Straight Talk: It could let you dump AT&T or T-Mobile

220 Comments

Earlier this month, I took a look at Straight Talk, a TracFone-owned mobile virtual operator that resells service on both AT&T(s t) and T-Mobile in the U.S. I personally bought a T-Mobile compatible Straight Talk SIM card for my Galaxy Nexus(s goog) because the deal for unlimited everything at $45 per month and no contract sounded too good to be true. For the most part, Straight Talk delivers on its promise with two small exceptions that I’ll point out shortly. The company calls its product a “BYOP” or Bring Your Own Phone prepaid service.

Since trying the service, I’ve received a number of questions about it and the company noticed. So in order to help me answer them intelligently, Straight Talk sent me a loaner unlocked iPhone 4(s aapl), two AT&T SIMs (regular sized and micro SIM) and some pre-paid monthly service cards.

Unlimited isn’t quite unlimited, except for voice and messages

So here are some follow up experiences I’ve had with both my phone and the loaner iPhone 4, which hopefully helps you decide if Straight Talk’s $45 month to month service is an option for you. First, let me point out the two key exceptions that I’ve found.

  1. Apple’s Visual Voicemail isn’t supported by Straight Talk, so if you go this route, you’ll be calling in to hear your messages. I don’t think that’s a huge issue, at least not for me personally as I use Google Voice for all communications. However, some folks may not be happy with the feature loss.
  2. For $45, Straight Talk advertises unlimited voice minutes, messages and HSPA+ data (There’s no LTE support, even if your phone is capable of using AT&T’s LTE service). Based on user-reported experiences, Straight Talk won’t cut you off provided you keep your monthly usage to 2 GB or about 100 MB per day. Hit either of these and you might get a message about excessive use, along with the threat of service termination. History shows that I use about 1 to 1.5 GB of mobile broadband a month on my phones (I use Wi-Fi a ton), so this works well for me. If you want truly unlimited data or use more than 2 GB per month on your phone, this isn’t the plan for you. Don’t even try it, would be my recommendation.

Note: I asked Straight Talk about the limit and was told that company is trying to “focus on trust and communication with customers.” It’s likely that TracFone has no way to throttle after any limits, since it doesn’t operate the networks. As a result, the company will warn folks for excessive use and potentially disrupt service if you don’t limit your usage.

Good value or no?

If you can live with those two caveats, I think the service is a great value. I was using a $30 data-only T-Mobile SIM in my Galaxy Nexus paired with low-cost VoIP calling but due to coverage issues with dropped or missed calls, I’m much happier with the Straight Talk SIM. My first month of service ends next week and I’ve already added 3 months to my account for $130 thanks to a $5 bundle savings. And because my kids have T-Mobile Sidekick 4G handset and share 1,000 minutes, I ordered a pair of Straight Talk SIMs for them as well. They use very little data but tons of minutes and messages. Now I’ll save on their service and not worry about voice minute overages.

Some questions people have asked me along with answers:

  • How hard is it to set up a Straight Talk SIM on an iPhone? Great question since you can’t directly access the network or APN settings on an iPhone without jailbreaking it. It’s quite easy to set up the new SIM. Just pop it in your iPhone and hit this site in mobile Safari over Wi-Fi: http://unlockit.co.nz/ Here you’ll get a small file to download after choosing Straight Talk as your provider. This file will set up the phone to work with the new SIM and the process takes all of two minutes.
  • Is it difficult to set up the service on an Android or other phone? Nope, this is super easy as you can access the APN settings directly on most smartphones. You simply enter the settings provided with your SIM card. It takes a minute or two at most to type the data in.
  • What about MMS on the iPhone? The above setup solution doesn’t enable MMS, so there are several manual methods to enable both data and MMS. First, back up your iPhone in iTunes with its current SIM. Then swap SIM cards and restore your iPhone backup with the Straight Talk SIM in the handset. Again, this isn’t an issue for me personally as I use Google Voice for messages. There’s plenty of information on Straight Talk setup in this wiki page if you need it. If you have a cut-down T-Mobile SIM, you can follow these simple instructions as well. Or you could jailbreak your phone to get access to the settings.
  • Are the network speeds the same? According to my testing: Yes. I’ve used my Galaxy Nexus with both a T-Mobile SIM and Straight Talk SIM for T-Mobile’s network and found the speeds to be equal. On T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network where I live, I routinely see between 6 and 8 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up and ping times around 120 milliseconds. The same test on my iPhone 4S with a SIM from AT&T and then from Straight Talk showed no difference either.
  • How’s the coverage? Since Straight Talk is paying AT&T and T-Mobile for their networks, the coverage is the same as if you were paying those operators directly. I haven’t seen any coverage differences at all. If you get good coverage now from one of the two carriers, you should get the same with a Straight Talk SIM.
  • If I can save money with this SIM, why wouldn’t I do it? First, if you’re a heavy data user, I wouldn’t recommend this option, as stated above. Second, you’re bringing your own phone. That means you either pay full price for your phone — which can be anything from $400 to $700, if not more — or you keep your current phone and close out your contract with an early termination fee. You’ll have to check with your carrier to see how much that will cost. I’ll be closing my T-Mobile contract on the two Sidekicks, for example, so my break-even point is a few months out. Lastly, if you use a CDMA phone (such one from Sprint(s s) or Verizon(s vz)(s vod)) or you want LTE service, this plan won’t work for you.
  • What about tethering or using the phone as a mobile hotspot? That’s expressly forbidden in the terms of service. You might get away with it for a short bit here and there, but once you bump up against some heavy usage in a single day, you’re raising the red flag to Straight Talk’s systems.
  • Can I port a number to Straight Talk? Yup, not a problem. You do this when you activate your SIM card online. I didn’t do this for my account. Although I now have another new phone number, nobody knows it because of Google Voice. I will, however, port my kids’ phone numbers next week.

