Prepaid Plans for iPhone Users

As a traveler who likes to stay connected, but doesn't like the rates that my home network operator charges when roaming, I am accustomed to looking for a prepaid SIM for my unlocked iPhone before traveling. When a relative from Australia said one of her first tasks after landing was to sort out a plan for her iPhone (which she checked was unlocked), I thought I would take a look at the prepaid plans available.

AT&T GoPhone

This one is the strangest of the set. I checked AT&T first since it was the most likely network to be fully compatible with her iPhone, and give her sensible data rates. Activating on a CDMA network might be possible, but is much harder than simply swapping the SIM, and T-Mobile would only support Edge network speeds for the iPhone. That also ruled out some of the MVNOs that offer prepaid BYOD plans because they are on the T-Mobile network.

At first it looked good, and while the rate for the best plan (still only 1GB of data though) was higher than the MVNOs, the SIM was free. But there is a catch that makes no sense at all. They don't support iPhones on pre paid plans at all, and have actually terminated service for people using an iPhone on a GoPhone plan as far as I could tell from the forums online that explain how to configure the APN for it.

This is just plain stupidity from a carrier the size of AT&T. I'm sure some of their current post pay subscribers would switch, but not many (after all, it is only 1GB of data). What they are losing though is foreign travelers arriving in the US wanting just a short term plan (mostly less than a month I suspect). Those people would not be signing up for a contract ever, even if they could pass the credit check requirement, so not offering anything for foreign iPhone users is just throwing money away. And it's not as though their network doesn't support data on iPhones…

Net10

This was the plan I ended up getting for my relative, and it is certainly one of the easiest to get (you can pick up the SIM ($15) and the $50 plan at Best Buy or Radio Shack – we went to a Radio Shack that was a couple of blocks from her hotel, and the staff also set up the phone and configured the APN for data, making it totally painless to get online).

The plan is unlimited talk, text and data and the only thing that is not supported on the iPhone is MMS (unless you have a jailbroken phone and want to set that up yourself). So, for the three weeks here, the total cost for voice, text and data is $65.

Net10 runs on the AT&T network as well, so it is compatible with the iPhone and you will get 3G/4G speeds, but not LTE. Fine for most use though (and there is always free Wi-Fi for those Facetime and Skype calls home).

Straight Talk

Straight Talk is another pre-paid phone service, and in theory you can pick up SIMs at Walmart stores, though I did not confirm that (I could not find any California stores listed on the store finder on their website either).

From what I can tell from their website, they are a multi-network MVNO, using both AT&T and T-Mobile networks. When buying your SIM make sure you select the AT&T one so you get the 3G speeds.

The plan price is a little lower than Net10 at $45, and the SIMs come in at $15 the same. The lack of simple in-store pick up for the SIM though limits this usefulness of this one unless you can get somebody to order the SIM for you before you arrive in the US.

H2O Wireless

Another AT&T MVNO, making them a great choice for iPhone users, H2O Wireless SIMs are available at Best Buy stores so, if you're staying near a Best Buy store, these should be simple to sort out when you arrive in the US.

The SIMs are cheaper than the other two at $10, but the plans are not as good; a $50 plan will get you 500MB of data, and the $60 plan will get you 2GB (that is probably more than enough for most people, but it is $5 more than the Net10 unlimited plan).

There are a couple of possible wins on this plan though if you're not a Skype/Facetime user already: the plans come with some international calling credit and free international SMS.

Red Pocket

Another plan with international minutes included, but at $55 for a plan with a 1GB data cap (and normally $20 for the SIM, though currently on sale at $10), if you're a heavy data user Net10 still looks like a better option.

I didn't see any mention of stores selling their SIMs either, though they are widely available on eBay, Amazon and other online retailers as well as directly from the Red Pocket website.

SkyView Wireless

Another MVNO with capped data plans, with their top plan having a 2GB cap for $60, but it looks like it will be throttled after 500MB. They do claim 4G speeds though for the first 500MB, and then 3G after that. I assume that is AT&T's HSPA+ 4G and not their LTE speeds though.

Given that, and the plan pricing, I don't see any real advantage to SkyView over the other MVNOs with cheaper, and simpler plans.

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