Prepaid SIM Cards

Prepaid service is great, but it might not be the best choice for everyone right now

There has been a slow but steady drumbeat of people starting to talk about the merits of prepaid, and contemplating a switch for themselves. A small group of dedicated individuals who haven't had a phone contract in years push the idea even more often. Not having a contract for well over 2 years I'm closer to the latter group, and although I've been quick to sing the praises of prepaid phone service I also find it a necessity to explain that the grass isn't always greener -- there are some brown patches and weeds over here.

The idea to pull this together came from a recent experience switching carriers. Although I had been happy with my choice to use Straight Talk (an AT&T SIM, if you were wondering) for the past 5 months, a move to an area with excellent T-Mobile coverage had me willing to switch to something new. After all, one of the best parts about prepaid service is your ability to switch monthly to a new carrier. T-Mobile recently launched a new off-branded prepaid carrier called GoSmart Mobile, which offered a comparable $45 plan to Straight Talk's, so I decided to give it a try.

But, as I said, the grass isn't always greener ...

Although I have used Google Voice as my primary number for well over a year, there are still some lingering places where my "old" number comes in handy. Being the case, I decided to port my number from Straight Talk to GoSmart. Well, that was a bad idea. To make a long story short (and move on to my larger point) the port failed, which once my Straight Talk service turned off left me with a dead Straight Talk SIM and a dead GoSmart SIM. And of course, no working phone to call in and remedy it.

I was left with two dead SIM cards and no working phone to call and fix the situation.

Luckily I was able to borrow another phone and call GoSmart customer service. While the CS was generally helpful (and U.S. based, which is great), they were dumbfounded trying to deal with my request. At one point I was told I wouldn't be able to even request a refund for my service -- regardless of the fact that my service never actually started. After plenty of time and posturing, I was eventually exported to a customer service rep at T-Mobile that could actually help me. But even at that point all he could do was cancel the port completely, leaving me still with no service and two dead SIM cards.

The prepaid tradeoff

GoSmart Mobile website

In exchange for cheap prices, you're going to get cheap service — prepaid is a low-margin business.

This is the big crux when it comes to prepaid service. There's not a whole lot you can expect from the prepaid carrier you're dealing with when all you're owed by it is the one month of service you've already paid for. Margins are thin on prepaid service, and they didn't have to spend a whole lot of money to acquire you as a customer. For this reason they're unlikely to spend much to try and keep you either. Contrast this with your typical postpaid carrier, which has likely invested a huge amount of money in customer acquisition (so much so that they want to lock you into a contract), and will more likely be willing to keep you around and keep those $100+ monthly bills rolling in.

In exchange for cheap prices, you're going to get cheap service -- and the easiest way for carriers to cut costs is in customer service and customer acquisition/retention. Now this is all well and good if you simply pick up a new line with a new number, use it for a few months then let it expire. But as soon as you expect more from a prepaid carrier (at least for now), as we've seen above, you're setting yourself up for an unfriendly experience.

Managing expectations

So that being said, if you are someone that doesn't have an attachment to your carrier-assigned phone number -- Google Voice, anyone? -- and go into the prepaid experience with a moderate understanding of what you're going to get from it, there are incredible deals to be had. At least for the moment, prepaid is all about managing expectations. I strongly think that a majority of the bad experiences people have had with prepaid are based in the fact that they came from another postpaid carrier expecting the exact same service at half (or less) of the price every month.

Read, research and see what's right for you, then choose a carrier that fits your needs.

And that's just not going to happen. But that doesn't mean you should completely block out prepaid as a viable smart phone service option. There are a whole lot of people out there -- but certainly not everyone -- for which a prepaid carrier is a vastly superior option than the current postpaid carrier they're on. And we don't want those people scared away from trying it because of a couple of horror stories about losing your number.

Read. Research. See what's right for you. Then choose a carrier that has the highest chance of meeting your needs and expectations -- there's a good chance a prepaid carrier is the one that does that.

So what happened to my phone number?

My T-Mobile App

If I don't like the service I received for my money, I'll go try something new next month.

Alas, my original phone number that I attempted to port from Straight Talk to GoSmart Mobile is gone. Stuck in the ether somewhere between the systems of both carriers, to be put on a shelf (virtually, of course) for a few months and reassigned to someone else that signs up for its services.

Fortunately there is a positive mark for one prepaid carrier in this story, and that is T-Mobile's self-branded prepaid service, which with a SIM Activation Kit and 10 minutes on their website had me up and running with a full month's service for just $30 -- no strings attached. Now of course that includes a new, random number from my current area code, but I challenge you to find a postpaid carrier that will have you up and running that fast. Best of all, if I don't like the service I received for my $30, I'll go try something new next month.

 

Reader comments

The dark side of prepaid

130 Comments

Prepaid = compromise... You pay less but service you receiving is not that great. I have a choice of extending my contract with 3UK in the next 57 days or going to GiffGaff - one of the "virtual operators". Good choice if you want to pay less however you not getting new phone, Customer service is non existent etc... Switching to prepaid is always a big step forward...

