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Prepaid: Not just for burner phones anymore

My phone works just like yours. It makes calls, sends texts and has a high-speed data connection with nationwide coverage. As a matter of fact, I have the same device as many of you, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That’s all run-of-the-mill, so why’s this important? I pay $45 every month to use my phone.

“That’s crazy,” you might be saying, “I pay more for my data plan than you pay for your entire phone bill”. You’re right, it is kind of crazy. The cost of cellphone service in the United States is quite astronomical when compared to services around the world. The common misconception, however, is that there are no other options if you want to pay less for your service.

The true cost of cell phone ownership

Here in the United States, carrier advertising has a disproportionate amount of emphasis put on the up-front cost of the device, rather than the monthly service cost or total cost over the course of a 2-year contract. They want to entice you with a “cheap” device at $99, or a high-end device for as much as $299. What a deal, right? What they tend to hide, so to speak, is the monthly cost of ownership. For an individual, a contract from Verizon, Sprint or AT&T will set you back upwards of $100 per month. At the end of your two-year commitment, the $99 or $299 you spent on your device pales in comparison to the $2500 you just spent for service.

So let’s look at a quick example of buying a Samsung Galaxy SIII (S3) on the big, popular networks with a 2-year contract for each carrier’s unlimited plan (2GB and 3GB data plans selected on Verizon and AT&T, respectively, as they don't have unlimited options at this time), and compare it to three popular prepaid carriers. On the big 3, you’re paying $199 up front and signing a contract for service in the $120 per month range. On the 3 popular prepaid carriers I’ve selected, you’re looking at $599 (usually less nowadays, but we’ll keep it simple) for the device and $30, $45 or $60 per month (calculations here include a sales tax of 10%, which is about as high as you'll see) for service. Let’s see how the numbers come out after 2 years of phone ownership:

Android Central

The numbers don't lie. With the same phone and relatively the same service (or even better in terms of data offerings) from a prepaid carrier, you'll save hundreds -- or even thousands -- of dollars over the life of the 2-year contract. The deceptive marketing of the major carriers in the U.S. masks the true cost of ownership of a device over the life of the contract. Putting it on a chart like this, which shows that even in the most expensive case you "break even" in 8 out of 24 months, makes it extremely clear what savings there are to be had by going prepaid.

Now there’s no need to keep making the same point over and over, I think the above chart and graph speak for themselves. There’s no way to make a blanket statement about everyone’s situation, but the numbers would have to be significantly different for the prepaid carrier to ever be more expensive than the postpaid carrier in the long term -- or even the relatively short term.

Prepaid plan selection

There are officially some 40 distinct MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) carriers in the U.S., giving you plenty of options to choose from. For the sake of convenience, there are really only two providers that are worth looking at right now.

Straight Talk

One of the numerous MVNOs running under the TracFone parent company, Straight Talk offers a fantastic value with their single plan. Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and Unlimited Data, all for $45 (+ applicable sales taxes). Straight Talk offers service on either AT&T or T-Mobile depending on what your phone is compatible with, and is a great option for those who need the better coverage area nationwide offered by AT&T’s towers. While the plan says "unlimited", their terms of service indicate that they have the discretion to throttle your speeds for whatever they deem excessive use. It really depends on your market (how many other Straight Talk users are around you), but I've not had any issues keeping my speeds and using plenty of data.

T-Mobile Monthly 4G

T-Mobile offers a few different tiers of its prepaid service, dubbed Monthly 4G. The first tier is just $30 per month, and offers 100 Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and 5GB of 4G data. The second is $50 per month, and offers Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts, and 100MB of 4G data. The third, $60 for the same but 2GB of 4G data. The last is $70, with 5GB of 4G data. Seems like a lot of options, but it’s good that T-Mobile offers different tiers to save people some money. The most compelling option for many will be the $30 plan because talk minutes are starting to become less and less important.

Honorable mentions

Device selection

At this point we’ve established that switching to a prepaid service and buying your device at full price can save a substantial amount of money. But what device do you choose? Where do you find devices for prepaid service? For many people reading this article, the idea of going online to a smartphone importer and buying an unlocked device doesn’t sound too scary. To others, they may prefer the ease of walking into a store and buying a device in person. Both people have options, but unfortunately given the current state of the U.S. market, those willing to buy online may have a better selection.

For the latest high end devices, you have several options. Because of manufacturer agreements with carriers, they very rarely will sell directly to consumers. Luckily, there’s quite the market for unlocked devices online. From popular retailers like Amazon and Newegg to your smaller outfits around the internet, you’ll have plenty of options if you’re okay with buying online. Prices vary quite widely on unlocked devices, especially if you’re trying to get in on the first day of a device launch, but there are definitely deals to be had. Unlike buying directly from carriers, unsubsidized prices can come down over time.

For those who want to buy a device in store, you’re not out of luck! It may not always be the most cost effective option, but carriers and retailers like Best Buy and Radioshack will sell handsets at full price, and sometimes unlocked. The prices will often be high in order to entice people into contracts, but we understand if the security of buying at a store is worth a few extra dollars. If the phone is SIM locked, you’re not always out of luck. For example, phones SIM locked to AT&T can often be used on AT&T MVNO carriers without issues. If you want it unlocked, several services around the internet offer unlock codes for a nominal fee.

One word of warning when buying your device is to make sure you’re buying the proper model. Check ahead of time that the device has the correct radio bands for your carrier of choice, and that it comes SIM unlocked (if possible). A full manufacturer’s warranty is not a guarantee with these devices, as they’re often imported from other countries, so make sure to read the fine print. Luckily, third party phone insurance companies often cover unlocked phones the same way they would a carrier device.

Paying your bill

Filling up your prepaid phone account doesn’t require buying a card at a gas station and scratching a code off the back with a coin anymore. Any MVNO worth it’s salt today offers auto-refill options that automatically deduct from your credit or check card, meaning you never have to think about whether your phone will shut off on you at the end of the month. Once you get in the cycle of using your device and auto-refilling the service, it’ll feel the exact same as a postpaid contract plan. Keep the funds there, and your phone keeps working.

Things to know (odds and ends)

While I’ve chosen to put more emphasis on buying unlocked devices and using GSM carriers, the more “traditional” prepaid model of buying a cheap phone from the prepaid carrier and keeping the monthly costs as low as possible is the most viable option for some. Prepaid carriers like Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless offer everything from the cheapest flip phone up to mid-range devices like the HTC Evo 3D and now even higher end devices like the Samsung Galaxy SII (S2) and iPhone 4/4S as of late. They pair these phones with extremely cheap plans -- around $30 to $50 per month. You can’t unlock and take the phones to other carriers, but for the extremely budget conscious among us, there are great values to be had with these carriers.

The reasons I moved from traditional postpaid phone service to prepaid were twofold. First, I just like saving money -- and who doesn't, right? Second, and most importantly, I was tired of dealing with carriers. I was tired of waiting for updates, not having good device selection, uninstallable bloatware, carrier locked firmware, plan restrictions, everything. I was just tired of it all. I just wanted to buy the device I want and use it how I want, without any carrier telling me I couldn't. Everyone out there, from the hardcore phone enthusiast to the average user, has a bad story about how they were treated by their carrier or how they're not getting what they paid for.

