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Picking Your Wireless Carrier (USA) part 07: Update

Just want to post some updates to the choice of prepaid plans and MVNOs.

First, AT&T. It is rumored that they will announce an update on their prepaid goPhone plans, namely the $50 tier to give you unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and 2GB data. Currently, the $50 tier is only for dumbphones, and it’s $65 for unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and 1GB data. Note that this is still a rumor. This is actually not bad if you want to spend $50 a month. It definitely put a lot of pressure for AT&T MVNOs like Airvoice and Red Pocket.

Next, T-Mobile. T-Mobile Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Picking My Wireless Carrier

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. 🙂

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in impression, wireless carrier


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Picking Your Wireless Carrier (USA) part 06: iPhone Tips and Tricks

All right, after exploring the choice of wireless service MVNOs, which one would you want to pick? From my experience, it depends on your phone. So let’s start with the big elephant in the room, the iPhone. My assumption is we are using an officially unlocked iPhone. Don’t ask me about unlocking, ask your carrier or ask yourself why you bought a locked phone to begin with. Right now, Apple is selling unlocked iPhones openly in the US, so the days of having to import expensive iPhones or jailbreaking are gone. All iPhones, the 5, 4S, and 4, are available unlocked straight from Apple. Obviously, you’ll be getting a GSM iPhone. The unlocked iPhone 5 will be the “AT&T” version.

Now, what if you have an iPhone from a carrier. Currently, iPhones are officially offered by AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, plus the 4/4S are offered by certain Sprint MVNOs/regional carriers. iPhones from carriers are provider locked by default, with one exception. AT&T now will unlock your iPhone if you are done with your contract or if you bought the iPhone full price (no contract or pay ETF). Sprint will not unlock their iPhones, other than for international use. Same thing with Verizon (with one exception).

Then, there is the model. If you have an iPhone 4, the only one that is unlockable is the GSM AT&T version. Sprint and Verizon iPhone 4 are CDMA only. As for the iPhone 4S, it’s a hybrid GSM/CDMA device. AT&T version is unlockable. Verizon and Sprint version are only unlockable for international carriers, meaning that Verizon and Sprint are blocking US GSM carriers’ SIM. (More reason to hate CDMA carriers). The iPhone 5 is also a hybrid device, with versions supporting GSM and AT&T LTE, and another one supporting CDMA, GSM, and Verizon/Sprint’s LTE. AT&T version is of course, unlockable after meeting the requirement I mentioned above. Sprint’s policy is unlocking only for international use. Verizon iPhone 5, however, is unlocked OUT OF THE BOX! Yes, if you have a Verizon iPhone 5, you can put in an AT&T/T-Mobile SIM and it will work just fine. No need for unlocking. Of course, you won’t get LTE on AT&T as the LTE frequency support differs than the AT&T version, but hey, this is huge. Verizon is forced to do this due to an agreement they had with the US government when they got the 700 LTE band.

In short, if you are on AT&T, you can get your iPhone unlocked by paying ETF or after the end of your contract. If you are on Verizon, only the iPhone 5 is unlocked. If you are on Sprint, you are screwed.

First thing first, you want to decide on which of the two parent carriers you want to go with. The choice is either AT&T or T-Mobile. All GSM iPhones (4/4S/5) support quad-band HSDPA (850/900/1900/2100) bands. So for the longest time, to be able to have 3G speed, you have to use AT&T or their MVNOs. Luckily, T-Mobile started to refarm their 1900 band for 3G on certain areas. You can check their coverage here, a site with a map from users indicating which areas have sightings of 3G access on 1900 band on T-Mobile. I would go and see your area first. If your area has many people indicating 3G access, then good news, your choice of providers expanded considerably as you won’t have to be stuck with EDGE if you pick T-Mobile or its MVNO. Do note that even if T-Mobile has “rolled” out the refarm, coverage may still be iffy. T-Mobile has officially announced my area to be a refarmed area. When I get 3G signal, it’s fast, way faster than AT&T’s 3G, However, it is also often that the connectivity reverted back to EDGE, especially indoors. So caveat emptor.