The three 321 pay as you go tarrif is good.
3p per minute, 2p per text and 1p per mb. Lots cheaper than giffgaff.

I am a giffgaff user and I can't see how you could say customer service is non existent. There are no call centres but you can get help with almost anything super fast through the giffgaff community forums because users are paid payback to help out. I am talking an average wait time for response of 3 mins across a 24 hour period so If you want help at 3am you can get it. If you need help in the evenings after work when many operators start to close call centres the giffgaff community is most active and help arrives in seconds. Also you can contact giffgaff agents if you have an account specific issue which cannot be resolved by other users. Overall the result is actually a lot more pleasant customer service experience than the big networks offer. No speaking down a crackly line at your own expense while someone who doesn't have a clue puts you on hold and transfers you between various of his also inept colleagues before eventually offering you a solution that may or may not fix your problem and often costs you more money in some way or another.

GiffGaff is THE cheapest tariff in the UK and Customer Service is provided by UK based agents not just the community. £12 for Unlimited Data, Unlimited Texts, 250 any network mins and unlimited same network mins. Phones are never "Free" over the course of a contract and the 3UK customer service you talk about is a call center in India. If your in the UK, GiffGaff can't be beaten by any other prepaid plan.

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My wife was traveling in the UK, and went with GiffGaff for a month. She was not expecting to make many calls, and turns out she made very few. It was the data plan that she needed, Maps, SIP Calls back to the States. It worked great.

Agreed, I'm on the 12 quid a month plan and, in my view, that paired with my nexus 4 is pretty much impossible to beat in terms of value for money. Also I've found the community to be WAY more helpful than the numptys on the other end of customer service lines have ever been.

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We have a couple of sims (one for my 10 year old, and an emergency back-up) with Virgin Media, we get 250 minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited calls to VM users plus 1GB of data all for 5 per month each.

Very hard to beat, and if you know the IVR system you can always contact a UK based agent.

Three's One plan is about the cheapest for me at the moment (15/mo). Giffgaff doesn't allow tethering, and they're sniffy about things like iPlayer etc. - so it's not really unlimited (plenty of stories of people being cut off for 'high usage' of only a few hundred mb).

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Another Nexus 4 giffgaff user here on the £12 a month contract, which is a fantastic deal.

Whilst you can't tether you can download as much as you want. I download many gigs each month using iPlayer, Google Music, and Sound Cloud and have not been warned or cut off. Tethering is against their T&C so if you do that you can't complain if they warn you or cut you off, and that goes for every other network too, they all have their version of T&C.

The support you can get in the forums from people who actually use the network is also really good.

I can't see myself going back to paying huge monthly sums for a phone and network service again, it just doesn't make financial sense.

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I have AT&T GoPhone with LTE, and the service is great. I've had no issues.

Phil, if you're reading, it is pronounced Mar-tuh-nik.

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I've thought about trying AT&T's GoPhone service. It seems like a good deal, for only $60 per month.

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Do you use it with a GoPhone phone or did you stick the SIM into another smart phone, i.e. Nexus 4? I've been interesting in trying the GoPhone service if I can use my N4.

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I'm using my Nexus 4 on AT&T and it works fine. I even tried a T-Mobile prepaid plan for a week and went back to my AT&T Sim, you just need to find the right APN for your area.

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I am using a GoPhone sim in my unlocked Verizon Note 2. I am only getting HSPA+ speeds, but the coverage is great.

I tried switching to GoPhone from Straightalk. WORST decision I ever made. While I get great signal on Straightalk using AT&T network, GoPhone sim will not register on AT&T network from my home. AT&T customer service tried to blame on my Nexus 4, but I pointed out I took GoPhone sim from my wife's S4 and it worked fine in my Nexus. And my GoPhone sim would not work in her phone. Tried getting a replacement GoPhone sim, but same problem.

After multiple calls to AT&T tech service with no resolution, I have given up on them.

My Nexus 4 is currently on StraigthtTalk with an AT&T sim and I've been thinking of going over to GoPhone. (I too often have issues where i have a strong signal, but really slow speeds, or browser/apps just completely stalling when downloading data. Consensus seems to be that it's likely StraightTalk's traffic getting a lower priority than AT&T's own when towers are overloaded.)

From reading some of the forums, seems best results are when people go into an AT&T store and let them set up the N4 on GoPhone. They usually know what needs to be done in the system to get the phone on the network, and they'll ensure it's working before you leave the store. The key word is "usually", though... since the stores deal mostly with contract customers, you can end up having no employee in the store really knowing what to do for you, even telling you "it can't be done". Ppl say you then just have to try a different store.

AT&T GoPhone is a really great deal. I have a line with them right now. I picked it up when it was $65 for 1GB and since they dropped to $60 and bumped to 2GB, including LTE, its a great value.