I'll be the first to say that moving to a prepaid phone service isn't for everyone. But if you're at all like me, prepaid is just what the doctor ordered.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Well done article. Interesting to see prices broken down like this.
  • Is there any pre-paid option for those of us who want to be using Verizon's network? Their coverage (and especially, their 4G coverage) is way WAY better for me. To the point that I would not consider being on any other network at this time.
  • Ignore...double post
  • Page Plus and StraightTalk. I believe you'll be required to have them flash your VZW phone to make it work on their virtual networks, and I don't know if you'd be able to return to using your phone on VZW after doing so (could be wrong on that last point). You also won't get LTE (as of now).
  • I had Straight Talk about two years ago and I bought the card from Walmart. I bought the card for the Verizon network. Walmart has both. CMDA and GSM. I bought the phone at Walmart for the CDMA network. The ones with Verizon has a "C" So yes , they have them for both networks. At the time, I bought a feature phone that was CDMA.
  • Verizon has a prepaid plan but you need to use one of their prepaid phones and they only have one smartphone at this time .. plus its $80 a month and 1 GB of data. Straight Talk has 2 phones that work on Verizon (look for the CDMA-V on the box) but the are both under-powered and Low on storage.
  • Verizon has a prepaid plan but you need to use one of their prepaid phones and they only have one smartphone at this time .. plus its $80 a month and 1 GB of data. Straight Talk has 2 phones that work on Verizon (look for the CDMA-V on the box) but the are both under-powered and Low on storage.
  • I also would like to know as Verizon is the best in my area. Sprint and T-Mobile are almost non existent in my area and AT$T has connection problems here although it shows in my area. I have had AT&T and had to switch to verizon. No problems of any kind with Verizon. Straight Talk does have Verizon Phones , but they are not high end like those on AT&T . I hope Straight Talk will get some high end Phones for the Verizon network.
  • Wow i really feel for you US folks, we have got a much better deal here in the UK! Maybe we don't have the "4G" speeds, but i pay £10 ($16) a month on the virtual carrier Giff Gaff. For that measly £10 i get unlimited texts nationwide, 250 call minutes, and unlimited data. Absolute bargain and i would recommend them to anyone in the UK. Also the HSPA+ speeds of 7 meg+ are more than enough not to get frustrated. Man you Americans have got your balls clamped good and proper by the carriers, you need to break free!!!
  • I wish we could, I'm currently paying $230 a month for 3 smartphones.
  • You must be on VZW. That's almost to the penny what I also pay for three smartphones.
  • We Americans just keep buying and buying anything and everything that the Telcoms throw at us. mean while they are laughing all the way to the bank. It could be stopped if all would refuse to buy their prices , but we won't unfortunately stop . we cannot do without our toys and what a price we dummies will pay.
  • Quote ["Man you Americans have got your balls clamped good and proper by the carriers, you need to break free!!!"] Do you know why the carriers charge like this ? Because we keep on paying them at any cost. if people would refuse these outrageous prices , they would come down. But the sheep won't do it. They gotta have those toys at any price.
  • Why do the plans you are using from the postpaid carriers cost $120-130? You could get an $80 plan from Sprint and get unlimited data, unlimited texts, unlimited mobile-to-mobile calls...
  • i was about to ask the same question. i mean, who uses over 450 minutes a month to landlines between 7AM and 7PM on weekdays anyway?
  • Some of us use cell phones for businesses, and you really have no control over who calls you, and where they call you from, and when they call. Our company runs totally on cell phones, and during office hours out tech support calls have historically been almost always from land-lines because our users are sitting in corporate and government offices. Lately, I've seen that more and more of our calls are falling into the Mobile to Mobile category on our bill. Still, each of our techs blows thru 450 minutes every single month. Since we have a corporate plan, we are paying about 40 bucks a month (30 dollar data plan plus 10 dollar add-on-line) on AT&T. In fact, single-line plans on AT&T seem to be ridiculously cost prohibitive, and I suspect most AT&T customers add lines for family member to make the total package less revolting. Bur for individuals, its clear Andrew's analysis is spot on.
  • Agreed. I have att. I have the most basic single line plan with unlimited text and my grandfathered unlimited data and still pay roughly 150 in the end with taxes, etc. It is not cheap and this article gives me even more reason to finally drop them.
  • Crap 150 a month is enough to make someone go broke. My verizon Bill is 90 a month and that is Unlimited Data, 450 minutes unlimited txts, and 3 or 2gb on a tablet cant remember, an I thought mine sucked. I do get a discount but still 150 a month you need to try and see if the business you work for or something gets discounts.
  • Sprint to home costs 5/mo. Give sprint your google voice number as the sprint to home number. All incoming to the StH number calls are free 24x7. All outgoing calls are free 24/7 using a tool like flexdialer from the app store [configured to use the StH number of course].
  • Not me. I'm on Sprint's Everything Data 450 with the Android powered Samsung Transform Ultra and I only use about 10-20 mins a month calling landline's when and if needed. Most of my contacts have cell phones. The mobile to mobile is a really nice feature to have. Plus I do use a lot of data and text messaging so it worked out well for me.
  • I do for one use 900 minutes a month. 450 minutes would well put me over.
  • For ease of comparison, I chose to highlight each carrier's unlimited plan (close as possible because VZW and AT&T don't have unlimited data). That means selecting the plan that gives you unlimited everything, same as the prepaid plans.
  • Sprint's Unlimited plan is $109, which seems to include the $10 addon for a smartphone. I'm not sure where your $130 came from.
  • I have you actually looked at your monthly statement on a big 3 carrier? Assuming you do have one, it will not be 109 at the end of the month. Taxes, govt. fees, etc., etc. that they easily tack on for no reason jacks that price wayyyyy up.
  • $109.99 does not include taxes or fees, which easily put it to $130. Anyone who's regularly paid postpaid carrier bills will tell you.
  • Andrew, I have Sprint as my carrier and I can tell you from experience your numbers are WAY off. My FAMILY plan with the 450 minutes and unlimited everything else is $160 a month AFTER taxes and fees and all that other crud. The Family Simply Everything plan is about 20 bucks more. The single plans are roughly HALF the cost of the family plans INCLUDING the taxes and fees. On top of that, Verizon and AT&T don't offer truly Unlimited everything anymore, so you are making an Apples - Oranges comparison. Also, you need to avoid estimating taxes and fees. If you don't know, leave them off. Guesses do not make for good journalism. You can always include a qualifier afterward to indicate that these prices don't reflect those costs. (The excess costs are going to be pretty much the same across the board for all carriers, so you can leave them off and still get an accurate feel for the TCO.) Honestly, you need to pull this article, and then go back and do your research with an unbiased eye. Prepaid may indeed come out to be a better value, but you need to offer a more honest assessment. You owe at least that much to your readers.
  • ...this isn't an article that will be picked up by Reuters. It's a blog. An opinion. Go hit up Wall Street Journal if you are looking for unbiased reporting.
  • I have the Everything 450 plan on a single user account & my bill this month was $103.13 including the $11 for top-tier TEP insurance on my brand new GS3. __ I would've strongly considered the prepaid model had I not already been under contract with them for an additional year, but being that I wanted to use my final Sprint Premier Gold upgrade I decided to stay with a Big 3 carrier. My hope is that in 3 years when my contract is finally up with Sprint there will be amazing strides made in this business model. I've already recommended this approach to many friends who have all been pleased with their decision to go this route.
  • These numbers are not representative of Sprint's Family Plans, 450 minute plans, or anything of the sort. They are a single phone on a single line Sprint Truly Unlimited plan numbers, which are $109.99 before taxes and fees. That's ~$130 :) . I didn't make the plans, I just found the numbers on their own websites. As I've clearly pointed out, these are the unlimited plans from all the carriers, and 2GB-3GB plans selected on VZW and AT&T (which is normal for most users). Its a fair fight, and at that unlimited tier, Sprint is the most expensive. That's just how they've structured their plans. Selecting the 450 minute plan on Sprint while choosing the unlimited minute plans on AT&T and Verizon gives an unfair assessment of the true cost of unlimited on Sprint.
  • I'm pretty sure Sprints unlimited everything (talk, text and data) is $99. I pay $64 after taxes for unlimited everything except my 450 landline minutes after my corporate discount. Never worry about by bill.
  • It is but if you want a smart phone it's 10 extra a month.
  • Sprint's Truly Unlimited plan is $109.99 in the cart, plus sales taxes and regulatory fees puts it up over $130 :) .
  • the point was you were paying too much for your service. 80 dollars on Sprint is still twice as much as straight Talk.
  • I have Sprint's Everything Data 450 plan and there was an offer about a year ago that I was able to get another 300 anytime minutes put on. My girlfriend just switched her office land line to a cell and other than her home phone, I don't think I have a single friend I don't call exclusively on a cell. With my 23% work discount, I'm paying $78/mo. with TEP and taxes. Here's my usage in the past month: Anytime Minutes 0
    Any Mobile, Anytime 161
    Bonus Anytime 24
    Text Unlimited 275
    Night & Weekend 253
    Sprint 3G Data 1,456,510
    Sprint 3G Data Roaming 1,193
    Sprint 4G Data 24,770 The problem: Sprint's abysmal data speeds and patchy areas in the Metro Detroit area where I can feel the phone (GS2E4GT) heating up while trying to get data through a coffee stirrer-sized straw. A smartphone without data is a phone and if Verizon wasn't so freaking $$$$$$$$$$$$$$, I'd probably jump, especially since I'm more likely to get a three-way going with Anne Hathaway and Charlize Theron before Sprint lights up LTE in Motown.