After you decide on the operator you want, next step is buying the SIM. Apple is not making things easy by using a micro SIM for the iPhone 4/4S and a nano SIM for the iPhone 5. Most MVNOs now do offer micro SIM as they realize the popularity of iPhone 4/4S. However, not many offer the nano SIM. If your desired operator doesn’t offer the SIM size that you need, check Amazon and ebay. There are plenty of resellers that are selling pre-cut SIM to the size you desire for cheap (some even sell them for cheaper than buying the SIM straight from the operator). Of course, there are sellers using this to gouge you, especially if you are looking for a nano SIM. Just be smart and don’t spend more than what you would spend for buying the SIM directly with the operator. You can also buy a SIM cutter and do it yourself, but considering there are some sellers selling SIMs for a few dollars or even less, it’s probably cheaper and easier to just buy a pre-cut one. If you decided to stick with the main carriers, aka AT&T or T-Mobile, and if your existing SIM is not micro/nano, just go to the respective corporate stores and ask them for a new micro/nano SIM. They should be able to give it to you for free.

Okay, you have an unlocked iPhone, and you rather stick with AT&T. Then refer to my second post on the selection of AT&T MVNOs. There is a catch though. Unlike normal phones or Android, Apple put the control of certain carrier settings to the carrier. This setting is usually known as the APN setting, a setting for access point names that will tell your phone how it would connect to the network for data and MMS. Normally, this setting is accessible by the user. It’s been the case on cellphones for ages, even on Android. But not on iPhones. AT&T, being AT&T, chose to lock out this setting from users as they “know better” than the users. Unfortunately, this restriction extends to the AT&T MVNOs as Apple thinks you are on AT&T. Meaning if you put in a SIM from those AT&T MVNOs into your unlocked iPhone, even the one purchased overseas or straight from Apple, options like APN settings and portable hotspot will be unavailable. So right off the gate, your iPhone won’t be able to obtain data connectivity nor MMS.

There are workarounds. First one is through a website called You have to have internet connectivity via wifi on your iPhone first. Simply go to that website via Safari and it will give you options to create a custom APN based on your operator. The site will install the setting on your iPhone and you will have data connectivity. Unfortunately, no MMS.

The second workaround will enable MMS, but it’s much trickier to perform. It’s called a SIM swap method. DISCLAIMER: *Since I’m on Simple Mobile now, I have not tested this method again since Simple Mobile doesn’t lock out the APN setting screen. However, I did try this method on Straight Talk’s AT&T SIM and iOS6, and it worked, both data and MMS.* First, you have to have a T-Mobile SIM (or any of its MVNOs), since T-Mobile, unlike AT&T, doesn’t lock out the APN setting option in iPhone. You will also need to write down the APN information of your provider of choice (most provide it on their website). Basically you will put the T-Mobile SIM first, turn-on your phone, open an app, go back home and then go to Settings and the Cellular sub menu, and Cellular data network setting. These options are locked out when you use AT&T or its MVNO’s SIM. While you are on that screen, use the multitasking feature to switch to the app you first opened. Then open the SIM slot without turning off the phone and put in the AT&T MVNO SIM. Use the multitasking app switcher to go back to Settings and you will find that you are still on that APN setting screen that would normally be inaccessible. Type in the information, and make sure they are correct as this menu will be inaccessible once you go out and you would have to do it all over again. Note that you will be able to enter all information, including settings for MMS. Once you are done, get out of the screen and reboot your phone. The settings will remain even if you turn off your iPhone and remove the SIM as long as the same SIM is inserted again before you turn it on, but it will be reset if you switch to a different SIM or update iOS. So you have to do this everytime Apple updates iOS. Annoying, but blame it on AT&T. Note that you will never get ability to do portable hotspot/tethering unless you jailbreak.

In general, AT&T MVNOs will provide better coverage than T-Mobile’s. However, speed wise, it’s AT&T. Depending on your area, AT&T connectivity is just poor, and easily overwhelmed when there is a lot of people in the area (eg. an event).

