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

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 @09:48AM (#41009941)

    Simple Mobile. Enough said.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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;//mysimp

    • by Anonymous Coward

      T-Mobile has some good planless options too - especially if you bring your own phone.

      • I currently have the T-Mobile Prepay $30/month plan for my wife (1500 minutes or texts, very little data) and the other $30/month plan for myself (100 minutes with 5GB "4G" Data, unlimited texts). I usually go over by about 100 minutes which costs me $10. I'm next to a landline all day at work and still have a landline at home (for overseas calls) so I don't really need many mobile minutes.

        Boost has the best deal I could find, with plans that go down to $35 for unlimited... but bring-your-own can be quite d

        • I have the same plan, along with Vitelity paygo setup for using the internal SIP client. Works fairly well, though I wish the internal client had more and selectable codecs based on available bandwidth. I'm considering Bria with G729a, but from what I've read it's not up to snuff given the price.

      • T-Mobile has some good planless options too - especially if you bring your own phone.

        Right now T-Mobile has a $30/month plan that is unlimited text, 5GB of 3G/4G data (throttled to 2G above that), and 100 minutes of talk. I'm switching to it as soon as I work through the rest of my AT&T prepaid balance.

    • Check the coverage first. If you venture outside of cities, T-Mobile's coverage is lacking.

  • by stillnotelf ( 1476907 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:48AM (#41009951)
    I love how long this post has gone without replies (25 minutes, unless there's some sort of database lag I don't see). I guess that's a damning indictment of the US telecom industry and their pricing practices...
    • Or an indictment of that damn sun, rising and setting, creating this silly "day" that we have to put up with, lots of people being "asleep" when this was posted.

      • Actually, looking at the timestamps, it was some sort of timestamp/database issue...the story nominally posted at 9:26 EST, but no posts at all show up until 9:48, at which point there are quite a few. You're right that the West Coast folks were blissfully snoozing.
  • t-mobile (Score:5, Informative)

    by datapharmer ( 1099455 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:49AM (#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
    • I agree, T-mobile is the way to go As a foreigner who had the chance to live in Seattle for 2 years, I faced a similar situation, and found out that while AT&T wouldn't offer any soltions, T-Mobile was a lot more friendly with international travelers.
    • Straight Talk (Score:5, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:27AM (#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 chill ( 34294 )

        Just FYI, T-Mobile doesn't let outside SMS/MMS messages thru for the MVNOs.

        That is, using Straight Talk, you won't receive any text message sent to you from anyone who is not on T-Mobile or Straight Talk. They were blocking the 2-factor text messages that Bank of America sends when I had them.

        I switched to an AT&T SIM and it works fine.

      • by kerskine ( 46804 )

        +1 on StraightTalk. Just got my daughter and wife refurbed iPhones and signed them up. Coverage is great and the plan is month-to-month.

      • Their network is incompatible with most phones NOT sold by them...

  • T-Mobile have a Value series of plans specifically for people who own their phone already that have a discount on the monthly rate. It's actually the plan I'm on right now. Also I'm 99% sure both T-Mobile and AT&T offer the ability to buy pay-as-you-go SIMs that include data.

    • T-Mobile also has a pay-as-you-go plan that tends to be $10 more per month but does not require signing a 2-year contract. But, at this point you might just want to go with simple mobile or other company that piggybacks on the big carrier's network.
  • You cant take your nexus to them but they and republic wireless are about the best bets fro cheap reliable phone service.

  • They don't advertise it via the Web, but T Mobile appears to be the vendor of choice among people who want minimum commitment mobile phones. Devices start at $20, unlimited SMS is $15 month to month. []

    We downgraded from smartphones to unlimited text + pay to talk, and haven't looked back. I already carry a 4G wifi and a laptop at all times, so the ~$100 a month for a fragile device (hardware and software) with 4 hours of battery life and probable spyware just

  • by aetherspoon ( 72997 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @09:55AM (#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).

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      T-Mobile also has pre-paid only plans. No contract, and you only pay when you run out of minutes. Using this my cell bill averages around $200 a year for voice only. But YMMV for your usage and requirements.

    • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      I recently saw a somewhat informative article about prepaid plans [] and a follow-up article [] by the same author which talks about his experience with having switched to T-Mobile's $30 a month plan.