The big carrier's prepaid plans need to be significantly cheaper before I'd consider them a great value... I pay $64/month on Sprint with unlimited data, unlimited mobile to mobile etc... Plus I'm getting a huge discount on phones whenever I renew my contract.

Granted I have a 23% employer discount, but it's not exactly hard to come by 15% employer discounts for any of the big 4 carriers... Heck, I'm pretty sure some of Tmo's new no-contract plans are also in that price range and they probably include more data (tho not unlimited).

Honestly, the conclusion of your article is probably the best piece of advice possible, and also the most ignored. Do your research, I'd gamble that the majority of the wireless market seldom does any cross shopping at all and that's what has lead us down this road of overconfident and far too empowered carriers.

I agree. I currently get 20% with Sprint and after dividing the fees and taxes between 5 lines it comes to about $58/month for unlimited data, mobile to mobile, unlimited text and 1500 minutes which we never use all. I'm currently testing T-Mobile and if it works out my monthly cost after discount will be $85 before tax for unlimited everything and 2gb of 4g data. Or around 105 for unlimited everything. So it's a matter of research and what works for you.

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I agree their prepaid plans need to improve, but with AT&T's more smart phone-friendly changes in the last couple of months they've really gotten more competitive. I know that it isn't the case for everyone, but on a nationwide average I'd say most people would much rather have AT&T's service and a 2GB data cap than unlimited data on Sprint's network. In both cases you're getting unlimited calls/texts, and with AT&T you're just downright getting faster data speeds and a wider selection of devices.

I would almost go so far as to say the $60 2GB AT&T GoPhone plan is one of the best deals in wireless right now, right behind the $30 5GB T-Mobile plan.

I'm always skeptical of the "employer discount" argument too. When comparing prices, we never factor in anything weird like a special discount. We have to compare the prices advertised in-store and online, which 100% of people have access to if they were to become a customer. 

I wholeheartedly agree that you should compare prices in that fashion as a writer, but to dismiss that those discounts exist is as silly as ignoring any other option. Consumers should be aware of and weigh ALL options, you can be skeptical about employer discounts all you want but they're a reality for a large chunk of the population (everything from Starbucks baristas to students to this engineer).

In the same vein, AT&T's $60 prepaid plan also means you're paying a lot more for devices, specially if you upgrade often and you want LTE (at least until technology catches up and we get multi band LTE Nexus devices or whatever). So while device options open up, you're also paying handsomely for them. Depending on the device you want, location, and other factors, Tmo's normal $60 plan actually stacks up pretty well too.

I've bought three EVOs on Sprint at or near launch and I've paid an average of like $125 per phone (the EVO LTE might be the first smartphone I keep for two years), granted one of those years I had to buy out my contract but the whole thing was still cheaper than paying out of contract full out for a phone.

Honestly, the biggest issue in this industry (in the US) is the vast majority of consumers continue to adhere to AT&T/VZW's postpaid plans when they have no need for it. Frequent travelers and those who live in the boonies or one of the really major log jammed cities might get their money's worth from the more robust networks, the rest are getting milked hard.

For me personally, the $30 Tmo plan is far more appealing and it's probably the only option I'd consider right now, other than switching to one of Tmo's postpaid plans (the latter would only happen out of gadget lust since I wouldn't save money and Sprint's LTE is already developing pretty well in Puerto Rico).

I've used Tracfone (dumbphone) for years. We have 4 of them in our house and I've had relatively little problems with them. The biggest trick is if you do need to move a number to new phone or do something weird find their US customer service number as opposed to getting sent overseas. Sometimes the waits are a little long but I've saved hundreds probably thousands going this route. If money were no object I'd go postpaid I'm sure because sometimes coverage like roaming is better. There are so many options now, I can't see myself really ever locking into a contract unless it was was the only way to get good reception where I need.

I was on sprint for 10 yrs before I moved to Walmart family mobile and it included a lot of calls to customer service mostly for billing issues. I agree that prepaid carrier have less resources relating to customer service but it is a trade off in willing to deal with as 1) My bill is pretty much the same each month so I don't have to call CS 2) I'm paying less than half of what I paid on sprint

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I just did the exact same thing, although I was on sprint for only a few years. It was also nice that my data speeds went from 250Kb/s to 16Mb/s. You don't realize how slow things are until you use a faster service. Now when I try to do something on my phone it is immediate.

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I didn't have a problem, while using Walmart's Family Mobile service. The problems came, when I tried to cancel. That was a royal clusterfuck and a half.

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If it works for you, great but I have been with At&t since 1997 and they do good job here in DFW. With my discount, I have a superb LTE network, reliable nation wide service and a unlocked GSM phone. (Just spent a week in Denmark with a Danish prepaid SIM) I am under contract but buy phones off contract frequently. If they ever pissed me off so badly that I wanted to leave I would paid the EFT and leave.

