Why I made jump to Prepaid phone service
After leaving my Sprint contract in January 2011 because of my terrible experience with them, I made up my mind to never sign a contract for cellular service again. I purchased a used HTC G2 and moved to T-Mobile no-contract Postpaid service. At the time, it was a huge victory. I was “sticking it to the carriers” by buying unsubsidized (in this case used) and not signing a contract. After months with the service, it was pretty evident that T-Mobile’s main goal was to get me onto a contract. Every single customer service call was a chance for them to up-sell me to a contract plan and device — it even came to the point where they were cold-calling me, offering services on contract. This had to stop.
In mid January of this year, I decided to take my wireless service into my own hands. Just a year after moving from Sprint contract Postpaid to T-Mobile no-contract Postpaid, I devised my plan to buy an unlocked GSM Galaxy Nexus, and make the move all the way to Prepaid service. My previous plan with T-Mobile offered 500 minutes (which I never used), Unlimited SMS/MMS, and 5GB of data, but cost me $70 monthly. My previous Sprint contract? Over $80 monthly. Following some advice from a great thread on XDA-developers, I made my decision to go with a T-Mobile (Walmart) Prepaid plan. The plan offers 100 minutes of talk, Unlimited SMS/MMS, and 5GB of un-throttled data — all for just $30 per month, $40 less than T-Mobile Postpaid.
Before continuing, I should point out that there are some caveats when looking at this plan:
1) There are no nights, weekends, or mobile-to-mobile minutes on this plan. 100 means 100. This can be a deal-breaker for some on this plan. Don’t worry, there are other options with more minutes! (As well as Google Voice solutions, which I’ll get into later in this post.)
2) Don’t expect customer support. One of the ways that these plans achieve low cost is outsourcing CS. If you call in to T-Mobile, you’ll be forwarded to India for support, and only support for services, not for hardware.
3) No roaming. Now, if you’re like most people, you spend 99% of your time within the city limits. In that case, you won’t ever need roaming. If you plan on getting cell service on the top of a mountain somewhere, you should probably look elsewhere.
Still interested? Let’s move on to setting up the plan!
Order your SIM and SIM activation kit online directly from T-Mobile. It is $1.99 with free shipping, and the card actually has ~$3.50 in credit pre-loaded, so they’re actually paying you to activate it. When the card arrives (for me it took an atrocious 8 business days), open up the entire packet and pop out the SIM, and take down the required numbers from your device of choice (IMEI# and SIM# specifically). Go to T-Mobile’s Prepaid Activation page and follow the prompts. Enter your information and choose the plan you want. Be sure to read the fine print here: only the $30 and $70 plans offer 5GB of un-throttled data. Other plans will only offer 25MB, 250MB, or 2GB. Be realistic about how much data you will use. Once you’ve completed activation, enter your credit card # and pay for the service. You now have 30 days of use out of a phone for just a touch over $1 per day!
Contrary to the way typical contract postpaid services work, you must pay before you use the service. Now once you get into the swing of it the payments will be no different than you’re used to. You’ll still pay once per month and your service will never stop unless you stop paying. The difference will be that your card is charged exactly every 30 days, with no exceptions. The beauty of this system is that there are no overages, fees, or nickel-and-dime schemes. Since you pay for the service up front, they can’t charge you more later. You get what you pay for — no more, no less.
This — or any prepaid plan setup — wouldn’t be complete without a quick praise of Google Voice. Now, this is probably best saved for another blog post to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I’ll give the overview. Most people’s interaction with Google Voice consists of setting up Voicemail on your Android device that lets you check it in your e-mail, by text message, or in any browser. Actually, GV goes much, much farther than this if you’re willing to put in the time for setup. Going to the Google Voice website will get you started. Choose a number with any qualifications you have — you can search by area code, number combination, or spelling. I personally snagged a number which has the same 7-digits as my current carrier number, but with a Maryland area code. After doing so, you can now call and text from this number as if it were provided by a carrier. Calls made on the computer are 100% free to/from US numbers, and SMS sent both on the computer and device are free also. I’ll be the first to admit that a love/hate relationship quickly forms with Google Voice, but as I said, if you’re willing to put in the man hours for setup, the rewards are numerous. I personally would not be able to do prepaid without it.
I’m now just over a month into this service, and I can honestly say I couldn’t be happier with how it has gone. The service is great, the cost savings are huge, and I get the feeling of satisfaction every day I see someone with an AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint phone knowing that I’m paying far less for the same service. The one bit of caution I can give is to really do your research. I spent a good 2 weeks hunting down the specifics and making sure that everything would work as I expect. That being said, I would definitely advise trying it on for size — at the very most you’re out $31.99 for a month of service to see if it will work for you. I think that’s worth every penny.