  • Not everyone can use plans from Sprint. These carrier signals are not equal in all parts of the US. Verizon is excellent , but a weak connection to AT7T . None from Sprint and T-Mobile. So here in my area , it is Verizon.
  • I tried all weekend to get Straight Talk hooked up. They say Walmart offers it. Nope. Not the simm by itself... yet. Maybe October I am told. Oh, you want to buy a phone with the simm in it... we can help you there. I don't necessarily blame Walmart for going this route. Can't be much profit in a $14.99 simm card. But Straight Talk could be a little more informative about it. Oh, and will my phone work ok with it? Unlocked Atrix 4G. Well, not sure.... have to try it and see. And oh, by the way, no refunds on simm or plan if it does not work.
  • Info Atrix 4G will work fine. AT&T will even get 4g where aviable but T-Mobile is limited to 3g. How to buy a sim at straight talk.
  • I'm not an expert, but like it says in the article, it's just a matter of knowing if the device you want supports the frequencies for your phone. ST's website lets you choose the SIM you want to buy. So, if you have an AT&T phone, you'd buy their AT&T SIM. If you have a T-Mobile phone, you'd buy the T-Mobile SIM. If you're shopping for a new device to put on ST, I'd say your best bet would be to check both AT&T and T-Mobile coverage maps, see which is best, and limit your purchase to a phone for that network, or something that you research and know supports both carriers, it should be easy info to find.
  • Just order the sim from the website, and yes unlocked Atrix will work (just bought one for my girlfriend and it works like a charm). Only issue you have is changing the APN settings but there are a ton of walkthroughs on the web. Pull the trigger and never look back, it's a hell of a toboggan ride.
  • I put a Straight Talk SIM (purchased online) in an LG Thrill (ATT unlocked phone). I called ATT for the unlock code and it was easy. Voice, MMS/Pic MMS, and Data work like a charm. On the iPhone 3g, the voice and text worked, but not the data and Apple makes it difficult or impossible to change the settings around to accommodate the new sim. I think the Atrix will work perfectly, I am super happy the Thrill I used. True on the no refunds but we lived happily ever after.
  • Sprints plan is the cheapest, how does it end up being higher than VZW or ATT?
    After taxes it ends up 90$ no where near 100-130..
  • thats what i thought too... but go look. they got expensive.
  • I sell Sprint ATT and Verizon...
    80 Sprint Unlimited everything, essentially.
    90 ATT Same only with 3gb of data.(if they let you not use the data share plan)
    90 VZW 450 minutes, unlimited text, 2gb data (if they let you use the old plan)
    With the share plans on vzw and att, it jumps to 100$ and you get less data.
    2 lines although will run you 150, same as sprint, with the share plan.
  • I just left Sprint and I was paying $100 after taxes for unlimited everything. I think he is off on his figures with Sprint but his overall point is correct.
  • No they didn't he's comparing Apples and Oranges. He's taking the Sprint Family Plans and the AT&T and Verizon Single Plans.
  • I was gonna say, that REALLY looks off. there is no way on earth the Sprint single plan is that much. I should know, I have Sprint and my FAMILY plan is that much. With research that sloppy it called into serious question everything else about this article.
  • I'm pretty sure he took the price from Sprint's own website: If you can't research something that easy then you have no right to call this guy's article into question. It took my two clicks to find that. And to everyone else out there - this article is spot on. I am using an unlocked Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile's monthly $30 plan and it is freaking amazing. With my corporate discount on Sprint with an Evo 3D I was paying about $85 a month. So I'm saving $55 a month with faster data speeds and better coverage in my area. I couldn't be happier.
  • Thanks :) . Good link. Like you, I used my Galaxy Nexus on the $30 T-Mobile plan for just shy of 8 months and it was absolutely great, never had any issues. I just needed the slightly better coverage and more minutes offered by Straight Talk.
  • All of the numbers are from their own corporate websites for individual plans. Went through the buying process as if I was starting a new single line with each carrier.
  • Funny cause I'm with AT&T and my bill is exactly $90 a month for everything.
  • when I was on sprint w/bb 8330, I had the unlimited 450 minute plan. After the double taxation (which is illegal) my bill came to $95-$97 every month! Got a zte warp (dont personally like the phone) with boost unlimited android option for 8 months now; my bill is $54.00 insurance, taxes included. prior to the $5 off every 6 months it was $59.00. The numbers don't lie
  • Sprint's truly unlimited plan is $109.99 + taxes + fees = ~$130. This is not their 450minute plan, which is not unlimited.
  • It's fun listening to people try to say you did this wrong.
  • Be careful what you say, Bishounen will come scream at you for doing poor research. lol. What an idiot.
  • good read!! WOW.. sprint has changed in the last 5 months since i moved from them! I even wen to their site cause i "was sure the numbers were off" but WOW they got expensive fast! I was paying $130 a month for 2 phones unlimited data and unlimited mobile to mobile!! Looks like they needed to pay for some network improvements! lol
  • Sprint has two lines for 150..a third for 180..thats 60$/month each line.
  • Wow, excellent and informative article. I've been on Verizon forever and my 2-year contract is up at the end of the year. The T-Mobile $30 looks really enticing. I haven't wanted to switch from Verizon because I have unlimited data, but if I could get 4GB of 4G data for $30 I would definitely do it. 100 minutes is plenty for me. Edit: Can someone explain what type of 4G T-Mobile has? Is it HSPA+ or LTE?
  • hspa+
  • Just so you know, it's actually 5GB:)
  • I have T-Mobile's $30 100/unlim text/unlim data plan. It's actually the Walmart plan, and when it was first released, it was a real pain to sign up for it. But now that I have it, I love it. Tmobile has HSPA+ "4G" (or faux-G as some people have labled it). But to be honest, in NYC/Brooklyn where I live, I never get less than 14 Mbps down/2 Mbps up. That's pretty damn good. Also, T-Mo isn't a douche about tethering your other devices, which is another plus for me. As for the 100 minutes, T-Mobile allows you to add minutes to your phone via its website, or simply by sending a text from your phone. And any minutes that you don't use are put into a pool that can be used when you run out of plan minutes.
  • In what world do you live in where a sprint plan costs $120/month? Even with the premium data add on, 450 minutes with unlimited everything else is $80. Tack on insurance, and it is $86. That is if you have no institutional discounts, which many people have. Even verizon for the new 2gb data shared plan is $100/month, and the cost goes down with each added line (though the data does too, which sucks). You still make a good case, but you ruin the whole point by comparing unlimited plans from pre-paid companies to prepaid. EDIT: $86 x 12 x 2 = $2,064 + 200 = 2,264
    30 x 12 x 2 = 720 + 500 (for equally spec'd phone) = $1,220 Still $1,000 savings
  • For ease of comparison, I selected the completely unlimited plans from each carrier. These prepaid plans are all unlimited minutes, so I chose the postpaid carrier's unlimited plans too. On Sprint, that's about $130/mo after taxes and fees.
  • Regarding Sprint Where do you come up with your numbers? Lets assume smartphones. Using the website: Totally Everything including unlimited data (speeds notwithstanding) is 109.99 + your 10% you refrenced in the article for taxes/fees. So $121. Your $9 off on completely unlimited. But no one takes that plan that dosent have to call unlimted to landlines.
    So unlimited Data 450 $79.99 + 10% taxes/fees = $87 This is not including the 20%ish discount that just about everyone gets based on where they or anyone in their family gets for where they work. I get your overall point, prepaid is cheaper, And your right. But your numbers are bad and you should feel bad. So no your charts don't "speak for themselves"
  • $87 plus at LEAST $10 in taxes and fees , prepaid includes those fees in the monthly price
  • I already added those: See above: 79.99 + 10% taxes/Fees? = $87
  • sorry i thought you were adding for insurance (which by the way is now up to $11 per month for higher end phones) but i was getting a 25% discount (which is only 25% of the base $69) so it was $17.25 off, my bill was $83 every month including $7 insurance. that brings the total without discount to $100, or $93 w/o insurance... that's $13 in taxes and fees that i don't have to worry about on my $30/month TOTAL prepaid plan
  • 10% tax + Sprint's fees (and local fees). Easily $130. On the prepaid carriers, you often only pay sales tax on your refills (sometimes not even tax). These prices are all pulled directly from the carrier websites. Of course in different states the prices are slightly different because of the fee structure, but it's all pretty darn close. I'm never going to calculate based on any discounts that some and not others can get, these prices will be what anyone could get by walking into a carrier store today and starting a new line. Anyone can also get these low prepaid costs without any hassle and have unlimited everything. The easiest way to compare these carriers is unlimited vs unlimited. That's what I've done. Numbers speak for themselves. I think the saddest thing about it is that even if you do compare the 450min Sprint plan, it'll come out to about $90+/month (remember the $10 premium data addon), which is double the cost of the prepaid plan that offers more than 450min.
  • I'm not trying to argue that prepaid is not cheaper, because it is. What I'm trying to point out is that you are making Sprint the highest priced postpaid carrier which is simply not the case. Your graph is biased. You say you want to compare "unlimited" well AT&T/Verizon don't have true unlimited, you can't compare this way. Also I took the number you estimated in taxes and fees in your article (10%) and applied it to $109.99 this is still less than $130. An economics major should know better.