The price of the pre paid plans is just not a big enough deal for me to consider.

I have to agree. When you get a contract without a device they are certainly competitive with pre-paid SIMs. Pre-paid might be cheaper, but contracts are more convenient since I can't forget to top up or accidentally spend more credit than I thought and run out somewhere that I can't top up.

Even looking at contracts with devices, they aren't so far beyond what you would expect if you take the same device off the shelf and put your own SIM card in. They are more, sure, but then you never have to drop 700 bucks on a device unless you specifically want to. I've never paid a lump sum of any size for any smartphones, just paid the monthly. I can happily swing 30 a month for my Z10, but it would have taken me another 6 months to buy my own.

I dropped sprint and went to tmob prepaid for $30 a month with no contract and I have the exact same customer service as I did at sprint. ZERO!!!

That's exactly what I am thinking about doing soon. I've been on sprint for years, but if I'm going to get lousy customer service and horrid cellular service in many parts of the country, why not pay only $30! :) I've tried it out by buying a sim card and sticking it in an old smartphone around town, and I was largely very impressed. I'm only worried about porting my number to be honest.

That sucks. One of the bad parts of getting a new number is all the texts and calls you get from people looking for the previous owner. Even worse is when that person has debt so you get calls from debt collectors constantly looking for that person, which is what happened to me.

Unfortunately that happens quite a bit, especially on T-Mobile prepaid lines (comes with the territory). I don't think they wait long enough to recycle those numbers.

That happened to me on the tmobile $30 plan. Just so an online chat or call and they will change your number for you.

One other issue with many prepaid services compared with their postpaid counterparts (contract or not) is whether roaming agreements exist. With T-Mo based prepaid this can be a big issue, given T-Mo's (still) relatively small coverage footprint. Just something else to keep in mind when comparing options.

This was what I encountered when I finally switched from Verizon. Instead of prepaid T-mobile, I went with post paid T-mobile to get access to roaming towers. I brought my own phone and still have no contract. I can still switch to a AT&T sim on my unlocked N4 whenever I want, and T-mobile prorates my bill so I only paid for the days I used.

I wanted to get the T-Mobile $30 prepaid plan until I saw there was no roaming. Went the post paid route instead. T-Mobile post paid is the same price as At&t prepaid and only $10 more than Straight Talk which didn't have LTE.

It should also be noted that when you have a $30 plan with a contract there are all sorts of fees and taxes tacked on. With prepaid you can buy your top-up minutes online, and many online retailers don't charge a single penny over your top up amount!! I used callingmart last month for the first time, and I was shocked when my $30 top-up card cost exactly $30 when it was all set & done. No taxes, no usage fees, no 911 fee...nothing!! Add this into your savings column for the year and you save even more!! Every dollar counts, am I right?

Actually that is the way it is with all tip up cards. At least in the U. S.

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I've had t-mobile prepaid for over a year, I get refill cards for 20% off, HSPA is awesome where I work, live and play. I've yet to find a downside.

eBay sells top off (or refill cards) for all the different prepaid providers at a pretty sizable discount. I've done it for both Net10 and Tmobile. I am not sure if I ever got 20 percent, but 10-15 percent for sure. I preferred to buy from the sellers with the highest positive feedback from the most people so I bypassed the sellers with the lowest prices. You have to pay and give out your telephone number sight unseen to an unknown party, and then wait for them to refill. They advise it can take up to 24 hours to refill but the 3 or 4 times I've done it the credit and airtime was filled on my phone in about 15 minutes or less.

Yes, please do tell how we can go about getting 20% off refill cards. I recently heard about a discount program/card that gave you discounts at T-Mobile but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

You sir, are flat out wrong regarding third tier services and which providers they use. Please do your research...

Walmart's Straight Talk is NOT an AT&T SIM card, AT&T actually won't be supporting Straight Talk anymore, actually. ST always has included towers from AT&T, T-Mobile, and some CDMA towers from Verizon and Sprint, but with AT&T leaving ST, that leaves T-Mobile to dominate their third tier spectrum. Switching to a T-Mobile variant after being with ST is literally retarded and ignorant.

Wow! That level of harshness thinking you know everything and then spewing out incorrect information. The Straight Talk AT&T Sims are back in stock, genius.

The Sim cards on straighttalksim.com are sold in 2 variants.. One that runs on at&t network and another that runs on tmobiles network. Yes some of there feature "dumb" phones do run on mixture of T-Mobile and at&t network, and some CDMA feature phones run on sprint/Verizon networks. The byop Sims however run on T-Mobile or At&t network depending on what one you buy. Check your facts before you post domething like that..

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Straight Talk has offered AT&T service through most of 2012, and after a brief period of not offering new AT&T SIMs they're back at it now (you could always get them by calling CS, but anyway). I was using Straight Talk AT&T service for several months through 2012 and into 2013 with no problems at all. I think I know what service I was using ;) .