No, this service isn’t for everyone. Heavy-duty data users, folks that want LTE, use a CDMA phone or don’t want to pay full price for their handset are unlikely candidates. But for someone like myself that buys unsubsidized hardware, doesn’t want a long term contract and can supplement mobile broadband with Wi-Fi usage, the BYOP plan at Straight Talk offers solid savings and the same level of service found from national carriers.

Disclosure: The free 30-day service provided by Straight Talk was for testing purposes, not for my personal use, and the iPhone will be returned, per our editorial policy. I pay for my own phone service and provided my own Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S  smartphones, which I bought out of pocket last year.

220 Comments

Dave

Actually there is another way to change iPhone APN settings, by using Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility, a free download from Apple. I used it to change the APN settings on my unlocked iPhone 4. The problem was that the proxy settings offered in the documentation was incorrect, had to spend half an hour on foreign customer support to get a working proxy server setting.
Another caveat, voicemail notifications do not work (no red ball on the phone app icon).

Benjamin Wade

Thanks to this article, I am now using straight talk on my daughter’s iPhone, and it is working just fine.

Thank you.

Kevin C. Tofel

Because the typical T-Mobile unlocked phone (save a pentaband device, such as the Galaxy Nexus) doesn’t have the radio to support 3G on AT&T’s network.

Luke H

Kevin, any indication if SImple Talk will ever launch a card that supports talk/text only that could be used for an iPhone? I think that’s a hold that would be awesome to plug? Carriers like Voyager Mobile are charging a flat $19 monthly so, seemingly, money can be made at that level. If Simple Talk even played it safer and went say $25 for that level using an iPhone compatible sim? I’d jump at that. Is there any reason that this wouldn’t be possible?

Benjamin Wade

To save money month after month, are you kidding?

John

I have an unlocked T-Mobile phone, could I get away with getting using an AT&T sim card with Straight Talk? I am currently doing so using AT&T’s GoPhone prepaid service because I do not get any kind of reception at my house with T-Mobile…

britt

what if u dont have tmobile coverage in ur area and u buy the tmobile sim will it work?

KIZMET

Hi Britt, Greetings from Texas! I thought I would answer your question, but you probably may have already found your answer by now. I just found the information out for myself personally through trial and error, so thought I would save you the time and hassle of having to buy 2 different sims in the long run. Okay, To answer your question, YES, it still works. However, if by your question you meant does the qaulity of the Tmobile service in your area change just by using a Straight Talk TMobile Sim card, well then the answer to your question would be NO!
I would advise AGAINST choosing the Tmobile sim as your choice upon your initial Straight Talk Sim purchase. Because, If you dont have good coverage with Tmobile now it would not change the quality of the service by just using the Straight Talk Tmobile sim card. If you chose the TMobile sim card you would essentially have a phone that would be running on that same slow network that you already said does not have good coverage in your area. It would be pointless otherwise….
But just remember there are several other options available to you with the Straight Talk Service, thats the Beauty of it all! :)
Hope I have been of some help.
Much Peace & Kindness!

Chris

Yes do i have to use the $45 unlimited plan or can I use the $30 plan on my ATT phone?

Ryan Feliciashusband

I have a question. If I purchase an at&t iphone or at&t iphone 4s online, it doesn’t have to be unlocked for it to work with the straight talk sim? also, if i purchase an unlocked iphone, would i still purchase the at&t sim? I am looking at the prices of the phones on amazon and ebay, wondering if i should wait for the price to drop when the next iphone is released in the fall.

