Author Topic: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?  (Read 6256 times)

mike@livetheneweconomy

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AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« on: July 18, 2012, 06:49:44 AM »
My wife and I both have AT&T iPhone 4's that are no longer in contract.  Both AT&T and Verizon have good coverage in our area.  Sprint is not an option.  Currently, I'm paying $165 a month for both phones, the data plan, unlimited text, and I have mine set up to be a wi-fi hotspot since our home internet dies often enough that I sometimes need to use it (plus, on the road occasionally).  We have no home phone service.

I think $165 a month is an obscene amount, but really couldn't dial down my plan with AT&T anymore without sacrificing something that seemed important.  What are my options?  I searched the other threads on the topic, but thought a direct question with my circumstance might still be warranted.  Thanks!
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2012, 06:54:52 AM »
You want to switch to a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that operates on AT&T. Forum denizen I.P. Daley put together a resource on it here. If you don't find H2O to your liking, we could probably find another MVNO.

mike@livetheneweconomy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2012, 07:44:29 AM »
I've just called AT&T to unlock our phones, which they've done, so I think this lets me now go to T-Mobile, but I want to maintain data and unlimited text.  I think they have a $30 monthly plan that does that.  That would be ~ $60 a month for my wife and I versus the current $160, but I'd lose minutes (not a big deal) and my hotspot (more of a big deal).  Any experience with T-Mobile?
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I.P. Daley

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2012, 09:21:13 AM »
Hard to make recommendations without knowing hard numbers on average minute/text/data usage per month. Also, utilize the situation of switching providers as an opportunity to become less reliant on your devices in your day to day lives for frivolous things... heavy usage usually equals heavy distraction. Prepaid's great for making you realize exactly how much that $8 Netflix habit is really costing you.

Anyway... off the top on providers, there's TMo as you've mentioned as well as TMo MVNO Simple Mobile (but you'll be stuck with EDGE/2G data speeds if you're on an iPhone due to TMo using the 1700/2100MHz bands for HSPA/3G and Apple only supporting GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900). On the AT&T MVNO end, there's H2O as Grant pointed out (though I've grown far less enamored with them lately), as well as Airvoice as the two big ones on the low end, with Straight Talk on the higher end.

Just be cautious with promises of "unlimited" plans, they never truly are... especially when data is concerned. Beyond that, read the guide.
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2012, 10:16:53 AM »
I have a t-mobile $30 plan that gives me a combination of 1500 minutes/messages.  There's also 30 MB of data included, but the data plan doesn't work with my old blackberry device (which I didn't find out until after I switched, and was kind of annoying).  It has decent coverage in my area, and I knew from looking at my past AT&T plan usage that the 1500 minutes/messages would probably work for me.  I switched to t-mobile because I was tired of paying $70/mo for AT&T and I wanted to be able to use an existing phone and port my old number. 

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2012, 10:50:03 AM »
How often is "occasionally" for the hotspot?  Maybe a USB internet access stick (o geez, there goes my credibility on this topic) or something like that for when you have to have it?  I thought that the hotspot thing was something you could turn off and on when needed.  Like if you travel in December, activate, and then deactivate until you travel again in June.

Can you get better home internet to remove this need for at home?

I have heard of people switching to Google Voice for texting and voice calls, allowing them to then reduce their other plans with their mobile carrier, but I admit to not really knowing how this works.

I didn't think Verizon's iPhones worked on AT&T network and vice versa.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2012, 11:06:13 AM »
I didn't think Verizon's iPhones worked on AT&T network and vice versa.

With the exception of their first CDMA model (the iPhone 4), the CDMA friendly iPhone 4S (and likely subsequent CDMA models) is technically a CDMA/GSM world phone, so they work on both networks... it's just a bigger PITA to port devices between CDMA carriers than GSM.
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

arebelspy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2012, 11:09:57 AM »
I didn't think Verizon's iPhones worked on AT&T network and vice versa.

