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USA Mobile Phone Advice

Discussion in 'Technical Discussion' started by Overlord, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. Overlord


    Now playable in Smash Bros Ultimate Moderator
    Long-term happiness
    OK, so I have a trip coming up in a few months where I'm going to the US for about a week (don't panic, I fully intend to have internet & board access while I'm there, so you're all safe =P), and I intend to take my mobile phone with me that I bought when I visited South Africa last Autumn - specifically, that's this thing:


    First off, some shit I've worked out that I'm fairly confident I'm right on:

    * The USA has 4 main mobile phone networks, not counting those that leech off others' equipment: Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T Mobility, & T-Mobile USA. Of these 4, Verizon & Sprint are both useless as they use the CDMA standard that next to no-one else on Earth uses (and indeed those that do (including these two) are phasing out under the 4G standards anyway for LTE, which is GSM based). AT&T and T-Mobile both use proper GSM, therefore I will need to use one of these two.

    * Wikipedia says that AT&T does 850MHz & 1900MHz for GSM/EDGE (2G) and UMTS/HSPA (3G - not that this is relevant, my travel phone is 2G only). T-Mobile does the same, but has to roam on AT&T's network to do 850. My phone does quad-band GSM 850 / 1900 / 900 / 1800, so as I understand it, I should be fine with either of these networks. (For the record, it seems only AT&T currently has any sort of 4G layout - 700, 1700 & 2100MHz, where T-Mobile is scheduled to roll out just 1700MHz at some point during this next year).

    Now. Bearing in mind we're talking about a country whose mobile networks are so customer-unfriendly that they recently made unlocking your contract phone illegal, I have a couple of questions for locals who might know the answers of these - and if they vary state-by-state, the relevant ones will be MO (most important), FL, NV (both somewhat important), and TX (least important, any phones in it will be there a matter of hours at most):

    * Is it even possible to buy pre-paid SIM cards that you slap into a phone and then just work, with a US phone number, as a UK national? (I assume the foreigner bit isn't the block as I did exactly this in South Africa, but with the sillyness of the above regulation you never know)
    * Assuming that it is, what sort of prices will I be looking at for buying a bog-standard calls-and-texts-only SIM card, to slap straight into my own phone, with maybe $10 or $20 of credit? (I do not care for data necessarily, my phone can't do it anyway. However that might be important for someone else I know who's going)
    * How much is a typical phone call from a mobile to a land-line in the US from AT&T & T-Mobile? How much are domestic texts - and arguably more importantly, international ones? How about mobile-to-mobile - on the same network and to other networks?
    * Who has better coverage, AT&T or T-Mobile?
    * Are there any other pitfalls of US mobile phone networks I should be aware of?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Conan Kudo

    Conan Kudo

    「真実はいつも一つ!」工藤新一 Member
    Answering in order:
    • Yes, you can buy prepaid SIM cards and use them as you please. T-Mobile offers them for $1 online and $5-10 in-store. There are no special requirements, provided you visit a T-Mobile store to purchase them. Purchasing online requires a US address and a valid credit card. AT&T GoPhone SIM cards cost anywhere from $10 to $25 depending on which AT&T store you've visited.
    • T-Mobile has three options for prepaid: Pay Monthly, Pay Each Day Used, and Pay As You Go. Of the Pay Monthly rates, I recommend the $30/mo plan for those who don't talk much (100 min included with $0.10/per additional minute, and unlimited SMS/MMS and data) or the $60/mo plan for those who plan on using lots of minutes along with texts and data (unlimited talk, text, web plan). Of the Pay Daily rates, the $2/day rate works well for dumbphones, while the $3/day rate works well for smartphones. Of the PayGo rates, it's $0.10/min incoming and outgoing, and $0.25/message for SMS/MMS. On the prepaid side, mobile-to-mobile and mobile-to-wireline are treated the same rate. Check the website for rates on using refill cards, but usually $30 gives you about 160 minutes. UK calls are $2/min unless you are on Pay Monthly ($50/mo or higher) and have the $10/mo addon for International Talk and Text. In which case, UK calls to mobiles are $0.34/min, UK calls to landlines are free, and UK texts are free. AT&T GoPhone prepaid rates are roughly the same, with the notable exception of Pay Monthly and Pay Daily. AT&T does not offer Pay Daily rates, and Pay Monthly rates are roughly the same. However, AT&T GoPhone does not allow bringing your own phone for Pay Monthly, only PayGo. AT&T also dislikes smartphones on GoPhone brand.
    • Coverage wise, Missouri, Florida, and Texas are well covered by both. Nevada is weird on both. T-Mobile has better coverage on the western side, while AT&T has it better on the eastern side.
    • T-Mobile is pretty much the only carrier that really gives a damn about prepaid GSM. Verizon owns a GSM network, but refuses to use it for its own services. Sprint got out of the GSM business almost 20 years ago (its GSM network is now T-Mobile's). AT&T just doesn't give a damn about prepaid, though it has it to take advantage of international events hosted in the US like the Olympics. 2G coverage between AT&T and T-Mobile is near equal, but AT&T's HSPA coverage is larger than T-Mobile's HSPA+ coverage. T-Mobile's LTE network is lighting up this year, but that's a non-issue for you, just as AT&T's LTE network is essentially ignorable for you, too. Avoid Verizon and Sprint as much as possible. Sprint's coverage is tiny, and any domestic roaming can incur massive charges. T-Mobile doesn't charge for domestic roaming. AT&T doesn't either. Verizon doesn't roam much at all. Sprint/Verizon are CDMA networks, so you can't bring your own phones to them.
    That's about it.

    Oh yes, if you're wondering why we charge incoming and outgoing for texts, it's because the North American Numbering Plan doesn't allow distinguishing between wireline and wireless phone numbers. Thus, it's impossible to differentiate for cost. As a result, the total cost of the call is split between both users. It works out to be cheaper that way.

    And as for phone unlocking, T-Mobile still will unlock your phones on request. If it's a prepaid phone, I think it's after 180 days of service. On postpaid, it's after 40 days of service. After that, you just call them and you can get the code right away. If you purchase a postpaid phone at MSRP in a store, you can call in and get it unlocked right away, as well.

    Oh and if you purchased that phone of yours outside of the U.S. or Canada, then it won't support US networks. It supports GSM 850/1900 only in the American model (T-Mobile sells it as the T-Mobile Sparq). You'll need a cheap quad-band GSM phone.
  3. Overlord


    Now playable in Smash Bros Ultimate Moderator
    Long-term happiness
    Many thanks for the reply! I've checked the manual for my phone: my Onetouch 217D says it does 900 & 1800MHz GSM, so... fuck, you're right. Hadn't noticed that, that's annoying. I was under the impression it was quad-band when I bought it.... bloody incompetent store staff. Thanks for the headsup, I'll have to look into that. Might well buy locally and then unlock when I get back to the UK.

    After reading through your post, what I'm basically getting the impression of is that for a cheap dumbphone, my best option is the T-Mobile $1 Pay-By-The-Day provided I don't spend more than 10 minutes a day talking, assuming that covers international texts - though by the sound of a phone call I just had with T-Mobile USA, it isn't. Grrrr. I'm not spending a huge amount of cash when I'm only there a week!