Recommended Prepaid Providers

Prepaid phone providers are popping up frequently lately as more people realize the math and understand the cost savings of switching to a prepaid phone plan. Below are the prepaid providers I support and recommend. If you’re ready to take the plunge into prepaid and ditch your contract, referral links are provided where applicable, but are in no way necessary.

#1: Solavei

  • Partner Network(s): T-Mobile
  • Package Details: Unlimited voice, text, and data (data limited to 4 GB/month of high-speed 4G data, after which 2G throttling occurs)
  • Monthly Fee: $49 (may be discounted; see below)
  • Sign-up Fee: $9 for the SIM card
  • Perks: Referral program (see details)

Solavei is one of the newer providers in the ever-growing field. They have a unique twist: they pay you for using Solavei’s service. More accurately, you get paid for referring their service. It’s a basic referral program as with most other products, but payout isn’t limited to a one-time disbursement. More details on Solavei here.

[Solavei Referral Link]

#2: Straight Talk

  • Partner Network(s): T-Mobile, AT&T
  • Package Details: Unlimited voice, text, and data (data limited to an unspecified cap, rumored to be 2 GB/month of high-speed 4G data, after which 2G throttling occurs)
  • Monthly Fee: $45 (discounts with long-term prepaid purchases)
  • Sign-up Fee: $14.99 for the SIM card
  • Perks: Network flexibility, International option (costs extra)

Straight Talk is one of the more popular prepaid providers, and their network flexibility between T-Mobile and AT&T is a strong selling point. Carrier-unlocked phones are of great value with this prepaid provider since switching networks is as simple as swapping the SIM card. They also have an international plan which should reduce the hassle of traveling abroad. You can also prepay several months in advance (options are available for 3-, 6-, and 12-month cycles), and doing so not only guarantees zero lapse in service, but you receive a discount as well. The more months you prepay in advance, the bigger the discount.

Straight Talk is owned and operated by TracFone Wireless, a company who’s been around the prepaid block since the first pterodactyl went off to dinosaur college and needed to call his mother.

#3: Simple Mobile

  • Partner Network(s): T-Mobile
  • Package Details: Unlimited voice, text, and data (data limited to an unspecified cap, rumored to be 2 GB/month of high-speed 4G data, after which 2G throttling occurs)
  • Monthly Fee: $50
  • Sign-up Fee: $12.99 for the SIM card
  • Perks: International option (costs extra), cheaper base plan options (starting at $25 for no data, $40 for 250 MB of high-speed 4G data, after which 2G throttling occurs)

#4: T-Mobile Monthly4G

  • Partner Network(s): T-Mobile
  • Package Details: Unlimited voice, text, and data (see exceptions)
  • Monthly Fee:
    • $50 for 100 MB 4G data
    • $60 for 2 GB 4G data
    • $70 for unlimited 4G data
  • Sign-up Fee: $35 activation fee, plus $0.99 for the SIM card
  • Perks: $70 monthly option is the only offering which offers truly unlimited data with no 2G throttling

14 Responses to Recommended Prepaid Providers

  1. StinklePink says:

    My suspicion is you picked Solavei as your #1 provider because its a pyramid marketing scheme and you get a kick-back for every person that clicks that link and signs up. Not only is their marketing strategy a turn-off but so is your thinly veiled rip-off.

    Makes me rethink any good information you may have published on this WordPress blog.

    • Aaron Burke says:

      I picked Solavei as my #1 provider because I think it gives you the best plan per dollar. I choose it over Straight Talk because Straight Talk doesn’t explicitly call out their data limits in their terms, and you’re subject to throttling for “excessive usage”, which is widely believed to be 2 GB per month or 100 MB per day of streaming data. Solavei is $4 more per month with explicitly defined data policies (and twice the amount of data as the effective Straight Talk plan at that), so yes – it is the better deal for data-heavy users.

      Yes, Solavei has a referral program which is structured in the form of a pyramid, but that doesn’t make it a marketing scheme. The service for $49 is still better than any other offering. Of course, if you’re successful in your marketing efforts, you get even more plan for your buck (and if you’re REALLY successful, your plan is even free *and* pays a residual income on top of that).

      Solavei is not a scam. The service is real. I’m using it. Additionally, it’s invite-only (just like Gmail in its early days), so you wouldn’t be able to sign up without a referrer (in the most recent change to their enrollment program, if you do, you’re assigned one based on a set of criteria I won’t go into here). If you don’t believe the service is legitimate, you have other options. This list of recommended providers is not yet complete, and I will likely add another one or two providers to the list in the near future as I do more research.