Now, let’s move on with T-Mobile. Let’s say you find that T-Mobile has refarmed the 1900 spectrum for 3G in your area. This allows you to safely pick any of its MVNOs as I have stated on my third post. Even better, T-Mobile doesn’t lock out the APN and MMS settings so you can easily enter the necessary information without having to do any workarounds. Even the portable hotspot/tethering menu is available. Of course, the catch is that you are depending on that 1900 spectrum as the iPhone doesn’t support AWS, which is T-Mobile’s main 3G frequency, so you may still get EDGE here and there. Still, I consider the savings in my pocket is worth it as I picked Simple Mobile.

What if you are not sure. You see T-Mobile has refarmed the 1900 spectrum in your area, but you don’t want to commit to switching. Well, this is the beauty of prepaid/MVNOs, no contract required. Don’t cancel your current plan/carrier yet though. Best bet is to buy T-Mobile’s SIM online for 99 cents, sign up online for their $30 plan that gives you 5GB of data. Note that you will not be able to get this plan at T-Mobile physical stores. It’s only available at Walmart and online. Then you have 1 month to test the coverage, data speed and connectivity on your preferred locations. 5GB should give you a ton of room to do many things. After you are convinced, then pick your desired operator at the price/feature you want.

And that’s about it. Enjoy your iPhone without paying an arm and a leg.

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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in apple, tips


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Picking Your Wireless Carrier part 05: Data Plans for Tablets

Part 5 on my ongoing post about picking a wireless carrier in the US. I am going to touch broadband data plans. Broadband data plans mean plans that are intended for use with data only devices, such as tablets. We are seeing more and more tablet devices equipped with cellular radio for data. Unfortunately, not many MVNOs offer specific data plans for these devices. In the US, just like phones, most cellular radio equipped Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab lineup are carrier locked, meaning you can only buy them through a carrier (the big 4), and thus you can only use that tablet with that carrier as your provider. The only unlocked Android tablet available is the Nexus 7 3G. Apple iPads, on the other hand, are unlocked. But more on that later.

After searching around, the only MVNO that I can see offering a specific data plan of this type is Simple Mobile, and it’s not cheap. $45 a month gives you 2GB data, and $25 gives you 750MB. That’s not much.

Luckily, the major four carriers are not that bad in their rates on data plans. T-Mobile, the carrier that Simple Mobile uses, offers a much better deal. $15 gives you 300MB for 7 days, $25 for 1.5GB that’s good for 1 month, $35 for 3.5GB, and $50 for 5GB. A lot better than Simple Mobile.

As for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, again, Apple’s website offers a straightforward comparison between the three. AT&T offers 250MB a month for $15, 3GB for $30, and 5GB for $50. Verizon offers 1GB for $20, 2GB for $30, and 5GB for $50, while Sprint offers 300MB for $15, 3GB for $35, and 6GB for $50. And they all are on a no-contract basis. Of course, AT&T and Verizon allow you to add your tablet into your existing data-shared plan if you are already with them for an additional fee (additional $10 per month without any additional data), but we are not going there in the first place as they already rip you off on your phone plans.

The prices are very similar and competitive with each other. I mean sure, you will not use this as your main internet as it will be prohibitively expensive due to the paltry data quota, but for occasional use, it’s not bad. Plus, you are not under a contract so you can simply sign up for the data plan, and discontinue it when you are not using it.

Now, this won’t mean much for most people as like I said, most Android tablets with cellular radio in the US are provider locked. If you want a Samsung Galaxy Tab with 3G/LTE, well, pick the carrier you love as it will be locked to that carrier. In my view, for Android, there is only one choice, the Nexus 7 3G. Not only it’s fairly inexpensive (just $300 for the 32GB with 3G model), it has penta-band HSDPA radio (thus works with both AT&T and T-Mobile’s 3G) and unlocked. No LTE, so stop reading and go to your favorite carrier if you want LTE. Google sells two kinds of the Nexus 7 3G, one with AT&T SIM, another one with T-Mobile SIM. Don’t worry, the device itself is not locked and you can use either carriers later, you just pick which SIM you want to get from Google.

