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Summary:

Prepaid cell phone plans are looking increasingly attractive for those who want more services for less money, according to the latest issue of Consumer Reports. Several new plans that cost $50 per month for unlimited voice and texts have recently been introduced from smaller carriers such […]

imagesPrepaid cell phone plans are looking increasingly attractive for those who want more services for less money, according to the latest issue of Consumer Reports. Several new plans that cost $50 per month for unlimited voice and texts have recently been introduced from smaller carriers such as Boost Mobile and Virgin, the magazine notes in its September issue. So someone who needs 3,000 minutes of voice each month (but no data) would only have to pay $600 a year as opposed to shelling out $1,200 for similar plans from the four major contract carriers.

Back in December I took a look at five reasons to consider prepaid plans. While I caught some flak from readers who questioned why GigaOM would care about such things, with prepaid increasingly being viewed as a source of revenue growth in the cell phone industry (as evidenced, most recently, by Sprint’s announcement last week that it plans to buy Virgin Mobile USA as part of a move toward more prepaid clients), we think it’s an important area on which to focus our attention. And as a cheapskate, I’m eager to see if I can cut a $200-plus phone bill from Verizon down to size.

So I’m checking out prepaid service for voice and data from Leap Wireless’s Cricket service in order to see how far I, as a heavy mobile phone voice and data user, can push a prepaid plan. Sometime over the next few days I should be receiving a Motorola Hint in the mail to supplant my BlackBerry Curve (Metro PCS has a BlackBerry Curve, but Cricket, which provides service in my hometown of Austin, does not) and a 3G dongle that works only in cities where Cricket has its EVDO network. I’ll pay $35 for 5 GB of data through the dongle since I’ll have a Cricket plan and $45 per month for unlimited voice, text and web in areas where Cricket has coverage. If I travel to any of the 15 states where Cricket doesn’t have coverage I can add roaming minutes. Since Cricket’s coverage area extends to the West Coast, where I tend to travel for work, I’m feeling OK with regard to voice, but I think data may be a problem. As I move through my experiment I’ll update y’all from my life on the prepaid side.

  1. I was just reading the Consumer Reports article myself earlier today, and the prepaid prices really do make sense. I don’t use voice nearly as much as I use data, so the prepaid plans are looking far more attractive now that my contract has expired.

    What I’m really waiting for, however, is the ability to use VoIP over the data connection. Think Skype, but with my current phone number. Has anyone found a way to do this? My main concern is being able to use the number I have now.

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    1. Skype doesn’t presently participate in LNP (where you can keep your old number.) The thing is, don’t you still want a mobile phone? Something to have will you?

      Perhaps I don’t understand the question but I do know of a hack: Get a SkypeIn number account, buy a cheap pre-paid like TracPhone (you can find them for $10.00, try to get a “double-minute for life” though), then you buy the TracPhone “1 Year card” and that keeps the phone activated for over a year. That’s going to cost you $100. So figure it’s about $8 a month for doing it.

      TracPhone does participate in LNP so you then just port your number to TracPhone, then forward that to your SkypeIn number. Now you can also use the TracPhone for call or just put in in a desk until next year when you have to re-up the account.

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  2. Sorry for the dupe, it had prefilled email address in not mine.

    I would have liked to see you guys try out the AT&T prepaid plans.
    $0.25/min
    $1.00/day $0.10/min
    $3.00/unlimited/day

    $4.99/month 200SMS
    $19.99/month unlimited SMS

    $0.01/KB Data Rate
    $19.99/5GB/month
    etc…

    Keep us updated!

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    1. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, August 5, 2009

      Since I use my phone a lot and pretty much every day, I couldn’t make the AT&T or Verizon plans make sense for me. Plus, I wanted to check out the prepaid players to see how often I would run up against coverage issues. I guess folks will know if i suddenly stop receiving and making calls :)

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      1. It’s about finding the sweet spot for how you use it. I’m super cheap with it.

        I go with $1.00/day $0.10/min for everyday use.

        On days I know I’ll be on the phone for likely more than 20minutes, I have to call 611 and deal with automated IVR voice hell and change my plan to $3.00/day. Of course I have to call back and switch again later. But it’s peace of mind nickel and diming them. Shrug, for some I’m sure the hassle would not be worth it. It’s amazing how fast all that convenience adds up over millions of customers for these prepaid providers.