I just found sort of a bug in the AC app. It is difficult to switch between the posts that are on the top of the app (the pane). Even if I move my finger down a bit I can't switch the panes, instead the swipe down to refresh comes up. (Tried to explain in the best way I could :p)

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Referring to the featured stories at the top? You're swiping left to right (or vice versa) to switch between those, or top to bottom for pull-to-refresh. I might not be understanding this clearly.

While trying to switch between left to right, the action is cancelled as soon as my finger moves a little bit down while swiping left to right

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I'm a little confused about your porting problems and Google Voice. I have used Voice religiously and ported my number to Voice so that I never have to port my number again. After a one time $20 fee, your number is attached to Voice permanently.

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He didn't port his Straight Talk number to Google Voice. He tried porting it to T-Mobile, which failed miserably.

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As the article stated, I use Google Voice as my primary number, but there are still lots of things (anything with short codes, for example) that won't work with Google Voice and it was nice to continue to have my regular phone number that I've had for years available too. When I attempted to port that old number between carriers, it failed. I'm still using GV and have no issues with it, but it's annoying to lose a number you had for so long just because of an incompetent prepaid system.

Any time I try using Google Voice I have issues with text messaging. Incoming messages are frequently delayed or never delivered. How have you faired?

@ Jeb Eldridge Maybe you should check your facts. It has been possible to use a ATT sim card with Straight Talk service.

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"In exchange for cheap prices, you're going to get cheap service -- and the easiest way for carriers to cut costs is in customer service and customer acquisition/retention. "

Hardly comparable to my experience with T-Mobile prepaid. I made the switch to them at the start of 2013. I had to call them on a few occasions at first and every time was met with a friendly and helpful service rep who went to great lengths to fix whatever was broken. Since then my only complaint with service is reception penetration into some buildings which is something I can deal with.

This sounds more like a failure with the number porting process rather than a shortcoming of any prepaid plan.

Yeah, whenever I have to talk to Customer Service, I drive to one of their physical locations. I have yet to encounter a problem.

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The overall quality and consistency of CS is going to be lower with prepaid than postpaid, as most of us have experienced dealing with. Even with T-Mobile, which I'll agree has good CS even on prepaid, you're going to be getting overseas support and have a higher chance of issues.

Exactly, just a problem with the number porting process, likely a temporary one with GoSmartMobile anyway since they've only been doing this for a few months. Hardly a worthy generalization for all the benefits of going prepaid on many other carriers.

Seems you just had one bad experience. Doesn't mean we all will have the same problem. However, I did have a post paid contact with Sprint and wanted to port my number over to their prepaid branch (Boost), but I couldn't. I didn't really complain though. So I simply got a new number. (Had it for a year now.)

But I do agree with cheap service = cheap support. Boost's customer support line is absolutely horrible. It's mostly automated. If you want help you gotta try another option and then after what seems like forever, you reach a real human being.

However from my experience with the customer service representatives, the women seem to be the most helpful. The men don't know jack shit.

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Having worked in the industry, his experience is very common. As soon as issues popped up that needed customer service, prepaid customers almost always end up upset or disappointed.

It's the nature of the beast, and something I made sure to warn people about if they were switching or starting new service with a long term intent.

Not to say that nobody should do it, but people do need to understand it's cheap for a reason.

Very true. Luckily I only call if it's a network issue. I can diagnose the rest of the issues myself.

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My girlfriend pays 40$ a month for unlimited 4GLTE on boost. Works out great were she lives so there is a bright side as well.

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I'll probably eventually go to prepaid once I'm out of contract. My sister has been using StraightTalk for the past 6 months and hasn't had any problems with it. I usually only use about 1 GB of data each month, so the Straight Talk data cap wouldn't even affect me.

I'm actually in a pretty good place with phones where I should be able to sell what I have and only pay a small amount to get the phone I want after it. I recommend that everyone pay full price for a phone one time because if you sell it when the next phone you want comes out, it probably won't even cost as much as a carrier upgrade price to get the new phone you want.

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Thanks for the heads up on losing your number when you tried to port. As you discussed in your article, the downside with prepaid is that when things go wrong there is very little recourse. For that reason, I don't think I would ever attempt to port to prepaid, unless I was in a Tmo or AT&T brick and mortar store and the store rep was doing it for me.

I didn't have any issues porting my number into Straightalk. The whole process was done online. Porting out was a problem. Took three days and multiple call from T-Mobile to get them to relase it. Straightalk also kept charging my credit card. Apparently porting a number out of Straightalk doesn't automatically cancel the service.

My port failed when I tried to port from Virgin Mobile to StraightTalk.

With some whining, I go escalated up up a level or two in ST's customer service, and was put in contact with some Indian girl who keyed in my lost number, said "looks like it's available and hasn't been re-used it yet", and she "grabbed it" and got it back for me.