      I’ve been upfront about referral links. Not once on this blog have I mentioned Solavei as a sole offering. It doesn’t change the facts I’ve presented in any way. Yes, I get a monetary kick-back for everyone who signs up under me with Solavei, but I didn’t hide that fact. It also doesn’t change the service you’re signing up for.

      My primary intention with this blog is information dissemination. The savings are incredible if you switch to prepaid – I’ve shown that in the math. I’ve found that most people are unaware of these savings — even I was until I crunched the numbers. When I had that realization, that’s what inspired me to get the word out there.

      If I make a little bit of money through referrals, is that so bad? Assuming you sign up for the service, it’s at no additional expense to you. It’s no different than if I provided a referral link to a product on Amazon. As of right now, this site is ad-free. That may change in the future, I’m not sure. I pay for the site out of my own pocket. It is not my day job. I am gainfully employed as a software engineer doing unrelated work. The smartphone and mobile industry is a completely independent passion of mine.

      Nonetheless, I thank you for your honest feedback. I hope I’ve alleviated your suspicions, and if you have any other suggestions about how I can improve this site, I welcome your thoughts.

  2. Jaime says:

    Great site man! Found you while doing a Google search for Jr’s postings on Android Power about his prepaid endeavors (which gave me a link to your posting about his story).

    Just wanted to say that, and hey, keep it up!

    • Aaron Burke says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback! I’m glad you like the content. Please feel free to follow via RSS, email, or Twitter if you aren’t doing so already. I’ve just returned from a week of travel and expect to be making several more posts here in the near future once I catch up on all the missed news.

  3. Greg Parket says:

    good site overall. I also think the first provider is part of a referral
    scheme. But still worth reading for contact customers. Put your
    money where your mouth is, show is the 1st company gets no
    kick backs from your site. We know tracfone does not. Sure I
    am for small business. But hidden referral schemes with those
    who tout the company as the best etc, are old and non of us
    fall for it anymore. At least those of us who are INTELLIGENT.

    • Aaron Burke says:

      Hi Greg,

      The first provider (Solavei) does include a referral link – I made no attempt to hide that (“referral links are provided where applicable”). It’s not a “scheme”, however, since the service is real. I am a customer. It is in the first place because it offers the best value for the price. I will not place a provider lower in the list simply because they have a referral program, because that’s an *advantage*, not a disadvantage. I also won’t arbitrarily place a provider higher in the list because they *don’t* have a referral program.

      Even if you completely ignore the referral benefits, Solavei still offers the best bargain. For $49/month, you get unlimited talk and text and 4G of high speed data with Solavei. You could pay the same to Simple Mobile and get less data, or pay $4 less and get an “undefined” data limit with Straight Talk. I encourage you to try one month of Solavei for yourself. There’s no long-term commitment with any of the recommended providers — that’s one of the biggest points of going prepaid.

      I am not affiliated with Solavei in any official manner. I am a customer and nothing more. I am not employed by Solavei. If another carrier comes around and offers a better bargain, you can be sure that they will wrestle the first place ranking away from Solavei.

      I don’t see how I can be more honest. I’ve hidden nothing in my posts, and I run this blog in my own free time with my own money (and trust me, the costs are adding up!).

      In any case, thank you for reading my blog. I apologize if you feel I insulted your intelligence, but if you read the whole page, you’d have also read that I’m nothing if not completely forthcoming with all the facts, good and bad.

      -Aaron

  4. Greg says:

    Great article. I’ve been researching going prepaid for about 6 months now. Counting the days my first eligible line, (my wife’s) could be finally UNPLUGGED from Big Red. My problem is Big Red is huge in my area, (upstate NY) and the next best thing is AT&T, then far far behind is T-Mobile. Map coverage for T-Mobs signals are terrible for my area and most common places I’ll be it has nothing. So, as good as the plans are by these carriers offering T-Mob signal plans I just can’t do it. I may as well not have a phone.
    So that leaves me AT&T signals. BTW I’ve got a brand new Nexus 4 staring at me right now with no SIM card. My question is what decent Prepaid carriers are available for AT&T networks? The coverage isn’t as good as Verizon here but its survivable. I’ve found H2o <-garbage plans, and Straight Talk <-scary service. Its not the end of the world if I have to jump to Straight Talk. I'm just wondering if anything better is available.
    My wife uses very small amounts of data but she'll talk in her sleep. I on the other hand am a power user and use 50 min or less talk time. So I'm either looking for a balance, or options to go up or down on plans. Any ideas?

    Thanks

    • Jaime says:

      What about Net10? They have both AT&T and TMo SIMS, if I’m not mistaken.

