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Mobile Communications

Ok, this page is a little different from most on this site. Instead of reflections on policy issues, here's my brain dump on today's mobile phone plan, (originally posted on G+ a while back)...

This review focuses on prepaid no-contract plans, partly because of no contract, but also because prepaid plans are only subject to sales tax, so taxes are generally less than half that of traditional post-paid contract plans. Be warned that most of these plans don't include free evenings/weekends (unless it's an unlimited plan, of course).

First, consider where you'll need to use your phone.[1] Primarily in populated areas? Virgin or Boost (VMNOs[2] on the Sprint network) should be fine. Need a stronger signal? Consider T-Mobile (or their VMNO, Simple Mobile). Want to use your phone way out in the boonies? You may opt for Verizon...although I've found some surprising holes in their suburban network which you won't find on their map, of course.

[1] (Note that my statements on network coverage primarily relate to my experience in the Seattle area.)

[2] VMNO: virtual mobile network operator. Effectively they package and resell the service of another mobile network.

If you primarily need your phone in populated areas and don't need the far reach of Verizon's network, there are a wide range of options. Here's a quick budget-oriented guide...

($1-9/mo) Do your talk minutes + text messages total less than 90/mo on average? Go with T-Mobile's pay-as-you-go: $100 for 1000 minutes or texts...and as long as you never go longer than a year without adding at least $10 (35 min) to your account, your phone will stay active. In other words, after paying the initial $100, you can maintain an active mobile phone for less than $1 per month! If your phone usage is focused on only a few days a year, you can opt for unlimited usage on up to 50 days of your choice for $100:

($9-$25/mo) Talk+text 100 to 500 minutes/messages per month? H2O wireless (an AT&T VMNO) offers $0.05 per minute or text. 1 month of expiration per $10 paid, or 1 year expiration with $100:

($25/mo) Talk & text more than that, but don't need any data? Try Simple Mobile's $25 plan with unlimited talk+text:

($30/mo) Talk and text a lot, but don't need much web/data? Try Virgin's PayLo 1500 minutes + 1500 text (see link above) OR T-Mobile's 1500 talk-or-text plan (if you need a GSM SIM or little more coverage). Both of these include 30 MB data.

($30-$35/mo) Prefer to type? Want a smartphone? Need lots of text+data? Try T-Mobile's Monthly $30/mo plan with 100 minutes + unlimited text+data (see link above). Need some extra minutes? Try Virgin's $35/mo "Beyond Talk" plan with 300 minutes + unlimited text+data (but you'll also sacrifice bit of coverage compared to T-Mobile):

(~$40-$50/mo) Need a smart phone with lots of minutes and unlimited text+data? Simple Mobile offers unlimited everything for $40/mo (but drops from 4G to 2G speeds after 250MB). Upgrade to unlimited 4G for another $10/mo.