Prepaid Cellular?

So, my contract is about up, and I’ve figured that I’ve maybe used 1500 minutes total for the past two years. Basically I’ve given Cingular $1200 over the last two years for $50 of airtime, and I think maybe enough’s enough. I use the thing basically for meeting up with people when we’re out and sometimes calling home from the grocery store. Virtually nothing else.

I’m wondering if anyone in the QT3 braintrust has any experience with the prepaid plans. Seems like a good way to save some money, but I really know nothing about them. Do they use the same networks as the regular ones? Are they a ripoff? Any guidance at all?

Prepaid can be a good deal for a low minute user, but prepaid deals are less standardized than postpaid deals so read the fine print. Some prepaids only charge you against your prepaid minutes for outgoing calls, some for incoming and outgoing, some ding your minutes as a maintenance fee if you don’t use the phone at all, some make minutes expire after a certain time, etc.

Plus the selection of phones for prepaid plans generally sucks.

Prepaid cellular could be made to not suck, but then cell carriers would have to not be greedy. They’re the Capital One cards of the cell world.

I tried a Virgin prepaid phone about 5 years ago because i was cheap, but i only used it about 3 months before giving it up. I checked for curiousity sake, oh, about a year ago, to see what plans Cingular had, and they aren’t any better today.

Basically they go like this; pre-pay 0.25$ a minute. Yep, that’s right. About 8 times more than what you were paying now. But that’s ok, you never use the phone, right?

All your minutes will expire, generally in 30 to 60 days. So…your not really pre-paying. You’re paying for a monthly plan that will automatically cancel if you forget, and will easily chew through 20$ if you use your phone at all or regularly. Because if you fail to add new money in the account every so often you lose your number.

Coverage out of town is almost always worse on pre-paid phone plans as well.

Now if you are ruthlessly strict, you can begger yourself down to about 20$ a month, and save maybe 15$ from the cheapest cell plan. But forget these dreams about only paying 80$ a year for cell coverage. The cell carriers are going to get their pound of flesh out of you one way or another.

A pre-paid cellular phone is great for carrying out criminal activities. I saw it on The Wire. Must be true.

It’s generally acknowledged in the telecom industry that the prepaid phones are targeting those with credit too bad to get a regular postpaid account and those who don’t want their personal information associated with their phone.

Well, there are a dizzying array of choices, I can say that.

It seems like the best deal I can find is with a carrier (who shall remain nameless to avoid the Viral tag) that has 1000 minutes for $100 that don’t expire for a year. That’s an OK deal, since I doubt I’d use them all. But their phone choice sucks and the phones are expensive…so the search continues.

There are two kinds of pre-paid. The best kind is where you go to a major carrier with a phone you already own (usually after your contract has expired) and have them convert you to pre-paid. The rates are usually decent, though the details may vary as far as how long the minutes are around, etc.

The other kind is where you buy a phone already set-up and then buy cards. As noted, this is for people who can’t get a normal phone due to credit issues or people who don’t like contracts. The per minute charges are pretty high and the rules are not customer friendly. However, you can usually get started for very little. Some of the starter phones are like $20.

I have a pre-paid phone. It just got to be too much of a hassle trying to coordinate plans with friends who have celphones and me never being home. I have a home phone that I use primarily, as it sounds like you do, so our usage patterns should be the same. I wanted a prepaid phone because I don’t want to be locked into paying at least $40/month no matter how much I use the phone. I did a bunch of research into what various companies are offering for pre-paid, and finally went with ampd mobile. There is a chart here that details differences between companies.

A bit about the service I have and how I use it. It is on the Verizon network, so if you don’t have coverage for that, it won’t work. It costs $.10/min- no more, no less, and calls between other Verizon customers do cost you money (though I don’t think it eats into their minutes). SMS messages cost $.10 to send AND receive- that’s kind of pricey, but you are connected to Verizon’s digital data network, and thier phones do have built-in mobile web browsers, so you can check your email at any time for no charge (or almost none- they say that it costs $.30/Mb, but I don’t think I’ve ever been charged for that, though 1Mb is a LOT through a mobile browser, so it’s possible that it just happens really rarely, and I check my gmail on the phone a LOT). I just end up using email instead of SMS most of the time- though my friends don’t really ever use SMS anyway- your situation may vary. You recharge the phone in $20 increments, whenever you want- you can do it online, by calling their customer service number (which thankfully doesn’t accrue a charge- I ran out of minutes once a few weeks ago becuase I hadn’t recharged it in a while- like a month and a half- and it wouldn’t let me send/recieve calls, but I could still call Ampd customer service to recharge), or through an interface on the phone. After you have a monetary balance on the phone, everything you do is just taken out of that balance- it’s not automatically converted to ‘points’ or minutes or anything. My usage varies, but I seem to recharge it with $20 every 5 weeks on average- sometimes it goes a bit longer, so I probably pay an average of around $15-16/month. Their phones don’t suck- in fact, they’re pretty state-of-the-art- they just released a RAZR for the service. The reason for this (and the relatively cheap prices), is that they are trying to be a ‘lifestyle’ sort of carrier- they plan to make their money through selling videos, songs, games, ringtones, etc. through their ‘Ampd Live’ service. So all phones must be capable of streaming digital video and whatnot, have full-color screens, etc. I, of course, ignore all that, and just use it as a cheap phone. Why I would want to watch the latest UFC match on a 1"X1" screen is beyond me.