The interesting device is the iPad/iPad mini with LTE. For LTE speed, you have to pick the iPad that specifically said for the carrier you want to, ie. if you want Verizon LTE, you have to pick the Verizon iPad model. Now, all iPads with cellular radio also have GSM/HSDPA radio in them, and that is unlocked. That means you can put in an AT&T SIM on your Verizon iPad, and it will connect to AT&T just fine. The catch is, no LTE, just HSDPA/3G. Still, it’s not a bad compromise, plus any iPad you buy works with any GSM carriers overseas (again, LTE being the exception. Apple gives a bit more detail on which model supports which LTE in what country).

For the Nexus 7 3G, both T-Mobile and AT&T offer prices that are neck to neck with each other. At the low end, for $15, T-Mobile gives you 300MB, but only lasts for 7 days, while AT&T gives you 250MB that lasts for 30 days. At the top end, they are the same, 5GB for $50. In the middle, T-Mobile has $25 for 1.5GB and $35 for 3.5GB while AT&T has $30 for 3GB. Very close to each other. Personally, if my area has good T-Mobile coverage, I would go with T-Mobile on the Nexus 7 3G as T-Mobile’s HSPA+ is faster than AT&T’s. However, AT&T may offer better coverage in some areas.

If you are buying an iPad with LTE, go with Verizon. Verizon’s $20 for 1GB for 30 days is hard to beat in terms of value. It is usually enough for casual browsing, and Verizon’s LTE coverage is better than AT&T and Sprint. Plus, the iPad is unlocked, so you can put in AT&T SIM for 3G access later on if you want to, or even T-Mobile’s (if T-Mobile has refarmed their 1900 band for 3G in your area).

Now, you must be wondering that there are some smartphone plans that have better prices than these. The big one is T-Mobile’s $30 a month with 5GB data. Well, T-Mobile is not stupid. I personally have tried this, putting the SIM with that plan on my Nexus 7 3G. Nada. T-Mobile blocks devices that are identified as tablets on that plan. I would think the same applies with other carriers/MVNOs too.

How about tethering? You already pay for a smartphone plan, right? Well, sure. If your phone is not restricted by your carrier, and you only use your tablet outside wifi access occasionally, you can save some money by buying wifi only tablets, and simply use your phone as a portable hotspot when needed. The downside is the inconvenience having to set up your phone all the time to do this, and you are draining both your phone’s battery life and your data quota on your existing plan. Considering the data plans I mentioned here are under a no-contract basis, personally I would rather have a cellular radio equipped tablet. Having that instant data anywhere really increases the enjoyment in using the device.


  • If you look at T-Mobile’s website for the mobile broadband SIM, T-Mobile sells them for $7. That’s a rip-off. Meanwhile, they are selling the SIM for the monthly 4G phone plans for 99 cents a piece. Well, guess what, you can activate that 99 cent SIM for a broadband plan, so stock up and don’t be tricked into paying $7. 😉
  • If you already activated a SIM (let’s say AT&T) on an iPad, you can use the same plan on the Nexus 7 3G, but you won’t be able to access your account via the Nexus 7’s browser nor AT&T’s website. They will say you have to do it on the iPad itself. There is a workaround, via this old AT&T’s website (note the copyright year, 2010!). You can log-in to your account and you can access it normally.

That’s all for broadband data plans. More tips and tricks in the future.

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Posted by on February 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Picking Your Wireless Carrier part 04: CDMA MVNOs

First of all, I would like to say that I am not a fan of CDMA carriers (Verizon, Sprint, and their MVNOs). The reason is that you are forced to buy their phones, which are branded and controlled by them. Plus you cannot use your phone anywhere else other than the operator your pick. Imagine buying a car where you can only fill up your gas at one gas station company. Imagine buying a computer where you can only use with one ISP for internet. With GSM, I can buy an unlocked GSM phone and use it with any GSM carrier I want to, worldwide.

Having said that, CDMA is pretty prominent in the US. The biggest carrier, Verizon, is using CDMA (and recently LTE). Let’s take a peek at their prepaid plans. Verizon only offers two plans, $60 and $70 a month. $60 gives you 500MB data, $70 gives you 2GB. Unlimited minutes and text. Compared to their own post paid plans, it’s not bad. However, your phone selection is severely limited as Verizon only offers three old smartphones on their website (2 Android phones, and 1 Blackberry, all 3G only). Plus, you are limited to 3G EVDO. No LTE access. And once you compare prices with the plethora of MVNOs we have seen so far, $60 a month is a lot of money, especially when you cannot use the phone that you want.

