I have posted a bunch of write ups on picking your wireless carrier in the US. Now I’m going to post about the carrier/MVNO that I use.
From the previous posts, I have stated that I am using Simple Mobile. My goal was to have an affordable wireless plan with a reasonable amount of data for a smartphone. Paying hundreds of dollars just to use a smartphone is outrageous. I was with AT&T for quite some time as they were the largest GSM carrier in the US. I was on their goPhone plan at first, when the plan allowed you to receive text for free (obviously it doesn’t exist anymore). Then I caved in to a contract to get the iPhone 3GS (it was an impulse buy at the time since Apple didn’t put a camera on the 3rd gen iPod Touch). I was getting the bare minimum with 450 minutes, no text, and “unlimited” data, and I was paying ~$65 a month after taxes and with employee discount.
After a while, I gave up and switched to Straight Talk, when they used to offer AT&T SIM. They offer unlimited voice, unlimited text, and “unlimited” (~2GB) data for ~$50 a month after taxes. At this time, T-Mobile has not refarmed their 1900 band for 3G in my area, so using AT&T MVNO is the only option to get 3G on my iPhone.
Once T-Mobile refarmed the 1900 band for 3G, the options for MVNO expanded considerably. I switched to Simple Mobile for their $40 a month plan, giving unlimited voice, unlimited text, and 250MB data at HSPA+ speed (EDGE speed after that). I thought 250MB would be enough, and for a short period of time, with careful usage, it was okay.
However, recently I found that 250MB is not enough for my usage, and the EDGE speed is painful. So my search for a better deal continues. The search remains within T-Mobile MVNOs as AT&T put restriction on iPhones, even if it’s unlocked, by locking out the carrier APN setting, and that restriction affects all AT&T MVNOs. I definitely don’t want to spend more than what I already am with Simple Mobile. I mentioned Ultra Mobile on my previous T-Mobile MVNOs post, and they become my pick.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Ultra’s $40 monthly plan is not better than Simple Mobile as with Ultra, you are stuck at EDGE speed while Simple Mobile at least gives you 250MB at HSPA+ speed. However, Ultra Mobile has a lower tier, the $30 a month plan (yeah, I know it’s $29, but it’s easier to round it up). At face value, it’s not that great. It does offer unlimited voice, text (including international text, same as Simple Mobile), and a paltry 50MB data. However, note that you can add 500MB of HSPA+ data for $10. So basically for a total of $40 a month, you get 550MB data, more than the 250MB that Simple Mobile offers.
Ultra Mobile’s site looks pretty straight forward, but once you dig deeper, things are not as easy as you think. I bought the SIM (cheaper if you just search one on ebay for $1 or two as you have to pay $10 if you buy it straight from ultra). Unlike most other MVNOs I have seen, there’s no option to simply activate the SIM. To activate the SIM, you have to pick and buy the plan that you want (in my case, the $29 monthly plan). When I click the order button, the website stalled, indefinitely. Crap. After waiting for a while, I checked my credit card, and there’s already a charge for $29. Luckily, when I start over and log-in to my account, the site continued the process in activating my SIM. I punched my SIM number, requested a port from Simple Mobile, and waited.
Tip: whenever you want to port your number from a provider to another, don’t cancel your current provider or wait till last minute. The porting process can take a day or so. I did mine way ahead of my Simple Mobile’s expiration (I already used up more than 250MB anyway). The next day, I saw my phone showing that it had an inactive (Simple Mobile) SIM, and my ultra SIM is good to go.
Configuring the APN for data and MMS is very straight forward. Ultra has an easy step-by-step walkthrough on their website. Now, how do I add that $10 500MB data pack? Well, it gets trickier now. If you read the FAQ, it’s stated that you have to charge your “wallet” with money, and then you can purchase the data pack online or via your phone. Well, first of all, how do you charge your wallet? When you log-in to your account, there is no option to “charge your wallet.” Apparently, you have to use the “Buy International Credit” button to charge your wallet. Sure, the button says it’s for international credit, but the money you put in will go to your “wallet.”
I put $10 on my “wallet.” How do I buy the 500MB data pack? Even though their FAQ said you can do this online, there is no option for this anywhere on your account page. Nothing. WTF? I tried dialing 222 from my phone, and the machine did offer an option to purchase a data pack, but nothing will happen when you do (it just hung up after a brief pause). I emailed the customer support (which has 48hours turn around time, not the most prompt), and they said there’s no data plan on the $29 tier, contrary to what their website is saying. So that’s useless. Finally, I tried calling customer support by dialing 611. During the machine prompts, there is also an option to purchase data pack. I went through the prompts, and after some awkward pauses (there were delays when I press a selection and for the machine to respond/confirm), I finally managed to buy the 500MB data pack. Whew!
This is one of the downsides of going with an MVNO. Since you are bringing your own phone and they are not your typical big carrier with a store and customer service you can go to personally, a lot of times you have to tinker with things yourself. Anyway, I’m set now. Will see how things go. Coverage should be no different than Simple Mobile as they both are T-Mobile MVNOs.
Hopefully those that are looking into Ultra Mobile find my experience useful. 🙂