  • Nearly all prepaid plans come with unlimited minutes, so I'm simply pointing out what you'd have to pay on a postpaid carrier in order to get the same experience. On Sprint, completely unlimited minutes, text and data is $109.99 + taxes and fees. On Verizon and AT&T, unlimited minutes texts and 2GB-3GB of data is about $110 + taxes and fees. Add another $10 each if you want another GB. You've got to realize that on the prepaid plans all you add is tax because there are no fees. You're simply buying a refill card. On postpaid, there are a whole host of other fees. Try to slice the numbers any way you want, but I'm simply comparing apples to apples. Same plans same features all around, except where Verizon/AT&T don't offer unlimited data. I'm not giving an advantage or disadvantage to anyone, and obviously I can't split it the 1000 different ways you could configure the plans and phones. I'm comparing unlimited to unlimited, and in that situation, Sprint is the most expensive carrier, Verizon and AT&T close behind, and prepaid carriers drastically less expensive. You say its not fair to use Sprint's unlimited plan, I say its not fair to use Sprint's 450 minute plan. It's not actually unlimited, so I'm not going to do it.
  • You are being wildly reactive regarding your flawed Sprint assumption here, sir. The value of Sprint's truly unlimited data well outstrips the value of any additional minutes over 450; the unlimited data, 450 minute plan is the stock Sprint plan, and is the most honest comparison with no-contract arrangements. The fact that it's $43 cheaper ($130 - $87) than the plan you chose to represent hurts your argument, and you are being slimy and defensive about it, with all due respect. Do you seriously think that representing the most overpriced plan from Sprint, one that even their reps tell you is a ripoff, is intellectually honest? The central point you're making is a good one, but it hurts your credibility when you make silly comparisons.
  • Well said. And you're dead on about where the rational value is. Further, as a prepaid apologist, I suspect this is why Andrew is beating his chest over minutes. In postpaid land, data's the hot commodity for most, but general-use minutes aren't a concern. This is particularly true on Sprint where evenings start the earliest and you can call for free to *any* other domestic mobile phone. The difference between 450 and unlimited quickly blurs. To break it down, I use over 1200 minutes per month making long phone calls to people back home, but only use about 15 "minutes" per month. In prepaid land I'm sure one gets to obsessing over time and not data as none of that free air time is available. So yes, it was a poor choice for making any sort of value comparison, IMHO. Just goes to show, everyone has to suss out the best value from a mountain of options that meets their needs.
  • And BTW 79.99 for 450 data is with the $10 add on. Non smartphone is 69.99. So still using your numbers (10%) 79.99 would we 87.99. Not "over $90" you can't play with your numbers like that and have any credibility.
  • Anyone who has paid a postpaid cell phone bill knows that there are other charges than simply sales tax. There are state and federal fees, access fees, etc. that all get added on. Ask anyone with the $109.99 Sprint unlimited plan, they'll tell you their bill is about $130 :) .
  • @Andrew:
    I have Sprint's 450min plan with the Epic 4G and my monthly bill is ~$91. This includes $11 for the device insurance, Sprint's $10 smartphone tax (aka the non-existing "4G tax"), and I have a total of $4 in courtesy discounts. So lets do some math: $91.00 - $11.00 + $4.00 = ~$84.00/month. This includes all supplementary taxes (such as 911, etc) and my state and county/parish sales tax in Louisiana. Looking back at Sprint's new pricing structure, it looks like they jumped new contracts for my plan up by $10, so let's assume I would pay ~$94/month without insurance and the discounts. As neither AT&T nor Verizon have a proper unlimited plans, then you really cannot use Sprint's full unlimited plan (base price of $109.99) as your reference point for Sprint. AT&T & Verizon have a ceiling on data usage before they charge you per MB or GB over the cap. (Ignoring the fact that Sprint's network is rather crap, and Tmobile's data throttling) The closest comparison for all carriers would be the base plan of ~$80. -Sam
  • You're basing your numbers on Sprint's 450 minute plan, which is not their unlimited plan. Sprint's unlimited plan has a base price of $109.99 :) .
  • and then you would add tax...
  • Plus taxes and fees, i was paying $83/month on sprint AFTER a 25% discount and including insurance... I switched to tmobile and pay $30 now with all those fees included
  • Plus you think America has it bad, try Canada. Not only do we pay more for our devices, but it's also on a 3-year contract. We don't have ANY unlimited data plans. I think if you wanted a 6gb plan, with about 200 minutes, early evenings and weekends, unlimited texts, it's around $80-ish. Owning a device like an iPhone in Canada is the most costly out of all the developed nations. I'd love to be able to pay say $90-ish and get unlimited everything in Canada
  • Like triangle, I've got Sprint and pay way less than I did on Verizon, so I'm not sure about that chart up there. That being said, my Sprint service is still way more expensive than $45/mo. :-) Well done article.
  • My issue is that I need Verizon's network, as nobody else has reception worth a damn around my home, and I'm not aware of any prepaid vendor using Verizon's cell towers. Am I mistaken?
  • I think page plus uses Verizon towers.
  • PagePlus. They allow you to bring your verizon phone too.
  • Page Plus is the only one I'm aware of using Verizon's towers, but I'm sure there are others. I choose not to highlight the CDMA bring-your-own-device carriers simply because it doesn't really fit into the model of buying unlocked phones and using on GSM carriers. They are there for those who need them, though.
  • Quote ["My issue is that I need Verizon's network, as nobody else has reception worth a damn around my home, and I'm not aware of any prepaid vendor using Verizon's cell towers. Am I mistaken?"] Straight Talk does use Verizon Network. But , unfortunately , there are only a couple of smartphones and they are not high-end like those that use T-Mobile and AT&T Network. I use to have Straight Talk feature phone and it used the Verizon Network. I know several people that have Straight Talk and they use the Verizon Network. I keep hoping they will add more smartphones. Check out Howard Forums. and XDA forums.
  • The only thing the article didn't mention is whether it is possible to port your existing number to the prepaid one. If it is doable, I am going to switch once my contract is expired!
  • Yes you can port your number with straight talk. I didn't even need to call my carrier.
  • It is doable. Don't disconnect your current line with your number. When you activate your new phone select to port an existing number and your new carrier will handle the cancellation and porting of your number. I just did this when going from Sprint to Straight Talk.
  • I've ported numbers both to T-Mobile Monthly 4G and Straight Talk. They do the work for you, and there's no fee (usually) because you'll be starting service with them.
  • I know too many people who fell in to the trap of thinking they'd have to get a new number when they switch carriers. But as of 2003/2004, the FCC REQUIRES it: So even if the guy at Walmart says it's not possible, he's full of crap, and just doesn't want to bother filling out the paper work.
  • There Is no paperwork, you do however need your account number, pin, name and address as I appears on your bill, etc. And has been stated you have to have active service with the old carrier.
  • When I went with Straight Talk , I had a Verizon account. I ported my Verizon number to Straight Talk and that ended my Verizon account. My account with Verizon was automatically terminated when I ported my number to Straight Talk.
  • If I could put a .gif of Citizen Kane clapping in this comment, I would. Great Job!
  • Great article. I moved to pre from post because of the reasons you give, along with crappy customer service, I had enough. "Filling up your prepaid phone account doesn’t require buying a card at a gas station and scratching a code off the back with a coin anymore."
    ---I remember doing this, I had a cheap Nokia phone a long time ago, and used to get my scratch off refill cards at Walgreen's.
  • Currently a Veri$on customer, contract up very soon. questions about Straight talk 1 - if I go and buy a galaxy nexus off the google play store, can I get a simm that will work? 2 - can I port my existing number?
  • yes and yes Straight Talk has a Sim-Only plan.
  • The unlocked Galaxy Nexus from the Play Store has the bands for either AT&T or T-Mobile, so any of these prepaid carriers will work for you. Yes, you can port your number.
  • Yes. I did this last month with the TMo $30/mo plan.
  • Awesome write up! +1 if you ask me.
  • Great article! I have been thinking about switching to prepaid. The only deal breaker is the coverage maps. I'm on Verizon with unlimited data, and it's fast everywhere I go. I don't want to sacrifice good service just to save a couple of bucks. And I travel alot, so being in the middle of nowhere with no service whatsoever sounds scary =/
  • Straight Talk with an AT&T sim isn't much different from Verizon, in fact their are areas that have better AT&T coverage than Verizon. I switched from Verzion to Straight Talk and when with AT&T sim for coverage reasons and I'm very happy with the service, even in the boonies. Of course these things depend on your location.
  • I'd have to disagree with that. AT&T coverage is not nearly as good, at least not in my state. Number one reason why I stay with VZW is their network. It has coverage. I am supposed to be getting 4G LTE near my house in the next month. My work Blackberry that is from AT&T is still on Edge!!! That's sad. And I live in area where we should have better coverage. GSM coverage outside the east and west coast becomes much less dependable unless you live in a larger city in the middle of the country. I think that's something that isn't mentioned enough in these articles. This doesn't work or apply for everyone. I would love to go prepaid...but GSM carriers don't allow for it easily. The one differing factor everyone should always consider is coverage where they live, work, and commute.
  • True enough, I live in NJ all of the carriers provide 3G or 4G coverage in my area.
    These things are location specific.
  • Good point. I checked TMo's website for their coverage maps before I made the switch. Saving money isn't really worth it if your phone never has service. lol. With that said, if you can get reliable coverage and decent data speeds, it's silly not to switch.
  • I'm looking to switch to T-Mobile or Straight Talk after my pricey Verizon contract is up in the spring. I'm banking on the s3 being cheaper by then. Which would be the better network? I've only used a 3g device on Verizon.
  • It depends on what your looking for, for coverage go with AT&T it's has much better coverage than T-mobile, If your main concern is data speeds then T-mobile may be a better choice, but check the t-mobile coverage maps because their coverage is considerably less comprehensive.