    • Aaron Burke says:

      Yeah, Verizon Wireless is pervasive everywhere. Many times, other carriers can’t get a foothold in areas like yours because Verizon effectively has a monopoly on the local industry – but that’s another topic entirely. It’s unfortunate that T-Mobile isn’t readily available in your area. If AT&T is acceptable, Straight Talk is a decent choice if you go in with the expectation that you won’t *really* get unlimited data.

      Regarding Net10, while they support AT&T and T-Mobile, starting next month (March 2013), your data allotment is only 1.5 GB if you use AT&T as your providing network (source: https://net10data.com/). If that’s enough for you, it’s worth trying. They apparently have a family plan offering for $85/month for two lines, which is a rarity in this market. Please note that I have not fully investigated the quality of Net10 and whether or not I can truly recommend them, so your mileage may vary.

      Have you looked at http://opensignal.com/ and http://rootmetrics.com/ to see what real-world coverage is like in your area?

  5. Jaime says:

    @Greg: What about Net10? They have both AT&T and TMo SIMS, if I’m not mistaken.

  6. Greg says:

    Well I ended up going to Walmart looking for a Micro Sim on Straight Talk for ATT. No such luck on the shelves. The “electronics” worker came over and when I asked she stated you have to buy them online. I showed her my phone with Walmarts webpage showing “out of stock” for that item. She asked if I saw the Boost Sim cards and I quickly figured out this person was a joke so I made my exit from Walleyworld quickly. Walmart had a plethora of T-Mob products and Sub Companies in stock ready to go but zero ATT products on shelves or online. Coincidence?
    So BestBuy it is. I walk in and among the blinding amounts of T-Mob items I see NET10 Starter package for ATT and T-Mob containing Sims for both and a Micro Sim for ATT in the box! Grabbed a $50 monthly card and split.
    At home I popped in the Micro Sim, hopped on the website from my PC, entered all the info in addition to “porting” my wife’s number. The site said it could take 4hrs to 2 business days to complete the porting of her previous number from Verizon. As soon as I accepted the offer it took about 30 seconds and the Nexus 4 got a text from her sister. Crazy fast!
    Took about 20 min to put in the APN reboots and tests. Then it was all set. Data is about 6 mb according to the speed test I ran. Not even close to Verizon but that’s OK we have WiFi. No need to surf or download at lightning speeds while driving, at work, or at a gym. To me those speeds are overrated.
    So NET10 will cap at 1.5 gig next month? No biggie according to her usage on verizons grandfathered Unlimited Plan she used 900mb a month. The added bonus is their sharing feature for when I make the jump in the summer. Best part about this all is if a plan starts to suck I can just jump to another.

    Total savings. $375 for phone, Sim Card, Service, 23 more months at $50 a month is $1525 pretending its a 2 year contract. We save around $900 over a 2 year period.
    I will more than likely get the $35 T-Mob if available still and same phone, or Moto X for $300.

    Our total savings in 2 years is $2300.

    Thank you for your help and keep up the good work!

    • Aaron Burke says:

      “Best part about this all is if a plan starts to suck I can just jump to another.”
      Exactly. With prepaid service, the market control really is in the hands of the consumer, since you’re not tied into a contract. If a given provider doesn’t remain competitive, their customers will transition elsewhere. With two-year contracts, that’s rarely the case since many people don’t want to pay the ETF to move to another carrier (and a new two-year contract, and likely a new device).

      Congratulations on step one of your transition! Those savings are looking good! Keep in mind that if you’re able to transition your line over as well (I assume you’re still in-contract and want to avoid the ETF), if you can afford the upfront cost, you’re going to save more in the long-run the earlier you switch. Using your math above as an example, if you switched with the exact same setup, you’d simply deduct the cost of the ETF from the two year savings – in on other words, instead of saving $900 over a two-year period, you might save $700 for the first two year period (or $400 if you also buy a new Nexus 4), then $900 over the next two years. It’s certainly something to keep in mind. While I can’t and won’t advocate irresponsible credit use, if you can’t afford the upfront cost of the ETF and a new device for your sole remaining VZW line, you’ll still come out ahead if you finance it with a credit card. Another reader submitted a guest post about that very idea: http://www.whyprepaid.org/2012/12/10/serious-magic-here-50-or-250000/

      I’d be interested in knowing more about your experience with NET10 in a few months, so please feel free to write back later in these comments or contact me directly via email.

      • Jaime says:

        Yeah let us know how it goes. I’m moving my dad away from Net10 at the beginning of the month since he can’t be capped at 1.5GBs/month, that’s too low. The problem is, Tmo doesn’t have great service where he’s at so he’s gonna need to go with another AT&T MVNO. Probably StraightTalk. I’ll let you know how it goes for us!

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