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    2. The AT&T pre-paid data isn’t a great deal: I just checked, and it’s $19.99/100MB/month, not 5G/month.

      In general, pre-paid makes more sense for individual accounts than family (for my family’s usage, pre-paid won’t be any cheaper).

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  3. way to go stacy. almost everyone in america who is now on a contract would save money if they switched to prepaid. the switchover would also kind of force the carriers to offer better data options.

    keep in mind that cricket will happily activate any phone that has been unlocked and the PRL set to work with there towers. so if you want to use a blackberry you could activate one from verizon, sprint or metroPCS and use with cricket.

    i really do wish though that there was something close to the cricket offer that worked with GSM. i kind of collect used phones and would love to have a prepaid data SIM to swap between various iphones, androids, and others.

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  4. The longer I use the HInt, the more I don’t like it. You cannot send “tweets” and when you go to the mobile version of the site, it used to allow me to post from there and now does not. Very frustrating and there was no technical support to explain this curious phenom (that I was able to access and post from the mobile site but now not able to).

    There are a lot of shortcomings to this phone and I’ll be honest with you, I can’t wait to be able to afford a better phone through another carrier.

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    1. Stacey Higginbotham Thursday, August 6, 2009

      Bernardo, I wish you were there when i chose the phone.

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  5. What I was wondering is can I take google voice (GV) mobile application, configure it on my blackberry. Then define the GV number as friend and family where all and calls to and from that number will be free.

    Once I have done that, can I make calls for free, hence saving my minutes while I use my cellular carrier’s infrasturucture. Any clairification would be appreciated.

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  6. My wife and I – and a few other kin – ll made the switch about 2 years ago. As a trial at first. We’re still T-Mobile customers because of the [hardly ever needed] customer service.

    It’s worked out to ab’t 10¢ a minute. That’s OK by me.

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    1. Hey… so you don’t have a data service? I am surprised since you are on all the time, I assumed some of it was while being mobile.

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  7. $45 to $50/month for unlimited voice is a nice price point. I’m still hoping that a major carrier like T-mobile expands their “preferred customer” pricing to the general public.

    I’m also interested in your future experiences on coverage with Cricket — here in Houston, my teenager had Cricket, but her coverage was much more spotty than my wife’s Sprint coverage. Go figure, I thought it was the same network.

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    1. Stacey Higginbotham Thursday, August 6, 2009

      Cricket actually has its own network as does Metro PCS. As an FYI Boost is on the Sprint iDEN network and Virgin Mobile is on the Sprint EDVO network. Tracfone’s StraightTalk service is on the Verizon EVDO network.

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  8. I made the plunge almost 4 years ago. I was ticked off after getting a huge bill from Verizon and saw a metropcs store. I bought the cheapest phone and tried it out. Unlimited minutes and text for $50? There had to be a catch. There wasn’t. I even called “time” (when it was still operational) and let it play for an hour.

    I haven’t had a shocking bill since and that makes me feel good. And I don’t have to sign my life away to a carrier anymore… which never made any sense to me. From a cost-benefit standpoint, prepaid is the only way to go. Who cares if I don’t have an iPhone?

    I’m going to switch to Boost soon because they have better nation-wide coverage and I’m traveling more.

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  9. The data and data centric phone offerings for prepaid providers are pathetic at best. MetroPCS and its Blackberry Curve offering caught my eye but alas, not available in Seattle. I agree voice is important, but that’s not what runs up my bills, I want and need data in a flexible smartphone platform (or well connected feature phone). I’m with Verizon currently living through my contract on 3 lines. Once it’s up in a year or so hopefully the market will have better offerings in these areas. Competition is good either way and I wish all prepaid carriers success.

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    1. the thing is to buy a used phone originally from verizon or sprint and ‘flash’ it over to criket or metroPCS. there are thousands of small mom and pop phone shops around the country that specialize in this.

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  10. Mishan Aburted Thursday, August 6, 2009

    For four years I’ve been paying about $15-25/month for a Verizon prepaid plan that they no longer offer. Sometimes I use up my minutes and have to buy more, but other months using Skype on the computer lets me accumulate cell minutes to use on truly mobile-worthy calls.

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