    If you go with Straight Talk t-mobile their is no roaming so rememeber to omit the service partner areas, with t-mobile prepaid you still get to roam into those areas.
  • Ok thanks. T-Mobile seems to have pretty solid coverage in my area since I live in a city now. And the roaming could be a plus.
  • So could I theoretically purchase the Note 2 and just pay for Straight Talk through an at&t service?
  • Yup. Note 2 + stright talk sim card + $45/mo for unlimited everything = money!
  • Sweet. That is cool. Thanks!
  • Does the SIM free international version of Galaxy Note II work of the AT&T frequencies or on the T-Mobile ones?
  • The ONLY thing keeping me tied to Verizon right now is my grandfathered Alltel unlimited data plan. I get 500 minutes with 11 numbers free (anyone remember my cirle?), unlimited texts, and unlimited 4G data. I pay $130/mo for my phone (Gnex) and my wife's phone (D4). When my daughter is old enough for a phone, however, I will be going with stright talk. $45 a month to not have to worry about her going over on minutes or texts will work perfect for me.
  • I did this for my wife and I a few months back when the GNex became available direct from the play store. We were on sprint at the time. After looking at our useage, I switched us both to the $30, 100 minute 5GB plan from T-mo. Monthly bill dropped from $148 to $60 a month, saving us a ton of money over the course of 2 years. Basically the math breaks down like this: Sprint:
    2x Galaxy Nexus = $199x2 = $398
    24 months of service @ $148/mo = $3,552
    Service + Devices = $3,950 over 2 years T-mo Monthly4G:
    2x Galaxy Nexus = $399x2 = $798 (purchased before the price drop)
    24 months of service @ $60/mo = $1,440
    Service + Devices = $2,238 over 2 years Crazy, but it adds up.
    Oh, and get this. If you keep your phone for say 3 years, once your contract is up, your monthly bill doesn't go down. Technically, your still paying the subsidy on that phone you bought for a *cheap* price. Want more info? Here is the XDA thread that got me started:
  • I have had a MVNO phone for the last 6 years or so. Started with Amp'd then went to Boost when Amp'd went bankrupt. Unfortunately coverage from boost was pretty poor in my area so when StraightTalk started offering the Nokia E71 I snapped that up and loved it. This year, as my graduation present to myself, I upgraded to the unlocked GNex, I just pulled the SIM out of my E71 and put it in the GNex and it has worked great for me and I only pay $50.02 with tax but they are now taking $2.50 off if you use auto refill. I would never think of switching to a post-paid plan and have never had my data throttled.
  • I think these pre-pay phones plans are great but if you can get a phone subsidized on sprint, after a nice discount, it won't be cheaper. I have two lines on a 5 line plan, all of which are smart phones and have the added $10 fee. after taxes the bill for 1500 mins, unlimited text and unlimited data my bill comes to $254. That comes to $50.84 and that's after I save hundreds on a handset. For instance, you can grab a Galaxy S III on Sprint from Amazon right now for $119. Doesn't get better than that if you can get on a plan with several other people.
  • Uhh $50>$30 :p
  • Not exactly, I got my Galaxy S III on Sprint for $100. If I were to buy the same phone on T-Mobile, unlocked, it would be $679 (price on T-mobile's site right now for an unsubsidezed phone, which equates to more than $28/month extra if you spread that $679 over the span of 24 months. Now, I was thinking of getting the Galaxy Nexus for a cool $350, but then the car dock is an astonishing $49 or so, so then you're at $400 before taxes. Sprint was cheaper, any which way I did it with the promise of LTE soon*.
  • As far as phones i bought a blaze for $300 which included a $50 refill card, so basically $250 for an excellent phone, unsubsidized My cost for 2 years is $970 including phone :p And im getting 12Mbps
  • Big Family plans like you 5 line plan are the exception, for someone with 1 line or even some with 2, prepaid can be a real bargain.
  • There is a major problem that this article leaves out and it deals with Straight Talk. I too was interested in dumping my ATT plan, which includes the unlimited data plan in favor for Straight Talk but I read too many complaints from people who experienced capped data speeds a few weeks after using Straight Talk. Numerous people, not just one, all experienced permanent data slow downs a few weeks after getting 600-700kb/s down on their Nexus or whichever smartphone they were using. It seems ATT prioritizes their data speeds so that prepaid gets the short end of the stick. I am sure there are people who say they have no problem at all, but it turns into a matter of when will those who arent capped get capped and I am not risking losing my unlimited data plan to save a few bucks then get MetroPCS speeds.
  • Note that Straight Talk will not roam. TMob prepaid will. I just got back from a bike trip through SD and WY. My little crappy Nokia that's I'm testing the service on got cell service fine, but each time it connected, it was roaming. Worked fine. But ST specifically says no roaming. So if you leave the big cities, be aware you might have zero service at all. "Will my Straight Talk phone Roam?
    No, your Straight Talk phone won't roam, you will be able to enjoy nationwide coverage on one of America´s best networks, at the same price of a local call!"
  • That's why I went with Straight Talk with an AT&T sim, AT&T phones don't really need roaming. T-mobile without roaming really sucks. but people choose them because they have higher peak speeds. Though I've used a T-mobile prepaid sim and an AT&T prepaid sim, AT&T is a little slower but has more consistent data speeds and has much better coverage than t-mobile.
    If you want the higher peak speeds and roaming go with t-mobile prepaid, but you do pay a little more if your one of the people who use more than 100 minutes of talk, I still do.
    But you'll still pay a price because even with roaming t-mobile's coverage isn't as good.
  • Yes, prepaid is awesome if you can use one operating off of the sprint network, which unfortunately has subpar coverage. COmpanies like Virgin and Boost Mobile are great. Ones operating off at&t or verizon suck, phone selection for the first, cost for the second.
  • I'd rather run on ATT or T-Mo than Sprint. Sprint's network is slow, HSPA+ is far faster. Plus the phones are far more versatile with SIMs vs carrier based ESNs.
  • Phone selection for a prepaid AT&T carrier is the best in the world. You can use any GSM phone :) .
  • I recently dropped Verizon and switched over to Tmobile's $30 plan with unlimited text, 100 minutes and 5GB of data. I was tired of Verizon's control over my phone and tired of contracts. I finally bought a GSM Nexus and went Prepaid and have not looked back! With HSPA+ I really have no complaints and really don't miss LTE that much (plus better battery life). Im a heavy data user as well and this month I only used 2.27GB (on Verizon I used to use 5-6GB a month!). My prepaid monthly bill with auto renew in 2 days and I haven't even hit 3GB this month!. I am more awaer of Wifi spots more than ever too. What kept me on hold on VZ was the grandfathered unlimited plan...but I was paying them 100 amonth plus tax! I said forget that and left them... I'm now saving over $70 a month which equals out to be $840 a year. No data throttling and no BS. I switched my number which took 24 hours to port over from Verizon and I have had ZERO regrets...the only regret I have is not doing this any sooner! Plus GSM>CDMA any day
  • I switched to Monthly4G and a T-Mo SGSII (now a GNexus since JB launched) and am saving $60/month over my previous Sprint bill. Well worth buying the phone outright. If I needed more than 100 minutes for some reason, I can switch over to StraightTalk in a day or two. Its easier to change phones (sell the old phone as a no-contract device, buy new no-contract device), easy to switch carriers (no-contract involved, and I can always sign a contract if I had to get a new phone tomorrow), easy to juggle carriers (Google Voice doesn't care what your carrier number is), and most importantly its inexpensive. edit: I also think I should mentioned that (on T-Mo at least), $30 is $30. No additional taxes on the bill. ST should be the same way.
  • I already have my wife and my numbers on google voice so I will switch when it economically makes sense, but so far there is two things that still makes post paid (ATT) cheaper for me.
    1. Family plan
    2. Employee discount Right now after discounts with 2 plans @ 2GB a month I pay right around ~$99 after tax.
    Until the prepaids can bring my service total down for two phones to cover the lost subsidization of my phones I'm not going anywhere.
  • I currently have Unlimited data through Verizon. I am seriously considering T-Mobiles unlimited everything plan or Simple Mobile's unlimited everything plan (probably option 2).
  • That's what I'm using with my GNex and loving it.
  • Yup, you can save big and get better service! I have a Galaxy Nexus with the T-Mobile $30 / 5Gb / 100 min plan. I buy refills through Calling Mart and usually get 5% off, so $28.50 a month. I supplement with VoIP using CSipSimple and and it works perfect on 3G or stronger (I'm in rural CA with no 4G). It will work on GPRS or Edge, sometimes. Plus, even if I go over minutes on cellular, I am still saving money until I hit the 250 minutes a month. For full gravy, I use Google Voice for my number that I have had for years (ported to Google Voice). Calls to it forward to, if I am registered there with good wifi or 3g, I take the call; if not good voip registration, then my calls forward to my cell number that no one knows. If I cannot answer that, or I am busy, the Google Voice takes my voicemail message. I am paying for premium service, at $1.00 / mo for the DID number, plus 1.25 cents per minute. My monthly bill has been about #32.00 per month now, with 5Gb data and 500 minutes cell and voip talk.
  • Wow US pricing sucks! I pay £10 for 250 mins, unlimited texts and unlimited data. PAYG FTW.
  • It's staggering that the US has no credit based, contractless (with ad hoc payment) mobile services!! For those that don't understand what PAYG is, you buy a phone (usually a lot more than a contract, but not as much as full price) and have a specific provider, but there is no contract at all. You "top up" your account on an ad hoc basis, and can only use the service for outgoing calls/sms if you have "credit" on your account. Users can top up at hundreds of Supermarkets, convenience stores and over the phone. It's painless. My eldest has had a Tesco mobile PAYG phone for over a year. She pays for credit, and we don't have to get involved. PAYG power most of the teenage and low income phones in the UK. All of the main players offer it, and so do most of the resellers (virtual providers.)