There is a Verizon MVNO called PagePlus. They will activate Verizon phones (you still have to buy the phone somewhere, and since CDMA is provider locked, most of the time you have to buy them at full price from Verizon). *EDIT: I guess I was misinformed, another reason I hate CDMA. PagePlus is not activating Verizon phones, more like people are flashing their Verizon phones to be usable on PagePlus.* Prices are a bit more reasonable. $30 a month gives you 1200 minutes, 3000 text, and 250MB data. $40 a month gives you unlimited minutes and text, but dialed down the data to just 200MB. $55 a month bumps the data to 2GB. If you already have a Verizon phone, this is a good alternative to save some money. Do note that you will be using EVDO 3G, not LTE. EVDO 3G is slower than HSDPA (which is the 3G technology used by GSM carriers).

Next, let’s look at Sprint. Being the “little” guy against Verizon, Sprint is akin to T-Mobile, offering better values and more MVNOs. They only have one prepaid plans for smartphones, $70 a month for unlimited everything, including data, but no tethering. Also, Sprint only offers two Android phones. The plus side is they offer an LTE phone. The downsides are Sprint’s LTE coverage is extremely limited at this point, and their 3G EVDO speed is slower than even Verizon’s (which is already slow).

Sprint’s MVNOs are more interesting. First, there is Virgin Mobile. $35 a month for 300 minutes, $45 for 1200 minutes, and $55 for unlimited. Text is unlimited. Data is “unlimited,” up to 2.5GB at 3G/4G speed. Tethering/portable hotspot is $15 extra, and will give you an extra 1GB of high-speed data. 4G here means Wimax. It’s no LTE, and it’s not going to be expanded any further as Sprint decided to adopt LTE instead, so caveat emptor. On the bright side, Sprint’s Wimax coverage is a bit better than Sprint’s LTE right now. In addition, Virgin Mobile’s phone selections are more varied, including iPhone 4S and 4 (CDMA iPhone, thus slow 3G EVDO speed). A good option if you know what you want and get.

Another Sprint MVNO that is offering an ala-carte style plan is ting. This is a very interesting model. Unlike most plans, you have a plethora of options on how many minutes, text, and data you want to pay per month. Even more interesting is if you exceed the pre-determined limit, ting will simply bump your plan up to the higher one, and will bring it down on the next billing cycle. So no crazy overages. How is this interesting? Well, since ting will bump your plans up automatically, one can simply pick no minutes, no text, and no data, and just pay $6 access fee per phone. That way, if you are a light user, you will be paying the minimum amount possible. They even include tethering at no additional charge (the way it should be as tethering is a feature of your phone, not the network). Of course, if you look at the upper end prices, it can be very expensive (3000 minutes by itself already cost $52, while other operators are offering unlimited minutes, text, AND data for less than that). ting allows you to bring an existing Sprint device (except for iPhone). They also offer a more “up-to-date” lineup, including the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy Note 2. Catch is, it’s still CDMA, and it’s Sprint. So if your area has no LTE, you’ll be getting the slow EVDO 3G.

Again, I’m not a fan of CDMA in general as I have pointed out in the beginning. GSM opens a lot more choices in terms of phones. If you have to go CDMA route, ting and Virgin Mobile offer very good prices. If you must have Verizon coverage, and you want LTE, then paying up to the nose for Verizon’s post-paid plans is the only choice.

Next I would explore tips and tricks in picking your phone and operators.


Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Picking Your Wireless Carrier part 03: T-Mobile MVNOs

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 ( 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.

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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in comparison


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Picking Your Wireless Carrier part 02: AT&T MVNOs

Now that we know how expensive it is to have a smartphone using the big carriers, how can we save money? Enter the MVNOs, short for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. What are they? They are virtual operators, meaning they don’t have any spectrum on their own, so they lease some from the big carriers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon) and resell it to consumers. Since they are competing against the companies that own those spectrum to begin with, MVNOs generally offer better prices to attract consumers, and most, if not all of them, offer their plans as contract free, as prepaid and/or pay-as-you-go.