With the exception of their first CDMA model (the iPhone 4), the CDMA friendly iPhone 4S (and likely subsequent CDMA models) is technically a CDMA/GSM world phone, so they work on both networks... it's just a bigger PITA to port devices between CDMA carriers than GSM.

..really?  Even the Sprint one?  Where the heck does the SIM card go?
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I.P. Daley

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #8 on: July 18, 2012, 11:18:06 AM »
I didn't think Verizon's iPhones worked on AT&T network and vice versa.

With the exception of their first CDMA model (the iPhone 4), the CDMA friendly iPhone 4S (and likely subsequent CDMA models) is technically a CDMA/GSM world phone, so they work on both networks... it's just a bigger PITA to port devices between CDMA carriers than GSM.

..really?  Even the Sprint one?  Where the heck does the SIM card go?

Tiny eject hole and micro SIM cage on the right side, apparently. You will need to call Sprint to get the SIM unlocked before you can use it, though.
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2012, 11:21:32 AM »
You are correct, I never even noticed that (before putting it in a case).  Thanks!
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2012, 11:52:22 AM »
I think $165 a month is an obscene amount, but really couldn't dial down my plan with AT&T anymore without sacrificing something that seemed important.  What are my options?  I searched the other threads on the topic, but thought a direct question with my circumstance might still be warranted.  Thanks!
I usually only turn on a cell phone when I'm on travel, so I'm no expert.  (Our pay-as-you-go minutes expired on 3 June and I have to remember to reload it before 1 August or risk losing the number.)  But I've learned and re-learned the value of reviewing the hard data.

How many texts do you guys really need, and is there a significant savings for cutting back?

Same on Internet access-- is there a savings for cutting back on GB/month?

Some of the cell-phone experience is self-correcting.  I think that the more presbyopic you get, the less you care to deal with the hassle. 

If it makes you feel better about $165/month for two phones, our college daughter pays about $90/month for her iPhone 4S unlimited text/data.  However she's using the heck out of it on a college campus, and it turns out to be a huge timesaver.  My spouse also benefited from having a company iPhone when she was running a small non-profit organization.  But as soon as her successor was hired, she lobbed the iPhone across the room to him...
« Last Edit: July 18, 2012, 11:54:37 AM by Nords »
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mike@livetheneweconomy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2012, 12:58:36 PM »
Thanks for all of the replies!  I'm still trying to figure out the best COA, but wanted everyone to know that I appreciate your input!
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Perpetual_Student

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2012, 01:27:24 PM »
Mr. PS and I both have an unlocked iPhone 3gs.  I unlocked mine on my own using redsn0w but that's not for everyone.  You say yours are already unlocked?  Good deal.

Think about where you use the data.  Mr. PS and I spend most of our days in areas with wifi that we can access, so the only place we would miss our data is on the road.  And by looking up directions to a place or using an offline map app you may eliminate most of that usage (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/galileo-offline-maps/id321745474?mt=8).

You can go for a pay as you go plan, but after analyzing the last few months of our usage, we decided to opt for the 1000 mins unlimited text family plan.  This halved our bill from $140 to $70 per month.  It's not amazing, but we keep all the functionality (and Mr. PS is self-employed, and needs his phone for that).

We use T-Mobile and like them a lot.  Good customer service.  Their coverage isn't quite as thorough as ATT, but ATT does not have the plan flexibility.

An MVNO might be a good option too.

mike@livetheneweconomy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #13 on: July 27, 2012, 12:27:28 PM »
I found this:  http://www.straighttalksim.com

Seems to work with iPhone 4, is on AT&T network (3G), and has unlimited voice, data, and text for $45 month (no contract, pre-paid).  Any experience?  I think I'm going to order the sim and give them a shot!
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #14 on: July 27, 2012, 12:35:32 PM »
I found this:  http://www.straighttalksim.com

Seems to work with iPhone 4, is on AT&T network (3G), and has unlimited voice, data, and text for $45 month (no contract, pre-paid).  Any experience?  I think I'm going to order the sim and give them a shot!