I lucked out because, with some diligence, it was discovered the port failed on ST's side, not VM's. i.e., VM successfully handed over the number to ST, but ST failed to give it to me and it had just became an unused number in their system.

I had tmobile prepaid for years. It was ok until I moved from southern California to northeast Florida. I might as well have moved to Mars; coverage was a disaster. My best friend in NYC still has tmobile prepaid and has never had coverage problems. Coverage matters.
Boost coverage in Florida is very good. If you are thinking of switching find out which network or networks the service piggybacks and you will be fine.

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Great T-Mobile service in my area as well. I've been thinking about making the switch to their prepaid service when my contract with Verizon runs out in November.

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Postpaid T-mobile without contract beats Simple Mobile. Personally my experience, I was missing out on call forwarding, short code SMS, LTE, Visual Voicemail, viewing my call logs, and I thought those all came standard. I was with Solavei which was great and all giving me 4 gb unthrottled data but I don't care about their pyramid scheme, I just want good service with those features listed above. There are 4 lines on my account now with T-Mobile and all them are smartphones. 60 for the first line for 2.5 gb of unthrottled data, 40 for 2.5 gb of unthrottled 4g, and the other 2 lines just have 500 mb since 1 of them is mine to forward those phone calls for 10$ each. Total is 120$ + tax not bad

I have Cricket for the past 5 years and have no issues... Like any other carrier Cricket has areas with poor reception but I am pretty happy overall. The main advantage (for me) I can bring phones from Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular and activate on my account :)

i haven't had a contract since 2oo1 ... i'll let them (0perators) lick somebody elses sfincter and take their money

Nice honest write up.

I do pay a bit more for "on contract" but to me it is worth the peace of mind. I also am fortunate enough to live in a great LTE area for Sprint (terrible Tmo area) so I am not getting hammered by ATT and Verizon.

I will stick with Sprint, maybe in a few years when prepaid matures to the point it is at in other countries I might consider it. Just had a thought though as I was typing that, arent prices in England becoming more like ours?

I have to say that any time you decide to port a number you may incur issues, especially if there is any other situation going on other a striaght simple number port. I have delt with verizon,att,sprint,metroPCS,tracfone,straightTalk( the worst customer service period!), and now i use T-mobile. It is unfair to say that no contract may not really be worth the switch, you can save lot of money monthly.I have had issues with every company that dwarf the issue listed above, from equiptment failure to some very unfriendly c/s. I do have to say that I will have to call out ATT & T-mobile and being extremely helpful and overall strives to help and resolve any and all issues I had in a single phone call. I always felt like the spoke to me with a huge smile, I was never a bother. So my point is that prepaid or not is not really the issue here, you can have huge problems even if you have a relic like a two year contract hold you at the hip with a single carrier. sorry, just my 3cents here.

Maybe it is only me, but the downside I have seen after switching to AT&T prepaid is the fact that if I am at a sporting event with thousands of people in attendance my Nexus 4 will basically have my network connection locked up.

For example, if I try to tweet a picture or upload something to Instagram I find it always fails. If I restart the device, it have extreme problems trying to get a data connection back and sometimes will give me the "Emergency Calls" only message.

When I used the same Nexus 4 on T-Mobiles prepaid, I do not remember having these issues, but I did not go to any major sporting events like I have since I made the switch.

Could just be some settings that need adjusted though. If anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears.

That can definitely happen because prepaid accounts are set to be on a lower level when towers hit their capacity limits. But I have to say that at most big sporting events all of the carriers kind of fall to their knees, postpaid or prepaid.

I was going to say this earlier. I think at last years "NFL Championship" and through all the Primaries for President they were bringing in mobile towers to handle extra capacity.

If you are going to a major event, you are fubar'd no matter what.

I joined Straight Talk almost a year ago. Service has been good, not great. The phone I bought, a TracFone Samsung Galaxy S2, is not the same Galaxy S2 sold, apparently, by anybody else. It has seemingly little or no development support, and some features that would use more data have been disabled.
TracFone told me it will get no updates, not even security ones, so it's stuck on Gingerbread 2.3.6.
Also, Straight Talk is a 30- day service, not monthly, and if you go with auto pay, you pay more than $45 (other fees) but if you go to Walmart and buy a refill card, it's $45.
I will admit customer service has always responded when i posted a complaint on Twitter.
I don't recommend Straight Talk, and don't ever buy a smartphone from TracFone.

I recently bought an HTC One Google edition and signed up for T-Mobile's $30 prepaid plan but unfortunately I live in an area where the most common signal is Edge. Every day, however, and numerous times a day, I get no network signal at all. There is, however some excellent LTE coverage nearby, but not having it at home stinks.
To its credit, T-Mobile responded to my complaints and told me an engineering review would be initiated but nothing changed.

Two days ago I signed up for AT&T prepaid plan and have two bars of LTE at home.
Yes, it costs twice as much, but without a connection T-Mobile was useless.
As with T-Mobile, AT&T has LTE elsewhere here: Sacramento.