Notice that I said no-contract. Although most MVNOs still sell phones under their brand (mostly outdated cheap phones), the idea is to bring your own phone. This means no subsidy. Considering the savings you would get on the monthly plans, you still end up cheaper, especially if you purchase your phone for cheap (ie. a Nexus 4, or second hand).

Before we go further, I need to point out that the concept of prepaid and pay-as-you-go is separate in the US. In most other countries, those terms are the same. You put in money in your account, and it will be deducted when you use the service.

In the US, the terms prepaid is not considered to be the same as pay-as-you-go. The classic definition of prepaid, where you put money on your account, and then your account is deducted when you make calls based on the per minute rate is called pay-as-you-go. The concept of prepaid in the US is similar to post-paid, meaning you pay a fixed amount on a monthly basis for a pre-determined service. The difference is you pay for the service in advance before you can use the service, pre-paid, compared to post-paid where you pay after you use the service at the end of the billing cycle. In the end, it’s the same thing, you pay in advance to use the service, but you will see the two different terms being used separately in most US wireless carriers’ sites. I probably will not cover pay-as-you-go plans as most MVNOs’ pay-as-you-go offerings are lousy (very expensive per minute/per SMS/per kb rates).

For this post, I am going to focus on AT&T and its MVNOs. Before looking at the MVNOs, let’s look at AT&T itself. AT&T offers a prepaid plan on its own, part of its go-phone plans. It’s a bit confusing as AT&T disallow smartphones on certain plans. I’m going to focus mainly on plans that you can use on smartphones with data plan. AT&T’s most economical prepaid plan for smartphone would be the $25 plan + data packs. The $25 per month plan gives you 250 minutes, unlimited text, and you can add on 1GB data for an additional $25. So basically it’s $50 a month for 250 minutes, unlimited text, and 1GB data. You can bump the data pack down to $15 for 200MB if you wish to. Moving up to $65 a month will give you unlimited minutes. Compare this to AT&T’s own post-paid plan for smartphones, where the cheapest option would be $60 a month for 450 minutes, no text, and a mere 300MB data, this is not a bad deal. The catch is that the go-phone coverage area is less extensive than the post-paid plans, but shouldn’t be an issue for most people that live in cities. You can get the SIM chip for free by going to AT&T stores. I would recommend going to an actual AT&T corporate store, not a reseller, as most resellers would try to charge you money and/or scam you.

Now, let’s take a look at the MVNOs. First I would like to mention Red Pocket. They are one of the bigger AT&T MVNOs. Their prepaid plans are very simple. The most economical one for smartphone usage would be the $50 a month plan that gives you unlimited voice, unlimited text, and 500MB of data. A fair trade-off compared to AT&T’s own go-phone plan. You get unlimited minutes, but less data. There is also a $55 a month plan that bum up the data quota to 1GB. Red Pocket is one of the few MVNOs that actually sells a nano-SIM for iPhone 5 users.

I would also like to point out that you can save up a bit more (a dollar or two) on your monthly cost by purchasing the refill PIN from 3rd party resellers. For example, the $49.99 PIN at is $47.99, no tax. Hey, those extra dollar adds up you know. 🙂

Next, another popular AT&T MVNO is Airvoice. For $40 a month, you get unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and 500MB data. It gets better already huh, especially when you compare to the post-paid plans from the big carriers that will cost you at least eighty ninety dollars per month. $55 a month bumps the data to 1GB. There is a catch with Airvoice though. Even though you have 500MB of data, you only have access to the first 200MB (I think. 400MB for the 1GB plan). For the rest, you have to call their customer service to enable it. This can be really inconvenient. So caveat emptor.

I would like to point out Airvoice’s pay-as-you-go plan. Although the rates are nothing special (10 cents a minute, 10 cents per SMS, $1 monthly charge), their lowest denomination, $10, is good for 90 days. This is a good pick for a backup phone, even if you are paying $1 per month to keep the line. Most other operators and carriers will only give you 30 days. Airvoice only sells a mini SIM chip, although you can search ebay or Amazon to find people selling a pre-cut SIM to micro/nano size easily (for cheaper too!)