  • Bravo, I left Verizon after my contract was up and bought a GSM galaxy nexus and I use it on Straight Talk with the AT&T sim, I get immediate updates, no contracts and I pay less than half of what I used to pay Verizon.
  • I have always used a contract phone and I just purchased my prepaid phone with Virgin Mobile recently. Everything is good about prepaid, except for one thing - ROAMING. This is something the author of the article has missed. Most (probably all) prepaid phones do not roam when out of coverage area. If you have a Virgin/Boost phone, it will only work where Sprint has network. As soon as you go out of Sprint's coverage area, it will stop working. Sprint phones however do roam on Verizon and vice versa. In addition to this, check any prepaid carrier's coverage and you'll notice that their coverage is not as widespread as the big fours.
  • Yup! I could have written this - same phone, same plan, same reasons!
    When VZW dropped corporate discounts, that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. Of course, doubling my rate didn't help. They said I could keep my unlimited plan by buying my next phone retail (so THAT'S what grandfathering means.) So I did. But not from them...
  • I'm one of the weirdos here, as I have a Sprint Contract with a Nexus S4G and T-Mobile Pre-pay with Samsung Exhibit II 4G. With Sprint I'm under a family plan,well with my family LOL at $37.00 monthly unlimited everything. With T-Mobile I have the $30.00 a month 100 talk, and up to 5GB unlimited 4G, after the 5GB you drop to non-4G, which I think is 2G on T-mobile. Why two different carriers and 2 different phones? I purchased the Exhibit 2nd hand from a buddy with the reasoning of using it mostly for Hotspot with my Nexus 7 and also because I spend a great portion of the year in either Mexico or Central America, hence needed a phone with sim (GSM) card to pop in while traveling. On Sprint I was using a BlackBerry Curve 8530 that was dying a slow death and had become obsolete for anything other than talk, email, and BBM. Found a cool website, not sure I can list it here, that offers awesome deals on Android devices, caught a deal on the Nexus s 4G and said goodbye to BlackBerry. T-Mobile's 4G data speeds have been really good in almost every area I've used it, and a life saver when I needed to do something really quick and my Sprint 3G was blah. I have been using the service quite a bit the last few weeks, just checked my usage and I haven't even hit 2GB and it's already time to pay the bill again LOL.
  • My only issue with the switch from T-mo postpaid to prepaid was that Google Voice voice mail does not work with T-mo prepaid. Apparently prepaid on T-mo does not accept the type of call forwarding needed. I knew it going in and still ported my number to GV hoping it would be a minor annoyance. In the end I decided to port my number out of GV to my new T-mo SIM and it's been great.
  • Right, T-Mobile prepaid doesn't support "conditional call forwarding", which means that if someone calls your T-Mobile number, they can't be forwarded to your Google Voice voicemail box, only the T-Mobile voicemail box. However, if you're using your Google Voice number as your primary number and someone calls it, Google Voice voicemail works fine, because there's no forwarding to be had. Straight Talk does offer conditional call forwarding on its prepaid plans.
  • Thanks for the info. Nice write up, BTW.
  • Umm, I don't know where you're getting your information on what Sprint's cost per month is, but it's very wrong. Sprint for me (which does include a 20% discount) is roughly $75/mo with unlimited EVERYTHING. That said, even without my discount, the plan costs $80, with the required add-on of the premium data for $10. That's $90 before taxes/fees, which would amount to MAYBE $100-$110/month after them. Not $130.
  • Sprint's individual "Simply Everything" plan is $109.99/month before taxes and fees. As noted above, the charts are based on each carrier's unlimited plans (or as close as possible w/ Verizon and AT&T), which gives the best comparison to the prepaid plans, which area also unlimited. There's a difference between a 450min plan and an unlimited minutes plan. Also, I'm never going to calculate my numbers based on some discounts that aren't applicable to everyone. I'm going to give the numbers that anyone could get by walking into a store with no special treatment.
  • Andrew I'm sorry cause I don't usually do this but your wrong. I work at the flagship sprint store in Los Angeles. Its called the supercenter store number 545 you can look it up. Only two other stores in the country rival the amount of bussiness, stock, and foot traffic we get there. From that experience I can tell you a few things. One, Verizon nor At&T is cheaper than sprint for what you get. When I read that I just knew you had made a type o. Also even people who have businesses STILL very rarely choose the EVERYTHING unlimited data plan and the ones that do, get a discount for having a or working for a business usually between 10-27%. Taxes and fees are NO MORE than 20 bucks a month on an individual plan and we have some of the highest taxes in the country here in Los Angeles (they charge tax on the full retail price of the phone) Yes your argument that prepaid is cheaper is VERY valid and is a much better value for some no doubt about it. But your research is flawed as is your comparison. You also took basically the worst case/most expensive scenarios from the post paid carriers and pit them against the best/cheapest case scenarios of the prepaid options with no mention of methods or offerings available that can lower the post paid option considerably (like discounts/no overage on sprints unlimited plans/etc..) In reality and I know this from weekly morning meetings over 70% of sprints individual user base is on the 79.99 450 min unlimited data plan plus 10 for a smartphone and your at 90.00 bucks insurance is not mandatory so I won't include that taxes and fees your looking at 114.00 a month and that's with no discount. And let me tell you of the hundreds of accounts I look up a week I can count on one hand how many DONT have a discount applied.
  • The above-mentioned plan may be $109.99/month, but good luck finding a real person who would even consider that. Sprint gives me unlimited minutes to any cell phone from any carrier (as most carriers do in their unlimited plans), and my 450 minutes are for land-line calls. How many of us make calls to a land-line for any considerable amount of minutes in a given month? I think I speak for the country, unanimously, when I say that number is going to be a very small percentage. I'd be as bold as to say less than 5%. So where does that leave us? Again, even without any "discounts that aren't applicable to everyone", your logic is still flawed. If someone legitimately doesn't like Sprint for one reason or another, I accept that. Even as a customer of theirs, I despise their data speeds. That's not why I chose them, though. I chose them because unlike the other major carriers, I was able to get truly unlimited everything for that price.
  • I may be in your 5%. But I use my phone for work and most of my calls are to a landline. The 1-800 conference call line I use for work (which is about 2 hours each day for status meetings) is considered a landline.
    If I am working from home that day, then I use my Google Voice and Talkatone app, so it hits my unlimited data plan. But as far as minutes go, I burn them like crazy because my cell is my work phone.
    This 4g Tmob is tempting, but I would have to get the $60 a month plan. And I dont pay much more than that right now on my old grandfathered ATT 900mins/unlimited text and data. Its only $59.99 plus fees which works out to $75 a month.
  • Hey Andrew , there is a new company that just launched named Solavei. There offering is $49,00 unlimited talk, text and data using the Tmobile backbone. One unique twist is the combining of mobile and social with commerce. By referring a few people you can not only get free service but add a monthly income. 49 is great but free is even better!
  • Taxes and fees vary wildly by location.
  • He is probably getting his information from the same place as you. Also, I think your math is off because if 20% off of your bill makes your bill 75, if you remove your 20% discount, it would be more than 80. Also, you probably have the 450 minute landline plan.
  • Out of curiosity, why not include Virgin Mobile or Boost in your review? They are pre-paid carriers and offer great deals for the $. Virgin Mobile: $35 for 300 minutes and unlimited 3G/4G data.
    Boost Mobile: $55 Monthly Unlimited Android (Down to $40 after 18 months of on-time payments.)
  • Second to last paragraph :)
  • The problem is the main section of the article that says the following: "For the sake of convenience, there are really only two providers that are worth looking at right now." $ wise, VMU and Boost beat those carriers' $.
  • In terms of buying your own high end device, and bringing it to a carrier, the GSM carriers are the only option. Virgin and Boost (and others) offer great value but less device selection and less portability.
  • If you get a Straight Talk AT&T SIM, on the rare occasions that I need to, can I pop this card into my AT&T Galaxy tablet and have it accept it?
  • Yep. SIMs are SIMs and the device doesn't care. Obviously only data will work since there aren't talk/text radios in your tablet. But, AT&T miiight catch you and send a warning text saying you're using the wrong device with your plan...but I wouldn't worry too much about that.
  • Something to keep in mind with the tmobile prepaid plans is they don't include roaming. I tried one last month and had no service once I left their coverage area.
  • That's the exact opposite of what happened to me. I live in Denver and am testing the TMob $30 1500 min/txt 100meg data plan on a POS old Nokia candy bar my wife had from God knows how long ago. It roamed fine last week on local mom and pop type carriers when I was in both South Dakota and Wyoming. Maybe where you were didn't have roaming agreements with TMob?
  • Just wanna throw it out there that the Simple Mobile $50 unlimited plan (uses TMo's network) is a better deal in HSPA+ data allowance than TMo's $50 monthly 4G plan and is exactly the same in every other way.
  • I just had my new GNex delivered the other day. I've been with T-Mo since it was PowerTel way back in the 90's. Having just finished my contract from two years ago when I got my Nexus S, I switched over to T-Mo's "Value Plan" (unlimited talk and text) with T-Mo's new unlimited data plan. Because of the company I contract to, I was able to take advantage of an additional 15% discount per month. So for $59.50/month, I have everything I could possibly need. And experiencing HSPA+ for the first time (the Nexus S was 3G), HOLY COW! Lovin my new GNex!
  • tmobile was voicestream, it was never powertel, they BOUGHT powertel ;)
