This morning, I was using AT&T cellular service. This afternoon, I switched…to AT&T cellular service. And that move is saving my wife and I $780 every 2 years.
The savings is based on 2 smartphone lines for a couple requiring 700 monthly minutes. Your savings will of course vary depending on your own scenario.
Straight Talk Overview
My new service provider is Straight Talk. But I just said I switched to AT&T, right? I did. Kinda. Here’s how it works. (Stick with me here while I briefly explain the prepaid service. It will be worth it; I promise.)
Straight Talk buys service in bulk from providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint (all 4 in the case of Straight Talk), and then resells service to consumers at a profit. Hundreds of prepaid service providers do this; they’re called Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs). (Straight Talk is actually part of a family of MVNOs, which includes Tracfone and Net10.)
If you’re about ready to stop reading because you think that all prepaid providers have terrible phones, don’t stop yet. Straight Talk has this great Bring Your Own Phone plan. You can bring your existing AT&T or T-Mobile phone to Straight Talk (that’s GSM phones; sorry Sprint and Verizon customers. But if you’re ready to buy a new phone, read on). If you bring an AT&T phone, you end up using AT&T’s network. Simple.
And yes, you can keep your existing phone number (although if you use Google Voice, that almost doesn’t even matter).
Straight Talk’s Pricing
$45/month per line for unlimited talk, text, and web access
$10-15 per SIM card (one per phone; this is a one-time purchase)
Straight Talk Drawbacks
There are some minor drawbacks. I’ve weighed them, and determined that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for me, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.
- Their “unlimited” data isn’t really unlimited. My research strongly suggests that the limit is 100 MB per day and 2 GB per month. Go over that, and Straight Talk is pretty quick to dump you as a customer. If you’re on Wi-Fi most of the time, you won’t come close to touching that. I’ve been using just a couple hundred MB per month with my AT&T plan. But if you’re paranoid, you can get apps on Android (and surely iPhone and Windows Phone too) that let you easily monitor your data and even stop your phone from using data past a certain limit.
- MVNOs don’t have roaming agreements. (That’s where a provider like AT&T has a deal with a provider like T-Mobile, so that in situations where T-Mobile offers coverage and AT&T doesn’t, you as an AT&T subscriber still get coverage in that area automatically.) So if your phone often tells you you’re roaming, this might not be a good option for you. In the past 2 years, I saw the roaming indicator once on my phone, in a small grocery store in a small California town. I don’t need roaming.
- No LTE (super fast web access) coverage. You still get fast access (3G or the faster HSPA+), and when you’re on good Wi-Fi, your cellular data speed doesn’t matter much. There’s some dispute over whether LTE speeds are worth the battery drain anyway, but this still clearly belongs on the list of drawbacks.
- An AT&T rep also used some scare tactics: “You know, if you’re on one of our MVNOs, you’re among the first to get your calls dropped. You also get the weakest signal from the tower.” Um, sure. Ok. I’ll chance it.
- On some phones, getting Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) to work is very difficult. This isn’t a big deal when you have a smartphone; why would you ever send an MMS message, which makes your picture or video ultra-low quality? Email is way better.
A common drawback (if you want to call it that) for all prepaid providers is that you pay full price for your phone. Don’t let that stop you, unless you really don’t have the money. It turns out that the affordable-sounding subsidized price of your awesome new smartphone actually comes with a huge cost in the end; keep reading for details..
The Procedure (How to Get Started)
- Have or buy a GSM phone. Remember, the Bring Your Own Phone plan works only for T-Mobile and AT&T customers. But if you’re ready to buy a new phone anyway, just buy an off-contract phone, like the Nexus 4. It doesn’t have to be unlocked.
- Buy a SIM card and 30-day service plan from Straight Talk at http://www.straighttalksim.com. I bought mine during a promotion when they offered the card for $10 with free overnight shipping.
- Follow the activation instructions once you get your SIM card. On a difficulty scale of 1 (very easy) to 10 (very difficult), this process is a 3.
I get a new smartphone every 2 years, and since my wife isn’t as much of a power user (yet), she’s happy to inherit mine at the end of that 2 years. So in our case, the two 2-year prices we’re comparing are highlighted in green. For a couple with smartphones, Straight Talk saves about $780 over the course of 2 years. With taxes and fees, the savings is even higher.
You can see that if both the husband and wife want the latest iPhone or other high-end phone every 2 years, it’s a wash. But if you get a better bargain like the Nexus 4, you’ll save hundreds.
So what do you think? Are you going to give prepaid a try? If not, what’s holding you back?