Lastly, I want to mention good2go mobile. I don’t think it’s a well-known company, but it offers a neat feature. Its most economical plan would be $40 a month that gives you unlimited calls, unlimited text, and 250MB of data. For $50 a month, you get 1GB data. The neat thing about good2go is that you can add on some more data when you need it. So instead of paying $50 a month for 1GB of data that I might not use, I can just pick the $40 a month plan, and I can add 500MB data for $10 when I actually need it. They offer mini and micro SIM from their website.

Well, how about that. Looking back when the cheapest smartphone plan from the big carriers would cost you $80-$90 a month, now you are looking at less than $60 a month prices. Consider a typical 2 year contract. Let say you save $20 a month by going with an MVNO. In 2 years, you have saved $480, and that doesn’t include taxes that you have to pay on those post-paid plans. Add on to the fact that you can buy refill PINs for a dollar two less, that is quite a big savings. If you save $30 a month, that’s at least $720 in your pocket for two years! You can buy a new iPhone with that. Oh, and get this, if you finish your contract on those big carriers’ post-paid plans, your monthly plans are not getting any cheaper, even though technically you have fulfilled your subsidy.

As a side note, there used to be another large MVNO utilizing AT&T towers called Straight Talk. Straight Talk offered both AT&T SIM or T-Mobile SIM. You can find them at Walmart, but they also sell the SIMs on their website. Their plan is $45 a month ($50 with taxes if you buy the PIN from the website) for unlimited minutes, unlimited text, and “unlimited” data (which translates to about 2GB. Still, it’s not bad). Comparing the prices, Straight Talk had the best deal if you need a bit more data than the 1GB offered by the other MVNOs. Problem is, for some unknown reason, they no longer offer the AT&T version of their SIM on their website. Only T-Mobile SIM is listed now.

On my next post, I will explore T-Mobile MVNOs, where the selections are a ton more, and also the bang for the buck.

Addendum: I forgot to mention H2O wireless, another AT&T MVNO. They have decent plans, although fairly similar to the other MVNOs. $50 a month gives you unlimited minutes, text, international text, and 500MB data. $60 bumps the data to 2GB. $40 bumps the data down to 100MB. Mini and micro SIM are available for $10.


Posted by on February 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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My Annoyance with Apple

I love Apple. I love Apple products. They have great design, beautiful, functional, and have details and aesthetics that are commonly absent on other consumer electronics products. However, I am getting more and more frustrated with Apple’s recent products and their decisions to take control from the user. The main product I am going to talk about is the iPhone, mainly the iPhone 5.

Let’s start with pricing. Apple has been pricing their flagship iPhone to start at $649 unlocked since the iPhone 4. Same thing today with the iPhone 5 16GB, $649. Now this would be okay if the market remained static for the last 2 years. But fact is the market is not static, and the way technology progresses is to be better and cheaper. Let’s focus on the iPhone 5, 16GB, priced at $649. Now you would think “Oh come on, it’s an iPhone. Don’t compare it to the iPad.” Yeah, I AM going to compare it to the iPad, where the 16GB LTE iPad 4 with the large retina display is CHEAPER ($629) than the 16GB iPhone 5. You can argue about miniaturization, but let’s face it, $649 price point of the iPhone 5 is overly inflated at this point. Why does this annoy me? Because Apple actually provides good value for the money on their other products. The Macbook Air is a great example, where it is better quality than most Windows ultrabooks, yet without too much premium. I can say the same thing for the iMac and the Mac mini. If you look at the margins of the iPhone, it’s huge. The iPhone is now Apple’s main cash cow.

Now, I can tolerate that if everything else is fine with the product. Heck, I bought my iPhone 4 unsubsidized. But look around various forums, even the ones on Mac-focused sites, and you will find that the iPhone 5 has a serious build quality issue out of the box. Scratches, scuffs, even now bendgate (where some users finding that their iPhone 5 are bent) stories are continually shared by people. Some fans are spinning this as wear and tear. Sorry, but I’m not going to accept that a $649 device can be scuffed so easily. I have the Nexus One, well used, but it still looks pristine. Same thing with my other phones, Xperia Arc, the Galaxy Nexus, and even the iPhone 4, which is my daily driver. All still look great. I’m not going to pay $649 for a phone that can get scuffs right before I even open the box. That’s ridiculous.