  • WRONG! Voice Stream bought PowerTel and T-Mobile bought Voice Stream.
  • wrong, voicestream was purchased by Deutsche Telekom and renamed tmobile, powertel was purchased by Deutsche Telekom as well and made a subsidiary of voicestream
  • How is roaming handled when using Straight Talk? I know that when I was on Boost, there was no roaming. EDIT: Looks like no prepaid have any roaming agreements. It must help keep cost down.
  • I roamed on a regional carrier with my Straight Talk AT&T SIM once. I'm not aware of any service outages that would have otherwise worked on T-Mobile.
  • My Tmobile prepaid ($30 for 1500 talk/text plus 30 megs of data) roamed fine in South Dakota and Wyoming (I'm from Denver) last week. Straight Talk specifically says no roaming. Not sure about the others.
  • That's ridiculous! Another reason to be glad. Is it something to do with the lack of regulation of corporations? Meaning more "freedom", freedom to rip you off because they can. With 3 UK I can get 200 minutes, 5000 texts and unlimited data for £9.90 a month... Damn government interfering with things. Ha
  • It always sounds great on paper......until I try to use a prepaid T-Mobile or Boost/Virgin phone from inside my house. That's when I realize that I'm paying less for less.
  • I left Verizon and went to the T-Mobile $30 with a GNex. It works beautifully... so long as I don't go west of my city. In town and on the I-90 corridor towards Chicago everything is fantastic, but west of Rockford nothing. No data, no signal, no roaming. Not really that big a deal. I don't head that way often, but it is something you need to be aware of. Watch your coverage map and know when you're going to be out of it.
  • What was the name of the wireless carrier that had an interesting twist -- something like $29/month but you had to use wifi most of the time?
  • Republic Wireless I think. It was $19.
  • Yes, Republic, and it is $19 a month, only one phone currently Motorola Defy XT which works pretty darn well. they run on Sprints network. Tried thenm for a while, and the wifi calling works really well, but unfortunately my Sprint coverage where I needed it sucked so I quit the service.
  • That's exactly how I came to my conclusion that prepaid would save me money over the next 2 years! I'm in philly, so my reception is good with all prepaid companies. Excellent topic...DOPE ASS TRUTH!
  • Well I to went this route. I had previously been paying upwards of 80+ dollars on Sprint with the 450 min unlim plan (and that was with an 18% corp discount). Now I have a GSM Gnex on the Tmo 30.00 plan. Great service and better reception where I go. Yes it is true that you do need to do your homework on coverage, but if your coverage is good where you go. Then by all means get the cheapest plan you can. All I know is I'm saving a boatload of cash here. My only issue now is what phone will I get next? iPhone5, Lumia 920 the Next Moto Nexus? Choices, Choices, Soo good to have them.:D
  • I wish Canada was like this...Although it looks like our on-contrat prices are cheaper than US prices. The pre-paid plans here which include data for smartphones is the same price or more expensive for the most part. For example with Virgin Canada (pulled from the current website) you get for $65/month, 200 Minutes Local Talk, UNLIMITED Local Talk Weekends & Early Evenings from 6pm
    1 GB Data Additional data is $10/GB
    UNLIMITED Text & Picture Messaging to Canada, U.S. & International from Canada
    Voicemail 3 & Call Display UNLIMITED Talk & Text to 10 Buddies Canada-Wide I get the same thing from Telus for the same price plus I got my phone subsidized but our plans are 3 year contracts (which is Bull) So I bought a Galaxy Nexus outright and just use it instead. So in Canada I think subsidized plans are still overall cheaper since you pay the same for your plan wether you go pre-paid or not. (Note: This is not including some services like Wind mobility which are cheaper but are only available in 30 or so cities across Canada and otherwise is roaming)
  • You guys in the states are better off than us hosers in Canada, where the ball and chain is on for 3 years (if you want a highly subsidized phone). The final numbers are astronomical, you're paying close to twice the retail price of the phone!
    If you're on a good corporate plan, grandfather it. Then pick and choose the hardware of your choosing.
    Long ago I decided I didn't want to play the shell game the carriers are always throwing out there and haven't looked back.
  • I'm convinced that most people could save money going prepaid. The savings often become a little less with multiple lines but still. I go the really cheap way. Tracfone flip phone I've had for probably 4 years with an Archos 43 for wifi internet access. Yes it is a little inconvenient not to have data when out and about but a few years ago none of us did and we all lived. I can often get free wifi many places. My 2 year total cost is $250 for Archos, nothing for the phone but they are only $10-$20 anyway and $110/year for tracfone use (1050 minutes per year, close to the same as the 100/minutes per month on Tmobile 4g $30 plan.). I do mostly use a landline. That's about $470 over the last 2 years. Not everyone can do this but it works for me. My next step up will probably be a Gnex with the Tmobile $30 4G but it's not in the budget right now.
  • I'm one month into using the $30 T-mobile plan on a galaxy nexus and it really is very nice. Data speeds are fast enough, the phone is great, and I have it all on auto-pay each month. The 100 minutes is a little bit low for me, so I threw $10 onto my skype account and make calls on that upping my monthly total to about $32.
  • Has been said elsewhere but BUYER BEWARE! Most prepaid plans have NO ROAMING. This could be a disaster for a lot of people, and they don't exactly make it well known.
  • I pay $160 for 2 smartphone lines on Verizon with unlimited texting, unlimited 4G, and 700 Minutes. That's $80 a line for unlimited LTE speeds with national coverage from a major carrier with the best customer service. In the end you might save some money, but that $20 a month premium is worth it for me to stay on Verizon. I will agree that my plan is an older one and you can't do this anymore, but thats all the more reason to stick it out and keep a great service.
  • I'm stuck on a C-Spire contract until income tax time; then I turn in my phone, pay whatever termination fee I have, tell C-Spire thanks for the memories - and their restrictive coverage area, and then I bounce. Where to? Looking more towards T-Mobile's prepaid, but Straight Talk might be a decent way to go. I plan on getting an unlocked phone from somewhere and go from there. I think I'm done with contracts altogether after this.
  • Excellent article. I'm planning on ditching AT&T for a MVNO once the successor to the Galaxy Nexus is released. Will likely go with the T-Mobile4G $30 plan. Even if I go over by 100-200 minutes a month, I'm still saving a ridiculous amount of money. It's a shame so many people get trapped into 2-year contracts just to save a few hundred dollars upfront.
  • Good article. If more people do this and vote with their wallet it could make a difference (they'll probably just stop letting vmno networks from piggy backing instead, though). As long as everyone bends over and takes it they will keep laughing in your face.
  • Americans clearly haven't heard of Canadian pricing. 3 year contracts, no unlimited data plans, etc.
  • I agree that pre-paid is obviously cheaper than going with one of the big 4 carriers, but showing Sprint as being the most expensive seems a tad bit disingenuous. Everyone knows Sprint and T-mo are the budget carriers of the big 4.
  • As I've noted a few times now, when looking at a Galaxy SIII (S3) with a completely unlimited plan, Sprint is the most expensive.
  • I have been on Straight Talk since April 2012 with two Galaxy Notes, one for me, one for my wife. People are slackjawed when I tell them what we pay, and the coverage we get. Straight Talk's AT&T BYOD SIM coverage is NATIVE AT&T coverage. So if postpaid AT&T works where you live and work, Straight Talk will too. Only downside is data cappage, but I have not had any problems with that so far, but I don't stream radio or video either, BOTH of which are terminating offenses in Straight Talk's eyes. BE AWARE there are problems being reported with using autopay on Straight Talk, and I do NOT recommend the multiple month refill options either, if you run afoul of Straight Talk's rules ONE time and they terminate you, you WILL lose those months of service. Stick to a month at a time, and you will be fine. I am at Wal Mart every week anyway, so I buy cards as needed and apply them online the day before my service end date. Straight Talk DOES have a RESERVE option that allows you to enter the card in advance and they hold it until your service date and then apply it. And even then, I wait until the last days of the month to enter my new service PIN. Straight Talk kicks ass and I hope it never goes away!
  • What problems are there with autopay? I've been doing it for about 6 months now. I refuse to run to Walmart every time I need a top up card but you don't have can buy cards (technically just a refill code) on Walmart's website. So even if you're afraid of autopay, at least save some gas.
  • Great article! It made me look at my numbers with Sprint to compare and here is what I found: I have the everything data share 1500 plan. It cost $110 for the first phone and $19.99 for each additional phone. Unlimited data and text, free mobile to mobile minutes and free nights and weekends. I have a total of 5 lines on my bill. When everything is said and done, I pay $224 a month. That's roughly $44 per phone per month. I'd say, I'm doing pretty good with Sprint in comparison to these numbers. :)
  • Wow i really feel for you US folks, we have got a much better deal here in the UK! Maybe we don't have the "4G" speeds, but i pay £10 ($16) a month on the virtual carrier Giff Gaff. For that measly £10 i get unlimited texts nationwide, 250 call minutes, and unlimited data. Absolute bargain and i would recommend them to anyone in the UK. Also the HSPA+ speeds of 7 meg+ are more than enough not to get frustrated. Man you Americans have got your balls clamped good and proper by the carriers, you need to break free!!!
  • Yeah, $45 looked crazy when I saw it. But in a different way. I don't think anyone pays such tremendous amounts of money here in Poland. I don't use my phone that frequently, so I manage to fit into 50zł, which is about $15, ONCE EVERY 5 MONTHS. Most people here pay somewhere around PLN50 per month. Having a quick look at the offer from Polish Orange - the most expensive offer they have is 200zł ($60). True, you if get a phone included, it's crappy. But you may buy an unlocked phone to that and still spend much less than in the US. Nothing could be better for the mobile phone industry than if Americans started buying unlocked phones. Maybe at last manufacturers would treat subscribers, not carriers, as their clients.