      I'm definitely considering making the switch myself, but i'm currently on T-Mobile's "Value" plan, paying $65 a month for 500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, and "unlimited" data. I'll have to take a closer look at exactly how many minutes of talk i use to see if it's worth switching to the 100 minutes a month pla
  • My new favorite plan is PlatinumTel. I just bought an Android handset for $60 and signed up for a plan that only requires a minimum of $10 every three months. Texts are 2 cents, voice is 5 cents, and data is 10 cents/MB. However, it's an Android phone, so anyplace that has wireless is free. (e.g., it's a great phone for the wife and kids)

    My personal phone is currently an Android handset on a $25/month unlimited data + 300 minutes Virgin Mobile plan, but I'm pretty sure that plan's not available for new

  • T-mobile prepaid plans can cost as little as $10/year. Once you have bought $100 worth of minutes, the top-up period increases to 1 year with the smallest amount being $10. No, there is no data, but if you're on a budget you can always find free wi-fi somewhere.

  • I did a quick search on the AT&T site and came across this. []

    You can buy the SIM, enter the IMEI of your phone and then choose what plan you want. Seems like you'd be able to do this in stores, too, but I have no idea.

    There's also this support page ( for getting a SIM card for a phone you already own.

  • Your Google Nexus One is T-Mobile compatible for high speed data access, so check out the Monthly4G [] offering.

    They offer unlimited talk, text, and web for $50/mo, and a plan with 100 minutes of talk, unlimited text and web for $30/mo with additional minutes for $0.10/min.

    Also, if you are willing to spend a little money to get a more advanced phone later on, I'd recommend picking up either a Samsung Galaxy Nexus [] ($349) or the Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G [] ($300). Both options do not require a contract and are co

    • I second that. T-Mobile is the only major carrier in US to allow buying a phone elsewhere. It's coverage does not match that of Verizon but I was fine everywhere in NE save some wild mountain ranges.It also offers best bang for the buck compared to AT&T and Verizon.

      I believe this is the correct link: []
  • I use a provider called TruPhone. They are pre-paid and charge $0.15 per minute, and $0.15/MB for data in the USA. If you spend a lot of time talking on your phone or using data while you're out, this isn't the option for you. If you're within wifi 90% of your day, paired with google voice, it could be an option.
  • by Brad_McBad ( 1423863 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:02AM (#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.

  • There are a few smaller carriers that lease AT&T's GSM network.
    Boost [] (They seem to cater to people with bad credit)
    Cricket []($55 unlimited everything but data is throttled after 2.5GB.)
    Consumer Cellular [](Great if you just make phone calls, data costs an arm and a leg)
  • On my last couple trips to the US, I've picked up a $25 SIM for my unlocked iphone at an AT&T store. It's good for up to 3 months, with 250 minutes and unlimited SMS. No data, but wi-fi is everywhere. You can buy more time if you need to
  • by cheesethegreat ( 132893 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:14AM (#41010453)

    Sorry, but is this really a Ask Slashdot-worthy story? Better placed to ask on any of a dozen different travel forums, or to raise it in mobile phone forums (of which I hear the kids these days have quite a few).

    A quick LMGTFY link to help wrap up the conversation []

  • Frequency bands (Score:5, Informative)

    by Megane ( 129182 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:16AM (#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" [] phone, you may be in luck.

    • Pentaband would be the best. I'm not sure if the Nexus phones are equipped as such or not. I know Nokia makes some that are.

      If it doesn't get 3G on AT&T it should on T-Mobile, should it not?

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

      by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:32AM (#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.

      • Thanks for that information, I misunderstood the bands that T-Mobile used.

        To add to your list of international devices that work with AT&T, the Nokia N9 will as well (from personal experience last month).

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

      by King InuYasha ( 1159129 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:39AM (#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.

  • by dcraw999 ( 1390597 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:17AM (#41010517) [] I think you'll find something you can use.
  • A SIM car for an unlocked phone costs $15. Unlimited talk, text and web costs $45 per month.

    I dumped AT&T and T-Mobile a few months ago and haven't looked back. This is cheaper and the same networks.

    Avoid T-Mobile compatible phones for this service. Straight Talk is an MVNO [] 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.

    I currently have a Google Samsung Galaxy Nexus and a HTC Glacier (MyTouch 4G) using this plan.

    If you

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

      by clonehappy ( 655530 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @11:04AM (#41011315)

      Avoid T-Mobile compatible phones for this service. Straight Talk is an MVNO [] 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.

      • by chill ( 34294 )

        No, I am not incorrect. However, I might have been unclear. Let me try again.

        When using an MVNO like Straight Talk that resells using T-Mobile's network, T-Mobile *does not allow non-network text messages thru*.

        If you have standard T-Mobile service from TMO themselves, they do allow those messages.

