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I'm Taking the Prepaid Plunge

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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 (s 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 (s VZ) down to size.

So I’m checking out prepaid service for voice and data from Leap Wireless’s (s LEAP) 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 (s MOT) 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.

35 Responses to “I'm Taking the Prepaid Plunge”

  1. Oh yeah, Boost Mobile is part of the Nextel/Sprint Corporation, so the walkie-talkie works on the Nextel network, plus it’s free phone calls to anyone on Sprint/Nextel to you..

  2. I use Boost [email protected] $50.00 + 3.48 tax. The plan includes unlimited minutes anytime, unlimited texting, unlimited walkie-talkie and unlimited web. Boost also absorbs the extra taxes other carriers charge, making my Boost bill $53.48 per month. My phone (Motorola from Boost $100.00) also has Bluetooth technology, so I can piggy-back my Bluetooth HP Mini. Can’t beat that!

  3. charles bbq

    have you thought about buying the Peek from amazon? T-mobile and I think there was a $299 and no more fees EVer.. would take care of email and texting.. I like your thinking.. Charles.

  4. Marsha Mellow

    I think prepaid is a great idea. I came upon your site when I was looking for information about it, in fact.

    Maybe you know something about this: I keep hearing that Virgin Mobile has a $10 a month plan available for those who can’t afford more but I don’t see it on their web-site. What’s up with that? If they have it, let’s see it!

    Do you have any info on that? Thanks!!

  5. Martha's Purse

    I made the switch more than a year ago and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. For yeras I had AT&T and just kept renewing the contract out of habit, but the payments were up to $85/month! When my last contract was up I turned in the plan and took up NET10. it proved to be a very wise dicision. I’m not a huge cell phone user, merely use it for the occassional call or to communicate quickly w/ my kids. You can’t beat the prices though, .10/minute and .05/text. The phone itself cost me $20 at Wal-Mart – it’s a super fancy phone, but works really well (Motorola) and the reception is incredible. It even came with 300 minutes/60 days included! I think may people are wising up and realizing they don’t need all the bells and whissles in a phone. Afterall, a call is a call. Better to have the savings in my pocket. Prepaid’s the way to go/

  6. Here’s a tip for people that don’t need to use a cell phone a lot. I feel it’s better than JitterBug and others that are aimed at the senior market. I bought this for my mothers birthday.

    I bought a Tracfone on sale at a major chain for $25. It was a special “double-minutes for life” phone so each minute you buy and add later are doubled. Then I bought the “One Year & 400 Minutes” card. I found a promotion code that would add 240 minutes if you bought the One Year Card.

    After activating the Tracfone, in July 09, it had an expiration of Sept 2010 and 1300 minutes all for $125. So her phone is now good for over a year with all those minutes and no bills or anything to worry about for a year. So she can talk 100 minutes a month, anytime, anywhere in the US (and other countries) for about $10 a month.

    • I bought a Tracfone Moto W376 for under $30! The great thing is it had DMFL (double minutes) ALREADY on it AND it is a camera phone, has bluetooth, web access etc. These Tracfones are really good deals if you do not use the phone too much. That means it’s not for you, Stacey, just for us mere mortals.
      It is true that prepaid is growing at quite a rate though, or am I wrong? Most of my friends and relatives are on prepaid now.

  7. dbb10001

    Stacey, nice article. The main thing I would mention to anyone considering switching to pre-paid cell phones, is that you should figure out first whether you can reduce your current cell bills down to acceptable levels–thereby saving often significant plan cancellation fees (AKA “early termination fees”), not to mention the convenience of keeping your present cell phone number. Importantly, there are still ways to effectively reduce your cell bill. Not to blatantly plug, but I work for the consumer advocacy website , powered by a company called Validas, where we slash the average cell bill by 22 percent. It costs five bucks to implement our suggested changes to your plan (the average consumer currently saves around $420 annually through us) but we will analyze your bill for free without any commitment of purchase, just to let you know exactly how many dollars your carrier is ripping you off by. I could go on and on about how shifty these cell companies can be in their attempts to make you overpay. We stop them, and have currently saved consumers over $5,000,000 by auditing over 26,000 cell lines.

    For more info, check out Validas in the national news media, most recently on Fox News at: .

    Good luck to everyone reading on cutting your wireless costs. My email address is [email protected] for anyone who wants advice about achieving fair cell phone rates.

    Consumer Marketing Manager,

  8. $200 phone bill–I guess that’s not too hard to fathom since you have a blackberry, but that’s a lot of money every month.

    I look forward to hearing the results of your experiment. I would have liked a test run of Tracfone’s new Straight Talk Plan for $45 (unlimited) and $30 (1,000 minutes, 1,000 text, and 30 MB data), but this will be interesting to watch.

    These prepaid plans are looking very attractive.

    Good luck.

  9. Mishan Aburted

    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.

  10. jagibson

    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.

    • 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.

  11. 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.

  12. $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.

    • Stacey Higginbotham

      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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.
    $1.00/day $0.10/min

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

    $0.01/KB Data Rate

    Keep us updated!

    • Stacey Higginbotham

      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 :)

      • 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.

    • 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).

  18. 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.

    • 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.