use and you can get cut off .. so YMMV. AT&T users, including myself, are getting the standard att.mvno APN speeds of 7Mb/s or so .. so it's not throttled like the Simple Mobile $40 plan or anything.
SIMs found on their website for $15 with free 3-day shipping. Activate online.

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


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I Am Personally Using:

Straight Talk $45 unlim talk/text with ~2GB (see notes above on data limits)

I have used:

Red Pocket $60 unlim talk/text with 2GB
T-Mobile $70 unlim talk/text with 5GB
Simple Mobile $60 unlim talk/text with ?? GB

*** NEW ***

Some AT&T MVNOs have changed to some kind of 500MB at "4x" speeds, then some kind of slowdown up to 2GB. I have no idea what this means ... if anyone actually uses these offbeat plans, please report it.

StraightTalk appears to be the best deal for full "unlimited", given the caveats about data use.

T-Mobile's $30 still rocks for high data with 100mins.

Some notes: T-Mobile activation of SIMs can take "up to 24 to 48 hours". (as said by several CSRs) Mission activation codes CAN be overridden if they do not work, but they will backtrack the source of the SIMs by order number and tracking number. I had trouble with shipped SIMs with activation codes online, and CSRs took forever to get activated.

Simple Mobile SIMs can be activated online without CSR intervention and are immediately provisioned and available. (Other MVNOs do the same as well)

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


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Jameslepable
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I read through all your info even though I am in the UK. It just amazes me how much your service provides rip you guys off over there. $70 for unlimited calls, texts and 5GB of data. That's just ridiculous. Over here a company called GiffGaff (<<<<) uses o2's signal and towers. I get for £10 (~£7) 250 minutes (not much off a call guy) unlimited texts and unlimited data (tethering not allowed). It just seems they rip you guys off so much because they can tbh.

I do agree with your point about GSM though. Its a thing of beauty. If my service provider hikes prices up or lowers data/text limit and The is a better option I can just jump ship. I bought the phone and own it outright why should we have to stay with just one provider when other companies can give us more bang for our buck. That's the whole point of capitalism, competition.
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(Last edited by LionAR10; 20th January 2012 at 06:46 PM.) Reason: Add caller's charge rates for cell in UK.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jameslepable View Post
I read through all your info even though I am in the UK. It just amazes me how much your service provides rip you guys off over there. $70 for unlimited calls, texts and 5GB of data. That's just ridiculous. Over here a company called GiffGaff (<<<<) uses o2's signal and towers. I get for £10 (~£7) 250 minutes (not much off a call guy) unlimited texts and unlimited data (tethering not allowed). It just seems they rip you guys off so much because they can tbh.

I *really* don't want to stand up for our cost structure ... but there might be a mitigating circumstance ..

United States Of America: Total size area: 9,631,418 sq km
United Kingdom: Total size area: 244,820 sq km

"The state of Wisconsin in America is almost the same size as the UK [...]" or "[...] slightly smaller than Oregon."

My phone works in a significant portion of that 9,631,418 sq km. Some of the really regional providers can be cheaper (like MetroPCS), but it's still a problem of lots and lots and lots of infrastructure.

Also .. I should mention that from the US on my business line I can call the UK (land lines) for the same price as calling down the street. (About a cent and a half) However, if I call a UK cell phone, I get hit with a 30c/m charge. That's a significant difference in how the calling rates are structured.

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


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Quote:
Originally Posted by LionAR10 View Post
RAW PROVIDER DATA - 01/20/2012
I'm still collating this.

T-Mobile Prepaid - http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/
Coverage: http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-coverage
$30/mo 100m unlim text 5G
$50/mo unlim min unlim text 100MB
$60/mo unlim min unlim text 2GB
$70/mo unlim min unlim text 5G
Throttled to EDGE after data cap
You are missing one more prepaid plan - http://www.tmonews.com/2012/01/t-mob...y-mobile-plan/
 
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You are missing one more prepaid plan - http://www.tmonews.com/2012/01/t-mob...y-mobile-plan/
Good call, though this is an odd one .. postpaid, but no contract .. and 5GB for a couple months then 250M. But I love the fact that TMO is playing with prices like this though. Their offerings post-AT&T debacle seem to show a real interest in pushing some boundaries. And AT&T said the merger would be good for competition ... smh

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


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martonikaj
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Good info, and interesting timing! My pre-paid SIM activation kit for T-Mobile is in the mail to my house right now Shooting for the $30 100min / UL text / UL (5GB) Data.

I also found it interesting about Simple Mobile. I'd looked at them before but thought it was kinda shady how they offer different plans for "3G speeds" and "4G speeds".

Found 1 typo:
Quote:
$75/mo ($50/mo plan plus 500GB data) unlim min unlim text 500GB
Assuming that is 500mb?
Quit signing contracts, stop overpaying for service, GO PREPAID!
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Originally Posted by martonikaj View Post
Good info, and interesting timing! My pre-paid SIM activation kit for T-Mobile is in the mail to my house right now Shooting for the $30 100min / UL text / UL (5GB) Data.

I also found it interesting about Simple Mobile. I'd looked at them before but thought it was kinda shady how they offer different plans for "3G speeds" and "4G speeds".

Found 1 typo:


Assuming that is 500mb?
That $30 5GB is a killer plan for the data, I'm all over it if I need to run a tablet or USB modem.

As far as Simple goes, yeah, I can personally confirm the 119kb/s throttle. But it works great for my gf, who still does email, surfs the web, and plays Pandora on it all day at work ... she doesn't notice it being slow. I, however, being the obvious cellphone geek I am, want more than that!

And thanks, typo fixed.

See you in hell contracts, go prepaid: Galaxy Nexus Prepaid Thread
Currently in use: Straight Talk BYOD $45/mo 'Unlimited' Prepaid


 
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That $30 5GB is a killer plan for the data, I'm all over it if I need to run a tablet or USB modem.

As far as Simple goes, yeah, I can personally confirm the 119kb/s throttle. But it works great for my gf, who still does email, surfs the web, and plays Pandora on it all day at work ... she doesn't notice it being slow. I, however, being the obvious cellphone geek I am, want more than that!
Yep the plan is a good deal for sure. I'm not a huge voice user, but I easily push 5GB data per month right now. I'm on a $60 ($70 after taxes) Even More+ Plan right now and dropping it for pre-paid. Gonna save ~$40 a month, therefore subsidizing my purchase of the Galaxy Nexus Plan on using GrooVe IP to substitute out a few minutes. I'm having mixed results atm.

If its too few minutes for me, I'm just going to bump up to the $70 UL voice / UL text / UL (5GB) data pre-paid plan. Same price as current but with UL voice lol. Really win-win.
Quit signing contracts, stop overpaying for service, GO PREPAID!
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