        Using T-Mobile I can get text messages from Google, my bank, and friends on other networks like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

        Using a Straight Talk account with a T-Mobile SIM I can only receive text messages from

  • by FeatherBoa ( 469218 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @10:30AM (#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: []

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

  • About 6 months ago I switched one of my phones over to the "StraightTalk" plan from Good Old Wal*Mart. Yes, it's a repackaging of the TracFone service, and runs on the AT&T network. I get 30 days of 'unlimited' voice-text-data for $45 (or less), and the service has been predictably the same as the AT&T I moved from.

    I now pay 40% less for the same service I had before on this phone, given that there is no iPhone Tax this way. You can get the SIM card at you local WallyWorld, or online.

    I plan to

  • If you want to use your existing phone, you probably don't have a lot of choice. I assume it's a GSM phone which means you're either going to use AT&T or T-Mobile. If you want to use data and want 3G speeds, then you need to know what frequency bands your phone supports. T-Mobile and AT&T use different frequencies for 3G, and I don't believe the Nexus One supported both. So it's either a T-Mobile compatible phone or an AT&T compatible phone. Either way, you can probably use it for either ca

    • Every time I think cell service options in Canada are awful, I look up the American situation, it makes me feel slightly better.

      I'm amazed every time I look at this industry.

      • In the US I can walk into a store, and buy a contract free phone for under $40 and use it immediately. When I visited Canada, such an option did not appear to exist. And unfortunately my US cell phone didn't seem to work at all in Vancouver. I suppose if I got a more expensive US carrier I could have at least did some roaming, but $25/mo for unlimited data is pretty hard to pass up, even if the data is a little slow.

        • The best deal I can find in Canada is Koodo, and even they suck.

          It's $20 a month for 50 minutes / 50 outgoing texts, and I owe them the balance on the phone price when I leave them.

          I I lived in a different city, I could get Wind for unlimited text / talk / data for $29.

  • I have been using various unlocked iPhones on T-Mobile US for the past four years. There are two drawbacks with that approach. You can't use 3G (only EDGE) data, which makes for somewhat slower and less reliable data service. The second is coverage - T-Mobile just isn't great. Cost is $50/month, plus about $400 for the phone itself (found on Craigslist, had to look one that had an older baseband firmware). One advantage is that I can pop in a European SIM card whenever I go to Europe. When the new iPhone
  • $100 + sales tax gets you 1000 minutes good for a year. Any subsequent refills, even if smaller $ amounts are good for a year and extend current balance as well. Text msgs are 10c each way (used to be 5). So if you don't text a crazy amount and instead call people, its a pretty good deal. You would have to be a very heavy user of minutes ot justify a monthly plan and it sounds like you are not.

  • []

    You can't get any cheaper then free, if you are eligible of course. Do NOT know if the phone is unlocked, but unlike Assurance Wireless [] the phone uses a sim card, so you can buy a better phone then the cheap one they give ya.

    But hey, it's free, I use it. Why the hell should I pay any money monthly for the extra bullshit I don't use?

  • by Foresto ( 127767 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @01:17PM (#41013287) Homepage

    There is a very useful table of prepaid plans [] over at Howard Forums. Since you have a GSM phone, you'll want one of the carriers that uses AT&T's or T-Mobile's network.

    I'm pretty happy with T-Mobile's $30 monthly prepaid plan [], since I rarely need many talk minutes and I'm willing to live with 2G data speeds until they refarm their 1900 MHz spectrum to support 3G [] later this year.

  • by beegle ( 9689 ) on Thursday August 16, 2012 @01:42PM (#41013599) Homepage

    In the US, there are two major "flavors" of cellphone technology: GSM (also used in Europe) and CDMA (also used in some parts of Asia). There are four major carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. There are also some (very good) regional carriers and a whole bunch of companies who re-sell from the big 4.

    CDMA providers (in the US, Verizon and Sprint are the two big ones) don't have removable SIM cards, and they're not particularly friendly or helpful about unlocking existing phones. Verizon has, by far, the best coverage for the more rural parts of the US. So, if you're going to be out in the sticks, you might be stuck buying a shitty Verizon phone.

    GSM providers WILL sell you a SIM, just like you're looking for, but they don't talk about it, and they don't offer any sort of commission to their store employees for it, so they won't offer it unless you ask. You walk in and buy a pre-paid SIM card, just like in Europe. The data prices suck if you don't get a data package (AT&T charges $2/MEGAbyte without a plan (or $2048/GB), but you can get $2/day unlimited data or pay $25 for a 1GB block of data), but you can get "Unlimited daily" plans for a few dollars per day. AT&T has better coverage than T-Mobile, but both are usually adequate in bigger cities. Neither's quite as good as Verizon in rural areas, but I've had better luck with AT&T than with T-Mobile.

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