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I have Straight Talk and it's okay for me. Awhile back I had a dumb phone someone dropped that killed it, so I got the Samsung Galaxy Centura, an Android 4.0 3.5 inch phone. It's good enough for me, was $99.95 and obviously I pay $45 a month unlimited. The phone doesn't support tethering, so much for using it with my 2013 Google Nexus 7, but it's actually against Straight Talk's contract to tether!!! Did anyone not know this? That sucks, but overall, it works for me. Kinda hate talking to India tho...

Okay, is an excellent way to describe it.
I should have also said, I don't expect to ever sign a contract again (I had T-Mobile contract years ago, and Verizon); I'll gladly pay cash for my devices.

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Switching carriers needs to be as easy as changing search engines. The carriers are making hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, constantly swindling and deceiving the customers. They lock the sim and bootloaders for the user while leaving the back door wide open for the NSA. What we have is systematic abuse of the people's spectrum.

For the most part, I've saved myself most prepaid-induced headaches by sticking with a main carrier service, AT&T Go Phone in my case. I tried Straight Talk and hated it. I'll never go back to an NVNO and as for those re-branded carrier services (Boost, Go Smart, AIO) if the carrier doesn't think these are good enough to carry their main brand, they are definitely not going to give them good priority with it comes to service quality.

My wife and I had a similar experience with Straight Talk. It seems in absence of a contract, they try to make it as hard as possible to port your number. We had to cut down regular Sims to micro SIM for our N4s, thus cutting off some of the number on it. We didn't know at the time that that number also served as your account number (needed for porting). Straight Talk makes it almost impossible to get that number. I gave up and got a new number, but my wife spent a long time on the phone with them, got elevated three tiers, and lied to by every one of them. They finally gave her a number, but refused to acknowledge it was the one she needed.

I'm on the T-Mobile $30 plan with my Z10 and am mostly quite happy with it. I didn't try to port over a number, since it is a prepaid account. I figure if I want to switch to Straight Talk, I'd get a new number. I only give out my Google Voice number, so the actual phone number really doesn't matter much. The $30 plan only comes with 100 minutes, but I've never hit the limit. I got it for the data plan, and most people either text or message me through Hangouts, Kik, or BBM.

The only thing I have found with the $30 prepaid plan is not being able to roam outside of the T-Mobile network. As long as I'm in an area where T-Mobile has coverage, it works great. When it only reaches AT&T towers, the phone goes to SOS/emergency calls only. Once wifi calling gets activated, it won't be an issue.

Posted via Android Central App

Excellent and helpful article thank you!

Also, the way you use your Google number is great -it reduces the confusion no matter who your carrier is!

(Although when I had folks text-message to my G-number, the overseas folks could not ;-(

While I am happy with the great (albeit pricey) service I get from AT&T, it's always good to read about more options!

After many, many years locked in with ATT wireless, then Cingular, and then ATT again; and a brief stint with Sprint, I left early to dump the contract and never looked back! (I've been pleased with Boost & T-Mo)

Posted from my HP TouchPad & cm10 via Android Central App

you should've gone with a more established prepaid service with better infrastructure and customer service backbone, like MetroPCS! its a major highlight in prepaid carriers right now due to superior customer service and great deals and coverage due to Tmo's backing in new network coverage!

So instead of going with one service wholly owned by T-Mobile, I should've gone with another service wholly owned by T-Mobile? :P

I just don't understand why would you even go with T-Mobile's MVNO providers when there is the actual T-Mobile's $30 plan which is for most techie users the best deal around... oh well.

The $30 plan is great and I have used it many months (and am using it now), but remember it only has 100 minutes and for many people that's not enough. Its MVNOs often offer unlimited minutes.

This "Dark Side" is exactly why I decided to port my primary number to Google Voice. Now I just point it at whatever MVNO I may be using at the time (currently ATT Straight Talk).

I really just wish that Google Voice would support MMS and all my dreams would come true.

Indeed, the only reason why losing my number was a minor inconvenience rather than a travesty was that I had already moved over to using Google Voice as my primary number.

I could look past having MMS support if we just got better handling of notifications and calls across devices, a better web interface, better app and just overall better performance on calls. There are a LOT of things Google needs to fix with Voice before adding in MMS.

I went from Sprint after 10yrs to ST(AT&T SIM) , customer service was decent then I decided to switch to TMO $30 prepaid but coverage sucked donkey ballz & I switched back to ST. I'm now on AT&T Go Phone $60 plan & have zero complaints about there customer service plus coverage is superb & I get LTE in majority of the places I use my phone. The biggest thing about switching to prepaid is having a realistic expectation that you're arent going to receive the same level of support as those post paid customers getting bent over! Lol

Not sure I understand the lost number drama if you are using Google voice as your primary number. You should be fine with whatever number the carriers assign you. I have been using Google voice for my primary number and find a new secondary number handy on occasion, one of the beauties of keeping your main number with Google is no more porting or paying the extra fees. I went off contract originally to TMo and I am now with Republic Wireless. Can't imagine wanting to re up with a contract again, ever actually.