Kevin C. Tofel

Your phone doesn’t need to be unlocked to use a ST SIM because phones are locked to the network, not the SIM. Meaning: your phone would still “see” the SIM card as one from AT&T; it would simply use different access point settings to get to the network. Also: you would buy the AT&T compatible SIM from ST if the phone you purchase supports AT&T’s network frequencies.

Yeahok

Man i didnt think id find the right info i needed. This a great information site for straght talk. Just thought id compliment the “great” info here. Thanks alot

gwizy

I bought an Iphone4s 64GB sprint version. It has since been jailbroken & unlocked and used with both a tmo microsim & a at&t microsim. I have tmo service and i used my dad\’s at&t microsim to test at&t works amazing. Tmo has me on Edge!!! I\’d like to know from my peers if ST micro sim will get me at&t speeds on my data & email. I\’m now with simplemobile in my hunt for faster than Edge data speeds. Will ST get me to my goal of faster data or am i stuck in this E zone until further notice?

Ben

Hello, I have a question. I recently switched from T-Mobile to Straight Talk and I can confirm that in my area the network speeds are identical. Unfortunately that means I still have a very mediocre Edge 2G network signal. You see my wife already had a Straight Talk phone and she got nearly full 3G. So I thought that the switch would improve my coverage but it stayed the same. (Still cheaper plan though) So here is my question:

Beings that I’m using an unlocked Galaxy Nexus (from Google Play Store) and beings that AT&T is more prominent in my area, would the AT&T sim card be better for me and my network speed?

And another question for my buddy:

Will this allow him to download over 3G connections without subscribing to Apple’s data plans? (I know nothing about iPhones so hopefully that makes sense)

Bubs

Great article. Been reading about prepaid carriers all day and this is by far the most informative.

A few questions that I didn’t find answered in the article or comments. All my questions are related to using a T-mobile sim on S.T. First, I heard of some GPS issues with Straight Talk and prepaid in general. Are you able to get a GPS lock on your Galaxy Nexus? Any difference at all with S.T. regarding GPS? Second, can I use any T-mobile phone or does it have to be a unlocked GSM phone? Reason I am asking is because I currently use a T-mobile locked g2x and might want to try out service before buying a Nexus phone.

My last question is regarding Google Voice. You mentioned it a few times in the article and would appreciate any more info on how you use it? I currently use it to transcribe voicemails but I have a feeling I’m missing the point of it. I went on Google’s page but I still feel like its going over my head.

Thanks again for the info and help.

Jeff H.

I would assume if I choose the AT&T ST sim now… and down the road, T-Mobile has the faster network in my location… I could just purchase the T-Mobile ST sim and swap it out. (Or since I travel, I could just purchase both and swap out as needed)

Grant Brown

i see visual voicemail isn’t supported. what about iCloud?

Jessica Ormsbee

I did this and my iphone 4s still will not read my sim card.. What do i do PLEASE HELP :(

Micah G. Mortensen

Kevin, The ST website shows 2 different maps of Android vs. Non-Android coverage ( http://www.straighttalk.com/Coverage ) The non-Android map has way more coverage. Is this true, and if so, why, technically speaking. I like the android system but will switch to an iPhone if it’s better coverage. Thanks in advance for the information.

Jordan

Hey, the maps are very confusing so I’ll try and explain. The android phones that ST sells, from what I’ve read online, are CDMA phones that run on Sprint’s network. Thus the “Android” map is a map of their CDMA network. All GSM phones, including any unlocked android’s will follow the “Non-Android” map which is their GSM map. Hope that helps clear up the confusion.

Buran

+1 Jordan! I was trying to figure that one out too. Thanks for clearing that up!

Anthony Mcintosh

Can you get updates for os on your phones with this plan?

Kevin C. Tofel

Shouldn’t be a problem to get OTA updates. For one thing, you can always get them over Wi-Fi; no SIM needed. Second, the phone is actually using the carrier network (AT&T or T-Mo), it’s just the SIM is your relationship with ST and your bill. I don’t see an issue.

Anthony Mcintosh

Thanks, I had a question regarding which sim to get for the Nexus from Straight Talk, and which carrier to go to when it comes to speed and data.

Kevin C. Tofel

Anthony, there’s no right answer to that question. ;) It all depends on which carrier has better speed and coverage in the area you plan to use your Nexus. Where I am, T-Mobile has 21 Mbps coverage, soon to be 42. That trumps AT&T speeds in my area; at least for now, so there’s a T-Mo compatible ST SIM in my Nexus. If the coverage situation changes though, I’ll buy an AT&T compatible SIM. That’s the beauty of the Nexus: with the pentaband radio, we actually have real network choice! :)

Anthony Mcintosh

The Google Nexus is coming out with ics 4.1 update if i got that phone on Straight Talk which is what i would like to do could we get the updates for the nexus?