  • Thanks for the info.
    Here in Hong Kong things are much easier. Usually a free phone comes with an unlimited contract of around HK$3xx~4xx (US$50 maybe) a month, and prepaid plans may be as low as US$25 a month for unlimited LTE. That's a big difference from the States :P People tend to buy phones on contract, though many people like me buy unlocked devices for up to US$700.
  • dang.. I was trying to post my comments below yesterday, but I think the GoDaddy attacks affected my ability to post. Hope I get a reply. Very good article, I have been trying to get a smart phone for my wife who currently pays $45 a month for Sprint cell service, no data. If I were to port her current number over to google.voice, and configured google.voice app to be primary used number, Would this use data to make calls?
    At home could I configure phone to use home Wifi (802.11 b/g/n) for above Data calls? Anything I should keep in mind before I do this? I have a Galaxy nexus, any reason to not get her same phone for pre-paid?
  • Az, As far as calls using data no it wouldn't. I have my old sprint number fully ported to my GV account. The number on my Gnex is different. When I make a call the phone app will dial it through GV and the peson on the other end sees mu GV number. In doing that it DOES NOT I repeat DOES NOT use data for this but cell minutes. Now if you are using ST then np that's unlimited. I'm on the Tmo 30.00 plan so just 100 mins there. That being said I rarely go over that and if i do i keep some extar coin in my acct for the overage. Still pennies compared to what I paid on Sprint. Now though you can use an App called TalkTone that uses the GV number and works over the data connection. Depending on the 4G wifi connection it can be hit or miss. But in a pinch and want to save minutes it can work fine. And YES there is no reason why you shouldn't get her a Gnex works great on Tmo prepaid.
  • Thanks for reply!
  • Andrew- Great article. I think most people's beef with your comparison is a matter of priority. Many, like myself, use more data than call minutes. The ATT plan would be much worse than Sprint for me as I would never hit the call limit, but would bust through their data ceiling in week two of every month. That said, doing the math tells me that I could save ~ $5 per month over two years (net of phone subsidy) if I switch my Sprint family plan to prepaid. This I did not expect. The balance tips back toward Sprint if I add a fourth line, but not by much. Furthermore, I could get a GSM phone and be able to roam globally without getting stuck with Sprint's sole Android global phone. Add unlimited calls vs. my 1200 shared and the deal looks even better. Enlightening article. Thanks again.
  • I got my Galaxy Nexus, on Verizon, in April. I ordered it through Amazon, for $99 (Verizon still wanted $299). The wife and I are on a family plan, and we each pay $75/mo, splitting the bill 50/50 (That includes insurance on both lines, at $7/mo, each phone). My cost over 2 years is $1900. Buying a $600 phone, and paying ~$50/mo would total $1800 over 2 years. A huge savings of $100. My experience is anecdotal, but I'm not overpaying to be in a contract. Plus, I have access to decent customer service, and I have better guaranteed network coverage. Sure, I'd rather be GSM at this point, but if I travel overseas, I'll probably just buy a T-Mobile phone, and get a sim card at an airport, or something like that.
  • Yeah, I was thinking same thing because on my Sprint plan my costs aren't anywhere near what he's claiming. That $130 plan was a blatent attempt to make his numbers look better than they actually are, hardly anybody uses that plan. Why he doesn't just accept that and why he is determined to continue forcing the comparison is beyond me. The prepaid plans around my area weren't all that good either. They didn't offer the coverage or services I needed. Well, or so I thought anyway. Sprint 3G has been absolutely horrible, I usually can't even hit 100K speeds. But that's another issue. I did the math back in December and for a family plan with two phones it cost a couple hundred dollars more to go with Sprint. For that couple hundred bucks I got better coverage and avoided about a $1000 cash payment for the phones up front and a lot of hassle. Would I do it again? Well if Sprint could have delivered even halfway decent 3G speeds, yes. As it stands, probably not.
  • Okay how about this comparison: On Sprint I paid $72 a month for the 450 plan after 25% discount. On Straight Talk I pay $48.70 a month for unlimited everything. On Sprint my data speeds were slowing to under 200kbps. On Straight Talk my data speeds are around 2,000kbps. On Sprint I subsidized a phone to $259. On Straight Talk I paid outright $199. I'll let you crunch the numbers.
  • Did you say you paid $48.70 for a Straight Talk unlimited plan ? I thought it was $45.00 for unlimited.
  • I did this same calculation but ended up going with Verizon instead of prepaid (mainly because my iPhone had completely died and I really wanted a Nexus, Verizon was the only option) My total over 2yrs though is not that different from the Straight talk scenario. I got in on the 4GB promotion they were having and ported my number to GVoice and use it exclusively. That means I don't have a texting plan and that itself cuts $20 (!!!!!) off my bill every month.
    For anyone looking for cost savings, finding alternatives to texting can be a big money saver.
  • I've been a fan of prepaid plans for a long time, been on Virgin's unlimited data and text (300 minutes talk) for $25/mo. Recently I switched over to Ting, who does essentially straight rate pricing. If you don't use it you don't pay, if you go way over, you just pay the straight rate, no penalties. They are a MVNO for Sprint, with free roaming on Verizon. Not much selection of phones, but you can now bring your own Sprint phone. They don't care if you root either. I pay $18 - $40/month for two phones.
  • I can't beleive you like money too. We should hang out! On a serious note, I recently switched my Galaxy Nexus from AT&T to Straight Talk like so many people here. I have told my story to a few of my friends and I have convinced 3 of them to switch too. I don't fly internationally, and if I did for business, I would either get a phone from my company, or I would just get a prepaid SIM from one of my international coleagues. It just makes cents! (pun intended)
  • I've been running on Straight Talk using my TMO GS2 since Jan and I'll never go back to contract wireless. For $45($46 with tax), I've got unlimited calling/msgs/data and it actually works, unlike the $80($85 with tax) I was paying to Sprint. I would have stayed on Sprint if their service even worked... half the time I couldn't get data and even when I did have signal it was so slow I would give up. I can't justify paying "Premium Data" fee when it doesn't even work, Sprint needs to get their heads out of their asses. My co-workers who are still on Sprint have to put their phones in airplane mode all day or their battery is completely drained by 3PM, meanwhile I'm cruising all day with 80% left by the end of the day...for half the price!! When my co-workers find out how much I'm paying they get a sick look in their face, I'm not kidding lol.
  • $130 for sprint? I dont know anyone paying that much on sprint even with two lines you can get what the other carriers offer for $120.
  • Here's my dilemma. I have decided to buy a Galaxy Note II. Want the LTE version (7105) so I can use with ATT. Unlocked phones are running $750+, although they should come down a little. I can buy an ATT phone for $299 with a 2 year commit, $325 to break the contract. So, it would be cheaper to buy from ATT, break the contract, and pay for an unlock code, if I want to change, than to just buy an unlocked phone. Any advantage to buying unlocked in this scenario?
  • Just to add to the comments on use of Straight Talk. I am using in Atrix 4G and it is no different than when I used it on ATT. Seems that they lease from ATT in Nashville area. I have used it outside of Nashville with no problems at all. A little off topic, but noteworthy. On my Atrix 4g I have now had 4 batteries go bad. I don't know what it does to them. Motorola even sent me one free. Fortunately I keep two at all times.
  • It's a no-brainer. I (over)paid $165 for a used windows smart phone (Lumia 920). I prepay Straight talk $490/year for unlimited everything. Over 2 years, that's $41.00 per month for service, and $6.88/month for the phone, or a total of less than $48.00 per month. Unlimited everything. ATT network. No monthly bills. No BS. No statements and paper in the mail. No checks to write. No foling around online to pay my bill. Even if I only paid monthly, instead of yearly (heck, my monthly bills with Verizon used to be nearly half of what I pay for a year now)the savings would be no less hilarious.
  • I have looked and looked at the Straight Talk smartphones and have not found any that I would have. Verizon is the best in my area and they have nothing I would even remotely consider. ATT might have a few better ones , but ATT is not the best in this area. So I guess I will just stay with Verizon and pay the huge price.
  • Not sure what you mean by "have nothing I would even remotely consider"? You mean phone selection on Verizon? Anyway my contract with Verizon ended last year and I ported my phone number and phone to Page Plus using online re-seller Kitty Wireless. Page Plus uses the Verizon network. These were my Verizon choices (two year cost): - Page Plus, unlimited talk and text and 2mb data $55/Mo (5gb $70) ($1,320)
    - Stay with Verizon 350 minutes; 250 text unlimited data $86/Mo ($2,057)
    - Stay with Verizon upgrade phone $200, new 2 year contract, unlimited talk and text data 2mb, $110/Mo ($2,840) Staying on Verizon with my Galaxy S1 (the Fascinate) would have been silly! The phone upgrade cost over two years was just crazy! Not sure my Fascinate will last another two years! So at some point I will upgrade my phone but since I have been on prepaid my eyes are now wide open and will likely buy an unlocked phone.
  • The retention value of the cell phone should be considered. Although I have always used subsidized phones on AT&T plans I have sold every iPhone I have ever owned for 85-90% of the original value. The popularity of the iPhone has allowed Apple devices to hold excellent resale value. With the cell market becoming saturated this may not be the case forever, but it is a nice perk to being on a subsidized plan. Also consider multiple phones on a plan and data use. If you are lucky to have grandfathered unlimited data and are a heavy cell-data user than paying $6-$20/month per phone per month makes sense to NOT go pre-paid.
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