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Ask Slashdot: A Cheap US Cellphone Plan With an Unlocked Phone? 288

Posted by timothy
from the on-this-point-europe-wins-big dept.
metrix007 writes "I am a recent immigrant to the U.S. I am used to going to countries and paying a small amount, say, $30, for a simcard and using it with my unlocked phone. I can't seem to do that in the U.S., where the only options seem to be to buy a phone and buy minutes as I need them such as with Tracfone, or a contract where I pay an amount per month to pay off a phone and a certain amount of minutes. I have a Google Nexus One, which is better than any phone offered on the basic plans from all the cell providers. Is there any way I can use it as a cell phone in the U.S. for about $30-$50/month? It seems a shame to waste it and have to pay for a lesser phone."
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Ask Slashdot: A Cheap US Cellphone Plan With an Unlocked Phone?

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  • SimpleMobile (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2012 @08:48AM (#41009941)

    Simple Mobile. Enough said.

  • t-mobile (Score:5, Informative)

    by datapharmer (1099455) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @08:49AM (#41009965) Homepage
    get the online/walmart $35 plan which has unlimited data or pay by the minute at 10 cents a minute if you don't use it much. You can also get unlimited text/data/voice on at&t or t-mobile through net10 for $45/month - check their website as the deal is online only. tell it you are using an at&t locked phone if you want at&t otherwise they send t-mobile by default
  • by aetherspoon (72997) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @08:55AM (#41010105) Homepage

    Those are pretty much your only options on the GSM front. T-Mob has a 30 USD/month plan for 100 minutes and unlimited text/data, but all of their other plans are more expensive than straighttalk for smartphones (probably featurephones as well).

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:3, Informative)

    by fragMasterFlash (989911) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @08:55AM (#41010115)
    For those of us who don't live way out in the boondocks T-Mobile service is on par with every other carrier.
  • by Brad_McBad (1423863) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:02AM (#41010247)

    Go to the T-Mobile web-store and buy a SIM activation kit for $1. When you receive it, follow the activation instructions on the web and when it asks you to choose your plan, select "Monthly 4G $30"

    * Unlimited internet*
    * Unlimited Text
    * 100 minutes talktime

    It's basically a prepay deal where the available balance will drop by $30 a month, so you just need to top-up once a month, and make sure you have enough credit to cover any calls you make over the 100 minutes No ongoing contracts.

    Deal is web-only.

    *Unlimited internet means up to 5GB at HSPDA+ speeds.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:12AM (#41010407) Homepage

    "T-Mobile or AT&T would be happy to sell no commitment service on your existing GSM phone."

    At full price. He asked for "CHEAP". and nothing AT&T is cheap.

  • Frequency bands (Score:5, Informative)

    by Megane (129182) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:16AM (#41010489) Homepage

    I'm surprised to see that nobody has mentioned frequency bands yet. It sounds like your phone is a European model. The problem is that different parts of the world use different frequencies for mobile phone service, and now even different technologies, too.

    From what I understand, pretty much all of Europe uses the GSM on the same frequency bands, so you can shuffle around SIM cards all day. But in the US, the frequencies are different from Europe. Even more of a problem is that GSM isn't dominant here. And now 3G and 4G are coming.

    So sure, you could stick in a SIM card, but can your phone even talk on the right frequencies? If it is a "quad band" [thetravelinsider.info] phone, you may be in luck.

  • by dcraw999 (1390597) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:17AM (#41010517)
    http://www.cellguru.net/prepaid_compare.htm [cellguru.net] I think you'll find something you can use.
  • Re:SimpleMobile (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:18AM (#41010531)

    Agree. Simple Mobile's whole business model is SIM card only, bring your own phone, pre-pay, no contracts. $40/month gets you unlimited talk, text and non-tetherable 3G data. For another $20/month you can get unlimited non-tetherable 4G data instead. (They have separate data-only limited plans that do allow tethering, but they're not necessarily the best value for plans of that type.) The quoted price is the price you actually pay, no taxes or mystery fees tacked on. Truly simple, no nonsense. http;//mysimplemobile.com.