Ann S

I recently converted my HTC Inspire and my husband’s Inspire over from AT&T. Absolutely no problems.. like you we use WiFi a lot… BUT…. The area in both out phones where the APN is to be changed is locked on both phones… Any suggestions??
Thanks a bunch!!!!!

LaQuetta

Hi do the phones have to be unlocked? I have a sidekick 4g and a galaxy s ..both with tmobile

Luke H

It is so cool to watch this thread continue to act as a resource and help people save money!

Kevin C. Tofel

+1 to that, Luke! It’s always great as a writer to see an audience gain a better understanding of a topic; if they can happily save money, that’s a bonus. :)

nikki

I have a sprint phone….and sprint service,i heard about straight talk and i wana gt the service so will i be able to keep my same number or will i have to contact sprint first

Kevin C. Tofel

You can port your number from Sprint to Straight Talk without speaking to Sprint first. Note that if you have a contract with Sprint, you may have an early termination fee when you port the number away. You’ll also need a new phone that uses GSM technololgy, i.e.: one that works on T-Mobile or AT&T.

Raymond Bonds

I’m trying to change my Virgin mobile phone to straight talk;is that possible?

Kevin C. Tofel

Raymond, that won’t work. Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network technology, which is CDMA / EVDO. Straight Talk works with GSM devices that use SIM cards.

jeffkoe

Thanks for the great article, Kevin. I am a big fan of your MobileTech Roundup podcast with Matthew Miller. I am wondering if you’re still happy using your Galaxy Nexus. It sounds like a great option given the pentaband radio. Can you live with the camera? Also, does the iPhone run on EDGE speeds with the Straight Talk Plan? Thanks!

RilesPro

The iPhone runs on ST using EDGE, 3G AND 4G (fake 4G just HSPA+ still wicked fast) For the iPhone GET the ATT SIM dont use Tmo.

My unlocked Sprint CDMA iPhone 4S 5.1.1 gets 4G with straight talk SIM for ATT phones. One must assume a Tmo SIM runs on Tmo which does not yet support iPhone’s 3G/4G frequency. I get EDGE only if i shut off 4G otherwise I always get 4G it rocks and i”m in a secondary market east coast. DL speed avg 3 MBPS as high as 6 MBPS wicked fast

Kevin C. Tofel

Thanks for the kind words! Yup, my Galaxy Nexus is my primary phone; still happy with it even though some phones coming out now or soon have better specs. The pentaband radio was a huge reason for my purchase because I don’t buy my phones on contract and would rather have the flexibility to use either T-Mo or AT&T.

I do live with the camera, which isn’t quite as bad as people might think. Yes, my iPhone 4S camera is much better without any effort on my part. But if I take my time using the Nexus, and tweak a setting here or there, I get some great shots. As far as ST in the iPhone: You can get a ST SIM for AT&T’s network and get full HSPA speeds as RilesPro notes. Or, if your iPhone is unlocked, you can get a ST SIM for T-Mo’s network but you will only get EDGE speeds until T-Mo refarms all of their spectrum and moves to 1900 MHz data frequencies over the next year.

James G.

Hi Kevin. After I read this wonderful writeup of yours about Straight Talk weeks back, I went ahead and ordered the $45 Plan (on top of subscribing to your email newsletter that same day).

I originally was on T-Mobile for >9yrs with the same exact old plan using countless unlocked gsm phones through the years..now is day 1 of Straight Talk via the T-Mobile network.

However, I’m a bit disappointed. Data shows via Speedtest.net, the fastest I got was 200kbps…far and away from your speedy 5017kbps.

I am using an unlocked Acer Liquid Metal S120 Gingerbread Android…Could it be that I was given a wrong APN settings. I was given stock settings for Smartphones by Straight Talk upon signing -up via phone setup.

I would like to get the HSDPA APN settings for this Acer Android (as spec’ed for HSDPA). Also, I know that T-Mobile has HSDPA capability (esp here in major Los Angeles market).

Is there a way that you could assist me on this predicament? I have searched high and low..and cannot find anything regarding this online.

Thank You so much in advance.

James G.

Mitch Surprenant

The Liquid Metal does not support T-Mobile’s 3G bands. You’ll need to get an AT&T SIM card from ST if you want the speeds that Kevin’s talking about.

Morris

Take a look at Simple Mobile (www.mysimplemobile.com). It too is a T-Mobile MVNO, and it has a $40 plan that includes unlimited voice, text, and data. The key difference is that $40 includes all taxes. For me, that saves me $9.89/month versus Straight Talk. Also, the SM sims can be bought on Amazon.com for less than $1 including shipping or for free on pinzoo.com with a new account activation.

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