Support with América Móvil (StraightTalk, NET10, TracFone) is a fuggin' nightmare unless you're fluent in Spanish.

Otherwise, all I can do is re-quote what I already said:

Hard to make recommendations without knowing hard numbers on average minute/text/data usage per month.

-snip-

Just be cautious with promises of "unlimited" plans, they never truly are... especially when data is concerned. Beyond that, read the guide.

StraightTalk has a soft cap of 2GB, and when they suspend your account and cancel your service for resource abuse, you lose your number. You've been warned.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2012, 12:38:53 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

mike@livetheneweconomy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #15 on: July 27, 2012, 03:33:59 PM »
Thanks IP.  Hard data:  Talking:  400 minutes both wife and I; Texting:  LOTS.  My wife especially.  Data:  500-800 MB on average each of us monthly. 

Man, that link is an eye opener too.  Geesh.  Increasingly the options seem to be 1) Keep doing what I'm doing or 2) Radically rethink the way I use my smart phone.  I was hoping for a third choice.
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #16 on: July 27, 2012, 03:53:20 PM »
Data:  500-800 MB on average each of us monthly. 

You'd have to use 2.5 - 4 times your normal use to hit their 2GB soft cap.  Seems rare that you'd have a month that big of an outlier too often, so it sounds ideal.
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #17 on: July 27, 2012, 04:29:59 PM »
Thanks IP.  Hard data:  Talking:  400 minutes both wife and I; Texting:  LOTS.  My wife especially.  Data:  500-800 MB on average each of us monthly. 

Man, that link is an eye opener too.  Geesh.  Increasingly the options seem to be 1) Keep doing what I'm doing or 2) Radically rethink the way I use my smart phone.  I was hoping for a third choice.

Now you know why I don't exactly bend over backwards in my guide to recommend StraightTalk/Simple Mobile (or any other América Móvil provider). Their prepaid fixed minute plans are expensive and their "unlimited" services have far too much fine print. This is also why I argue for drastically re-examining how you use your phones. If you stop using them as your primary contact device and more for emergency/higher priority contact only, stop utilizing them as a streaming entertainment device, and re-introduce a home phone (in the form of a VoIP provider), it gives you a great deal more of flexibility for the money. Also, use more WiFi for your data.

Before Airvoice relabeled and went "unlimited" themselves a couple weeks ago, their $35 Talk & Text package had something like a 5000 minute/10,000 SMS cap, along with all the larger packages just being those hard numbers with additional data. Dunno if they'll still be as liberal and generous with those numbers now, especially as their new TOS has no hard definition of "unlimited" but has a right to terminate service for any reason without notice. Ultimately, though, your vulnerability is SMS text messaging. You curtail that usage through alternatives, you'll save some major money. Now that I've said that, let me leave you with a quote from my guide about the cost of text messaging:

As for SMS text messaging, understand first and foremost that text messaging is a racket and a cash cow, even in prepaid. If you have occasion to text the days away with heavy usage, look into getting a cheap smartphone and a Google Voice account. A single SMS text message is roughly 1120 bits in size (8 bits to 1 byte, 1024 bytes to 1 kilobyte, 1,048,576 bytes to 1 megabyte, 1120 bits = 140 bytes). By the math alone (if I did it right), you should be able to send 7,489 text messages in 1MB of data. This means, at even 2˘ an SMS message at PlatinumTel, you're paying $149.78 for 1MB of data, and that's one of the cheapest SMS rates! On one hand, it makes those $5 or $10 unlimited text bolt on plans look more attractive, but you know what looks even more attractive still? That 10˘/MB data rate. Needless to say, this bit of information can pretty much justify the purchase of a low frills smartphone that can run SMS text alternatives like Google Voice (the perfect SMS text protocol friendly replacement), Kik, or KakaoTalk if you and/or your contacts are text message fiends. Even these will cost money, however, and you should ideally try and refrain from having elaborate text conversations on your mobile or consider larger packages from providers that aren't as stingy with the data.


Data:  500-800 MB on average each of us monthly. 

