All right, now we already see the savings you can get by switching to these MVNOs. IMO AT&T MVNOs are still a bit “pricey,” probably because of AT&T itself. How about T-Mobile? Being the fourth largest carrier (the bottom last), T-Mobile seems to offer more value, and with that, there are tons of T-Mobile MVNOs out there.
Before we go further, let’s take a look at T-Mobile’s own prepaid plans, dubbed “monthly 4G.” Please note that the term 4G here is faux 4G, aka 3G or 3.5G, HSPA+. T-Mobile has not rolled out LTE yet. If you go to their site, T-Mobile is touting its $70 unlimited everything (minutes, text, and data). Doesn’t sound to bad. The catch is there’s no tethering/portable hotspot. T-Mobile actually advertise unlimited data on all of their plans, a common recurring theme amongst the MVNOs too. The differentiation is how much of that data is at 3G speed. The $60 plan gives you 2GB. $50 plan gives you 100MB. You still get unlimited minutes and text. What happens after you reach the specified quota? Your data is throttled to 2G/EDGE speed (more like ISDN speed, ~128kbps).
The most interesting part of T-Mobile’s offering is not those plans though. It’s the $30 a month plan that gives you 100 minutes, unlimited text, and 5GB of data at 3G speed. That is an unbeatable deal if you know you won’t talk that much on your phone. Really, if you know you don’t use that much minutes, stop looking and get this plan. You’ll find no better deal anywhere else. This is such a good deal that even T-Mobile doesn’t offer this at their own stores. You have to buy the SIM (mini and micro SIM are available) online or go to Walmart.
Okay, let’s assume that you will need a lot more than 100 minutes. Let’s take a look at Simple Mobile. Simple Mobile has been around for a while. You will find their kiosks in malls. Their plans selection is very simple. For smartphones, there are two choices, depending on how much data you need at 3G speed. $40 will give you 250MB data at 3G speed, $50 will bump that to “unlimited” (it ends up being about 2GB). Speed is throttled down to 2G/EDGE speed after you reach the quotas. Both plans offers unlimited minutes and text. Cheaper than T-Mobile’s own offerings. Another extra point for Simple Mobile is unlimited international text. Yes, you can text to most countries around the world, no extra charge. The list is pretty extensive. Consider that other carriers charge you up to 30 cents per international SMS, this is a great deal. Of course, if you have been utilizing alternative services like Whatsapp, twitter, Facebook, Line, etc, it’s a moot point.
I am using Simple Mobile now, the $40 plan (pincheap.com is selling the $40 PIN for $38.40. With careful use and wifi at home, I can get by with the 250MB 3G data. Even if I use more, it’s just going to be slower instead of me being charged overages or cut off data completely).
Next operator I would like to mention would be Straight Talk. I have mentioned Straight Talk on my AT&T MVNO post. Straight Talk seems to offer only T-Mobile SIM for right now. Their plan is simple, $45 ($50 with taxes) a month for unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and “unlimited” data. The “unlimited” data turns out to be about 100MB per day and 2GB per month usage. It’s a good deal if you want to have a plan with plenty of minutes and data.
I used to use Straight Talk (with the AT&T SIM). One warning, DO NOT sign up for auto-refills. Sure, the convenience of auto-refills is tempting, but do not sign up for it. Why? If you want to quit Straight Talk, there is no way to cancel your auto-refill/credit card info from their website. The only way to do it is to call their customer service. Well, guess what. I tried calling their customer service many times and I only got a message about how busy they are and to call back later. WTF? Yes, you cannot get a hold of them. You have been warned.
Ultra Mobile did a different approach on their plans, using speed as the differentiating factor. Their $40 per month plan gives you unlimited everything, data at 128kbps speed. For $50 a month, you get 1GB data at 3G speed. Just like Simple Mobile, Ultra gives you unlimited international text. If you think about it, their plans are actually not any different than Simple Mobile’s. With Simple Mobile, at $40 a month, at least you get 250MB data at 3G speed before bumped down to 2G. The upside of Ultra is that it gives you some international long distance credit ($20 for the $50 plan, $5 for the $40 plan), and you can actually pay extra to get some 3G data quota if you need it ($10 for 500MB). More choice, the better. Ultra sells a double-punch mini + micro SIM for $10.
Oh we are not done yet. There is another T-Mobile MVNO called Platinum Tel. Their plans parodied Simple Mobile’s. $40 for 250MB 3G data, $50 for 2GB. Unlimited everything, including international SMS. The special thing to note about Platinum Tel is their pay-as-you-go plan, where the rates are actually pretty reasonable. 5 cents per minute, 2 cents per SMS/international SMS/MMS, 10 cents per MB, and $10 denomination good for 60 days. They sell their mini SIM for $5.
There’s another T-Mobile MVNO called Solavei. I’m not going to talk about it as it’s more of a pyramid scheme, and you have to pay some sort of a membership fee.
Last but not least, Go Smart mobile. This is actually launched by T-Mobile themselves. Prices are pretty good. $45 will net you 5GB at 3G speed, while $35 gives you unlimited 2G speed. Unlimited minutes and text. Unlike the other MVNOs, international SMS cost extra, $5 for unlimited international SMS. Do note the fine print though, T-Mobile will prioritize packets for its regular post-paid customers first. Although this shouldn’t be an issue during normal use, people sometimes are getting busy signals during peak hours.
So, plenty of options. Again, remember how you would be paying at least $80 a month an up on those post paid plans with the big carriers? Now, the prices hover around $40-$50 a month.
I do need to point out that not everything is rosy on the MVNO sides. I already pointed a caveat on Go Smart, where it gets less priority compared to T-Mobile’s own post paid customers. Also, despite everybody claiming unlimited this and that, in reality, there is a limit. Although it shouldn’t hinder normal usage, if you really want unlimited minutes in a literal sense, getting into the expensive post paid plans with the big carriers might be a safer way than having your service interrupted. Also, certain services might not be available on MVNOs. For example, with Simple Mobile, I cannot accept short code SMS, which is used frequently for mobile banking. Something to consider if you rely on something like that.
Once you know what you are getting into, enjoy the savings. I might touch a little bit on CDMA MVNOs next.