Next major annoyance is the way Apple restrict the cellular wireless settings on iOS. On any other phones (eg. Android), when you switch carriers, you can simply update the APN settings on the phone to get going. Not on the iPhone. The APN settings for certain carriers (eg. AT&T) are locked out from the user, EVEN ON AN UNLOCKED IPHONE!! Why? For example, I use my factory unlocked iPhone 4 on straight Talk. On Android, I can simply add Straight Talk’s APN settings myself to get data to work. Not on the iPhone. By default, data won’t work, and since the Straight Talk SIM I have is for AT&T tower, the settings are not accessible. WHY? This is supremely stupid. It is basically Apple bowing down to AT&T, and screwing users on AT&T MVNOs. There are workarounds. Somebody made a website specifically to change the iPhone’s APN. Yeah, isn’t it ridiculous? You have to rely on a third party website to set-up your phone, something that is not an issue on ANY OTHER phones out there. Oh, and you think by going to that website, everything’s fine, right? NO! You still don’t have access to MMS. Yeah, Apple is BLOCKING you from enabling the feature of their own product. Makes no sense at all. To actually enable MMS, you have to either jailbreak your iPhone, or do a SIM swap. I did the later and finally got MMS working on my iPhone 4. Again, if you have an Android phone, all you need to do is update the settings straight, and you’re done without having to deal with these ridiculous workarounds.

Oh, and Apple doesn’t stop there. To make it even more difficult, the iPhone 5 uses a nano SIM. Yeah, the micro SIM is not small enough, and just when other manufactures start using micro SIM (ie. Nexus 4, Nokia Lumias), Apple just went ahead making their phone “special” by using the nano SIM. You may not think it’s a big deal, but considering only the major carriers carry nano SIM (the only MVNO that carries a nano SIM is Red Pocket at this time), it just makes your life more difficult to simple use your own freaking expensive phone. Yeah, cut your own SIM? Good luck. This is basically Apple telling you to stick with its partner carriers, where Apple themselves are getting a percentage of your monthly payments. The fact that the nano SIM is still fairly rare makes the SIM swap trick above even more difficult. Why of why Apple. Why do you make it so hard for people to use your own products?

To add an even more confusion, that LTE iPhone 5 you buy may not work with LTE where you are. Yeah, Apple makes two versions of the iPhone 5. Based on Apple’s own website, the two versions of the iPhone 5 are one for AT&T/Canadian LTE, and one for CDMA/international LTE. In the past, to get a universal “world” phone, you get a GSM (most of the time it means AT&T) version of the phone. Not with the iPhone 5. The CDMA version actually supports more LTE bands that many carriers outside the US uses. The GSM/AT&T version only supports LTE on AT&T and Canadian carriers. So much for choice! Worse, if you buy the unlocked iPhone 5 in the US, it’s highly likely that you will get the AT&T version instead of the international version that everybody else around the world got, limiting your choice if you travel (ironically, none of the so-called tech “journalists” tried to verify this with Apple). Luckily Verizon is selling their iPhone 5 unlocked (unlike AT&T). This is a reason why I hate LTE. I’ll take penta-band HSDPA anytime.

So, let’s recap. For $649, you get a 16GB iPhone 5 that can get scuffs before you even open the box, that uses the uncommon nano SIM, and Apple makes you do workarounds to simply access the APN settings on your own phone. Meanwhile, Google is selling a 16GB unlocked penta-band HSDPA Nexus 4 for $349. Seems like an easy choice. The only thing is I have invested heavily in the iOS ecosystem and accessories. In the end, I would still be sticking with iOS. My iPhone 4 is still doing its best. At this rate though, I would be more likely to get the iPhone 4S instead of the 5. Sure, the A6 processor is fast, but the 4S still uses a micro SIM and still has the 30-pin dock connector (instead of the lightning connector used on the iPhone 5).

Or, I would just get the iPhone 5 anyway in the end. It’s futile. I am so dependent on the ecosystem that I cannot just use Android as my main phone. >_<

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Posted by on December 2, 2012 in apple, iPhone, rant


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