As I responded to someone above to the same question, there are still some things where its nice to have another number consistently for. Things like short codes (and my building's secure entrance call box) don't work with Google Voice, and if you had both phone numbers that are very very close to one another like I did, it was nice to have both available.

Because I use GVoice for my main number it wasn't the end of the world, but it was still an inconvenience.

Agree with this, for production support we get text messages that won't work with google voice numbers. I also find most second factor authentications don't seem to work with google voice either, I assume it's because the texts are tied into the "backbone" of whatever carrier you are using to send the text.

On a lighter note,

" While the CS was generally helpful (and U.S. based, which is great), they were dumbfounded trying to deal with my request"

There is your proof that the customer care is US based ;-)

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I am very happy with prepaid, Straight Talk has served me well over 18 months now since I left my Verizon contract. No technical issues and decent speeds on the Galaxy Note N7000, Note II N7100, Sony Xperia Z and now the Z Ultra. Great coverage and decent download speeds. On the other hand, I seldom call customer service and have talked to them around 3 times during 11 years.;) That is because the carriers I have used works and if there's a failure, it is usually a service outage reported on their home page - or a SIM card problem - i.e. simple things. If I have a device problem, I rather contact the manufacturer directly (Samsung, Sony or HTC et al). That is what I usually do.

In the US, I think it is a problem that the carriers are involved in matters like device support etc that should be the manufacturers business. The carrier should provide service, if the device breaks you call the manufacturer and talk to their customer service - not with your carrier CS. People has to learn that concept. ;) Now it seems like people believe that the carrier should do everything including providing technical support for Samsung or HTC.;)

Prepaid in the US is a great value and offers important key benefits, especially that the device selection is superior since there's no need to limit the selection to what the carrier provides. There are 100s of smartphones available for use on prepaid carriers and that is one of the main reasons I use prepaid. I want to buy whatever *I* want, not getting 20 pre-selected devices (by a carrier) to choose from, all branded and locked down.

Then it is cheaper - even with a flagship for $600-700, I save around $1000 over two years compared to a US standard contract. And I can change phones whenever I want.

I certainly recommend prepaid in the US because of the value and freedom. If there would be unlocked devices available on postpaid plans with monthly installments together with a European price level, I would recommend postpaid. I am used to the ability to buy whatever unlocked phone I want and put it on postpaid with installments.

Since that is impossible in the US (you need a branded device from a carrier in order to get a subsidy or installment plan), prepaid just wins despise those things mentioned in the article.

Posted from the Xperia Z Ultra via Android Central App

I work in pre-paid & our store sells 8 different MVNOs and I've learned that they aren't all created equal. Tracphone services can be difficult to deal with even when you're an authorized dealer.
If you have the option go to a local dealer, they are becoming more common and can smooth out alot of these issues like porting between MVNOs.
IF you have a local dealer my favorites are H2O (an AT&T MVNO) and Pageplus (Verizon).

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"but I challenge you to find a postpaid carrier that will have you up and running that fast. Best of all, if I don't like the service I received for my $30, I'll go try something new next month."

When I first signed up for Sprint, it took about 10 minutes to provision my phone, so that's a wash compared to your T-Mobile plan. And if I didn't like the service, I had 30 days to cancel it, so that's pretty much a wash, too.

I have no issues with T-Mobile prepaid, I constantly switch the SIM card while in adapter in between phones and no issues. Was able to export my Google voice number into a new prepaid account.

Verizon spoiled me with lte and besides I have no idea what Google voice is or how it works so I can't try to test the waters with different prepaid plans and sim cards. I'd love to try though one day. I'd feel like jason bourne

The nice thing is that AT&T and T-Mobile both offer prepaid LTE now, so LTE isn't limited to just postpaid anymore.

If you don't have the requirement of Google Voice otherwise, don't move to Google Voice just to try out different carriers. Try them out while you're still using Verizon, then when you lock down on one you want, port your number to them.

Prepaid is for the value conscious, but also for the simplicity conscious. Postpaid companies are constantly changing their terms. In such a situation you cancel without strings, but 30 days from the moment they change the terms and you have to inform them before you cancel that this is the reason why you're changing/cancelling. They can change the terms whenever they want, but you only have 30 days, and they dictate which 30 days.
Give me a provider that requires a 2yr contract and won't change the terms at all for 2yrs, and I'm in. I'll even pay for the phone unsubsidized and sign a 2yr contract. They can gradually give me my money back over two years. The requirement, my phone has to be unlocked out of the box. No phone calls required to unlock.
A match made in heaven? I'm essentially the customer who never has to have to call them for customer service.