Prepaid SIM cards

Prepaid plans just keep getting better, even as postpaid offerings get more enticing

I wrote all the way back in September 2012 of the benefits of considering prepaid service over more traditional postpaid cell phone plan offerings. Now, over two years later, things just keep getting better for those who think outside the box and go a different route for their phone service. On a prepaid phone plan, having LTE is now the norm, while data packages keep getting larger and flexibility with BYOD is expanding.

I do have to say, however, that the increased competitiveness of these prepaid carriers have caused postpaid carriers to mix things up as well to try and entice you back to the other side. Separation of device subsidies from plans have cut down the overall cost of owning a phone for the savvy consumers, and new differentiators like inexpensive global roaming plans, shared data buckets and other add-ons make the choice a bit tougher.

But in the end if your bottom line is the be all end all for phone service, prepaid is still the way to go — and you don't have to give up as much as you used to before.

Boost Mobile box

It seems crazy to think how much things have changed in terms of prepaid phones, carriers and plans in the two years since I wrote that first editorial. Even at that time I had been on prepaid for several months, and on a no-contract T-Mobile plan before that, not understanding why more people don't take a look at the true cost of owning a phone and how much they could save by dropping one of the big four carriers for a less expensive choice.

Now, at the end of 2014, there are fewer reasons than ever to not consider prepaid for your monthly phone service. No longer do you have to go to a random and somewhat sketchy-seeming no-name carrier to get prepaid service — T-Mobile and AT&T have very competitive self-branded prepaid offerings, and even Verizon is loosening the grip on their prepaid plans. Sprint of course operates both Boost and Virgin, with the former in particular cutting plan prices and opening up to more devices.

No matter which carrier you choose, you're getting even more data and the flexibility to use it when you want. T-Mobile has always led the charge on its prepaid plans (particularly the magical $30 plan) with hefty amounts of data, but AT&T's GoPhone has caught up dramatically in just a handful of months. Boost and Virgin have both increased data allotments, with the former offering up to 10GB per month of high-speed data. Prepaid carriers across the board are bumping data plans, allowing the purchase of extra data buckets at competitive prices and choosing to throttle rather than cut off data altogether.

And you don't have to settle for the worst devices, either. A couple years ago the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) offerings were limited to just a few GSM prepaid carriers that didn't offer much data — now every prepaid carrier has some sort of BYOD system, even the CDMA-based operators. There are also some great prepaid devices available on AT&T, Verizon and other carriers as well. Beyond that, prepaid carriers have seriously upped their game in terms of devices they sell, and while they still don't offer the widest selection, they sell high-end devices from the Nexus line, the latest Galaxy S devices and HTC's flagships (and the latest iPhones — I realize it's a huge deal).

T-Mobile advertisement

Even if you don't use prepaid yourself, the pressure from prepaid carriers — yes, even the prepaid arms of big postpaid carriers — is a rising tide that lifts all ships. Postpaid carriers are expanding their offerings to include neat things that get reserved for the highest-paying customers, giving a little extra value to you for your extra dough every month. They realize that they need to give you more for your money, lest everyone flock to cheaper alternatives that offer much the same service. Today, if you choose to go postpaid, you'll get huge data buckets, freedom with tablet plans, interest-free device financing and other incentives that are quite nice.

Two years ago I said that prepaid wasn't "just phone burner phones anymore," and today it's hard to say that prepaid is for much other than leading smartphones with competitive plans at lower-than-usual prices. It'll be amazing to see where the U.S. prepaid industry is at in another two years, because if we keep up this pace things are going to get even better for everyone.