  • Straight Talk (Score:5, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cCOWornell.edu minus herbivore> on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:27AM (#41010695) Homepage

    T-Mobile's coverage is extremely limited, AND their 3G network is incompatible with most phones sold by them. The only non-TMo phones that work are the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus and AT&T LTE devices running hacked radio firmware.

    Straight Talk provides MVNO service on both T-Mo or AT&T networks (you choose when you purchase the SIM).

    $15 for initial SIM purchase, $45/month thereafter. Plan includes unlimited voice and texts (with no apparent "stealth limits") - the one disadvantage is that they claim "unlimited" data but it's really 2GB.

    Personally I only use 500MB or so a month, so I'm going to them when my AT&T contract is up.

    ST's BYOD plans are a fairly recent development, not many people are aware of them.

  • by FeatherBoa (469218) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:30AM (#41010745)

    This really is a topic for mobile phone specific forum. My favourite is HowardForums. Here is a link to the US pre-payed/MVNO forums: http://www.howardforums.com/forumdisplay.php/325-US-Prepaid-MVNO-Discussion [howardforums.com]

    There are lots of people there who know what's up with pre-paid and low-cost options.

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:2, Informative)

    by demonlapin (527802) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:31AM (#41010759) Homepage Journal
    The tenth largest city in the US is San Jose, with a population just under a million. 540k would be the 33rd largest city in the country. Don't know what you're smoking.
  • Re:Frequency bands (Score:4, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@cCOWornell.edu minus herbivore> on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:32AM (#41010773) Homepage

    Many high-end international smartphones support AT&T's frequency bands.

    However - almost no devices support T-Mobiles 1700 MHz AWS band used for 3G service. The only ones I am aware of:
    Devices sold by T-Mobile USA
    HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus
    AT&T LTE devices that have had hacked radios installed. (Effectively, flashing T-Mobile firmware on an AT&T device that had identical hardware - examples are the AT&T Skyrocket and AT&T Galaxy Note.)

    However, plenty of international devices support AT&T's bands:
    Samsung Galaxy S2 (GT-I9100)
    Samsung Galaxy Note (GT-N7000)
    Samsung Galaxy S3 (GT-I9300)

    Probably plenty of others - I just happen to be most familiar with Samsungs.

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:4, Informative)

    by drummerboybac (1003077) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:34AM (#41010803)

    540k people city *is* the boondocks. Sorry. If your city doesn't crack a million it's not even in the top 50 cities

    Is Boston then a boondocks city? It has 625,087 people as of 2011. How about San Francisco or San Jose? You are way off base that if a city doesnt crack a million its not in the top 50, only 9 cities actually crack a million, a city with 540k would be #33 [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Frequency bands (Score:4, Informative)

    by King InuYasha (1159129) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:39AM (#41010879) Homepage

    The Google Nexus One sold in Europe is UMTS 900/AWS/2100 and GSM 850/900/1800/1900. It'll work fine on T-Mobile USA.

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:4, Informative)

    by hazydave (96747) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:52AM (#41011115)

    That is correct ... T-Mo currently does voice and 2G at 1900MHz (they don't have an 850MHz slot), and 1700/2100MHz for 3G/HSPA/etc.

    That may be changing, though. They're supposedly planning to phase out 2G entirely, move 3G/HSPA to the 1900MHz band (and ... 2100MHz? There's not enough bandwidth at 1900MHz for a full 3G data connection), and then start up LTE at 1700MHz. This follows their deal with AT&T... after the merger failed to pass regulators, AT&T was required to pay T-Mobile a huge pile of cash. Much of that's being paid in AWS spectrum formerly owned by AT&T. Presumably, T-Mobile's getting enough to launch a viable LTE service at 1700MHz... I have not seen any fine detail on this yet.