Oh, awesome. I hadn’t actually heard of amp’d, but I’ll check 'em out. They sound just about right for what I want.

And thanks for the chart. That helped a ton.

I have the Virgin prepaid phone and I end up spending ~$9 per month. Short calls and you only have to add $2x.00 every 3 months (which you get as air-time).

I went ahead and got the amp’d prepaid Razr and fuck am I regretting it now.

They had a $100 rebate on the Razr so I figured, what the hell. But the fucking thing won’t activate over the air, so I’ve been stuck in non-existant customer support hell. I waited on hold for an hour and a half last night, only to be cut off (right at 9pm) and on callback to be told that they were closed for night. So this morning I got into work and logged onto their chat system…I’ve gone from #10 in line to #8 in line in just over 2 hours.

Fuck this. I’m returning this piece of shit and going for the T-Mobile deal.

Ok, what deals do you guys have? I have one that’s 1000 anytime minutes for $40 a month(45 after taxes). That’s it, no free weekends, no free nights, whatever. Just the minutes. It seemed like a good deal at the time. I’ve never gone over. Is that standard? I don’t care who my carrier is at all. I’ve been with my present company for about 5 years though. For what it’s worth, it’s TMobile, but I almost dropped them when Cathrine “Crazy As a Loon” Jones became their spokesmodel.

Wait… She’s crazy?

Charmtrap - I’m probably pretty similar to you - had a Cingular plan for a couple of years or so, rarely used it, but wanted to keep the cell phone for the rare instances when I do need it.

Most of the companies don’t advertise/push their pre-paid plans as much, because they’re presumably less profitable, but they’re out there.

I switched to Cingular’s pre-paid. I kept my old phone - it was fine for my purposes. There was a small setup fee (~$25 or so?), which included about $10 of bundled minutes. After that, you can buy in various increments. Note that with Cingular’s plan, the increment you buy determines how long before it expires. The best deal, IIRC, is $100, and the minutes last for a year (i.e. unused minutes don’t expire until one year from when you start). So it nets out to about $8.50/month. It’s $.25 a minute, so if you’re using less than ~42 minutes a month, the $8.50/month will apply. If you go through your minutes a bit faster - no problem, you’ll just need to add the next $100 a bit sooner.

I’ve been using it since ~November '06 and been happy with it. I’ve done one refill (because I initially started out with only ~$10 in minutes) and it was pretty easy. Thumbs up here…

I did some research on this a month or two back and got to the point where I thought Cingular’s pre-paid plan sucked the least (Verizon wanted to charge $1/day regardless of if you used the phone at all!). I haven’t actually gotten a phone because I’m a lazy tight-ass.

My wife says she ordered an Amp’d pre-paid phone, but I don’t think she’s used it yet. fingers crossed

I have a prepaid phone from Telus. I bought the phone for about $200 and then a prepaid card for $50 because they give you a better rate for a bulk purchase. After that it costs me $10 a month to keep my minutes from expiring, which gets charged automatically. I almost never use it and I’ve only given the number to family, so the minutes accumulate (I think I have about $120 built up over a year and a half). It was far and away the cheapest solution for me, even though I could probably get along on $10 every three or four months if that was an option. Not only were all the monthly plans more than $10, with prepaid you get free call display and voicemail. Those features are an extra $5 each per month with the cheaper plans.

Well, be very careful with these suckers. I’m pretty massively unhappy so far. And from looking at some other cellphone forums, I’m far from alone. The consensus seems to be that amp’d’s customer service is completely broken.

My phone did finally program over the air. But since I activated over a landline rather than on their website, now I can’t sign up for a web account because my phone is already showing as activated. Since these numbnuts are apparently too dim to think of that situation arising, I can’t apply any money to the phone without going through their customer service line/endurance test. And by all reports their CS people are pretty useless. Arrrgh!

I’m pretty sure I’ve lost 3 or 4 SAN points in the last 24 hours.

When I switched my Cingular phone from a conventional account to pre-paid, I stopped in at a store and had it done there. I was actually doing it to two phones (mine and my wife’s). It took the guy there (who seemed competent) a looooong time to do the switchovers - over an hour, I think, combined. Fortunately, it was a slow morning in the store.

I’m sure if I’d tried to do it myself, it would have taken me longer…

Yeah, that happens. Most telcos have unrelated back end billing/recording/etc structure for prepaid vs postpaid. So there’s some horrible legacy interface between billing systems from different vendors that has to be navigated to migrate a customer.

Tracfone. OLG and I bought one a couple months ago because we were sick of paying Verizon $45 per month for 198,000 anytime minutes or whatever the fuck it was. Two-tenths of one cent per minute is great if you use all of them, but we found we used about 20 minutes per month on average. So, yeah. An effective rate of $2.25 per minute was steep there. You will be fucked every time by the big carriers. But at least you get a choice - up front or in the rear.

Tracfone is great. They have lots of different phones you can buy based on what you want (bottom-barrel $20 job for us) and then you can buy however many minutes you need, as you need them.

Be aware, though, that the service isn’t great. I wouldn’t recommend it as your emergency communication plan for, say, cross-country roadtrips. But if you’re just looking for something to carry so you can call the wife to see what she wants when you’re at the video store, Tracfone is serviceable and VERY economical.