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:54AM (#41011159)

    In Germany, Deutsche Telekom was one of the first to market with a mobile service, which they named T-Mobile, so they have excellent coverage and commensurate high prices. In America, they tried to get their foot in the door by buying out a small carrier named VoiceStream in the late nineties, well after the current major players were established.

    Verizon Wireless is the one with the best coverage and highest prices in the US; they were formed after a series of mergers in the mid-nineties. (They used to just cram the names together before they invented the word "Verizon", but it started to get ridiculous. I remember in the northeast, for a while they ended up with the really awkward name "Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile", after they gobbled up AirTouch they decided they couldn't just keep adding words like that). AT&T Mobility is the second biggest, they used to be called Cingular Wireless and before that they were called AT&T Wireless, because the owners couldn't decide if the AT&T brand was good or bad, so they spent billions on advertising switching back and forth. Sprint and Nextel were two unsustainably small players until they merged and became third largest; they're technically "Sprint Nextel" now but they've been downplaying that second word for years.

    Anyway, the two big ones try to compete on coverage area while the two small ones generally compete on price.

  • Re:Straight Talk (Score:4, Informative)

    by clonehappy (655530) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:04AM (#41011315)

    Avoid T-Mobile compatible phones for this service. Straight Talk is an MVNO [wikipedia.org] and T-Mobile is a bunch of dicks. They won't let outside SMS messages thru. AT&T doesn't do that to MVNOs and SMS/MMS works fine.

    While you are correct about Straight Talk being a better overall value for a primary phone (and T-Mobile being a bunch of dicks), it is patently false that T-Mobile does not allow SMS from other carriers. They most certainly allow SMS/MMS to and from all major carriers foreign and domestic. They DO block non-mobile SMS short codes for obvious billing reasons (prepaid users racking up huge charges with 3rd parties that they don't have the funds to cover).

    The main reason NOT to get T-Mobile for any service in my opinion is because they censor their internet access unless you give them your (valid, verifiable) ID/SSN. That is a complete joke, their WebGuard blocks many perfectly acceptable sites that they deem "unacceptable to minors", whatever that means. Avoid them like the plague if you care about freedom, but their SMS/MMS system actually does work fine.

  • no to t-mobile (Score:2, Informative)

    by PatentMagus (1083289) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @11:11AM (#41012331)

    If you absolutely have to keep using that nexus 1, then you may be stuck with t-mobile or (maybe) at&t. Make that "trying to use that nexus 1". I reluctantly gave up on GSM phones in the US when I couldn't get signal any more. At first, everything was fine. Good signal. Solid connections. Then t-mobile "optimized" something and I rarely got signal at home. My signal at work was sketchy. The signal was fine down the road a bit. A new phone had the same symptoms. I live and work in a typical sprawled out american city. T-mobile gave me a one time refund on my bill and then refused to budge because I still got service when I wasn't home.

    Yes - that's right. T-mobile thought it was perfectly reasonable to bill me because I could go down the road a mile and make a call, check voice mail, etc.

    Anyways, I now have a contract with verizon. I pay more. I can't swap a phones by moving a GSM sim card. I can't play with the cool new google phones. But I -can- actually make calls, receive calls, message, use that data plan, etc.

    I'm going to buy a simplemobile sim card today just to test things out.

  • Re:t-mobile (Score:4, Informative)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Thursday August 16, 2012 @11:53AM (#41012917)

    If you are using Android, turn on Settings->Wireless and network->Mobile network settings->Data roaming.

    Not sure why this is unchecked by default. T-Mobile is unusable even on Long Island without it.

    Because data roaming can be expensive? It's off by default so people don't go overseas and suddenly come home to a $2000 phone bill because their phone was happily checking their email inbox. (Roaming data rates are around 5 cents per kB. A SI kB, not a kiB! Or $50/MB)

    A movie can easily cost you $12K or more.

    That's why it's off by default - in case the phone accidentally goes into roaming mode (which can happen near the border), you won't run up a huge bill. Especially if T-mo is that bad and you end up roaming on another network - that other network can easily be one across the border with a particularly strong signal.

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