You'd have to use 2.5 - 4 times your normal use to hit their 2GB soft cap.  Seems rare that you'd have a month that big of an outlier too often, so it sounds ideal.

Perhaps, but the problem with StraightTalk's data restrictions goes beyond just a soft 2GB cap... their TOS forbids most data usage that would even result in a tenth of that bandwidth.

Quote
6.    STRAIGHT TALK UNLIMITED TALK, TEXT AND MOBILE WEB ACCESS PLAN INTENDED USE: Straight Talk Unlimited Talk, Text and Mobile Web Access Plans may ONLY be used with a Straight Talk handset for the following purposes: (i) Person to Person Voice Calls (ii) Text and Picture Messaging (iii) Internet browsing through the Straight Talk Mobile Web Service and (iv) Authorized Content Downloads from the Straight Talk Mobile Web Store. The Straight Talk Unlimited Plans MAY NOT be used for any other purpose. Examples of prohibited uses include, without limitation, the following: (i) continuous mobile to mobile or mobile to landline voice calls; (ii) automated text or picture messaging to another mobile device or e-mail address; (iii) uploading, downloading or streaming of audio or video programming or games; (iv) server devices or host computer applications, including, but not limited to, Web camera posts or broadcasts, automatic data feeds, automated machine-to-machine connections or peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing; or (v) as a substitute or backup for private lines or dedicated data connections. This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited. A person engaged in prohibited uses may have his/her service terminated without notice or a refund.

Basically, they only want you checking e-mail, browsing static content websites, and using text messaging. (red emphasis mine)

The problem is data services on AT&T's network is just flat out expensive... and even more-so through MVNOs. This is why H2O and Airvoice charge about 33˘ per MB on prepaid plans and have such ridiculously tiny data pittance offerings with their "unlimited" packages. Basically América Móvil is playing dirty pool by claiming they offer "unlimited" talk/text/data packages and then leaving fine print excluding the very services that cause the greatest run-up of mobile data usage from being accessed without explicitly restricting access to those services on their network. They'd rather leave the burden on their customers reading the TOS to find out they can't access YouTube or Last.FM without violating the usage agreement than block the domains. After all, they can make more money selling a $15 SIM card and a $45 "unlimited" plan that they terminate three days into the first month than twelve months of profit margin letting the customer actually use what they promise.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2012, 04:32:35 PM by I.P. Daley »
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #18 on: July 27, 2012, 06:03:01 PM »
lolwow that's terrible. I retract my statement.
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Perpetual_Student

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #19 on: August 02, 2012, 05:07:56 PM »
If you go without data and rely on WIFI, make sure to follow these instructions:

http://osxdaily.com/2012/02/01/use-an-iphone-without-a-data-plan/

mike@livetheneweconomy

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #20 on: August 04, 2012, 10:25:19 AM »
I don't know why I'm allowing this to tie me into knots, but I can't believe I can't find an option that is good for me for this.  Apparently, AT&T no longer offers anything but unlimited text messages other than just paying for messages ala carte at 20 cents a message.  So my idea of just getting a $5 limited text plan is not going to work.   The only option outside of the premium data plan, 300mb, only saves me $10 a month.  So, it appears that there are two plans:

1) Pay out the nose
2) Don't have a smart phone

Somehow I thought this magical moment of getting out of my AT&T contract and unlocking my phone was going to open up new savings possibilities.  I guess not.  Back to the drawing board...
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #21 on: August 04, 2012, 12:50:11 PM »
I was just in a similar situation, so I will give you what I found to be the best solution for me.

I went with the T-mobile 4G monthly prepaid plan for 30 dollars a month. This includes unlimited data, as well as unlimited texts and 100 minutes per month. The beauty of this deal is that there are no contracts, so if you are ever dissatisfied you can end it right then in there. Also, the cost of minutes after the initial 100 is very reasonable at 10 cents a minute, or $10 for 100 more minutes. Looking at your situation, this plan would cost you and your wife ~$80 a month, which is about half of what you are paying now. On months that you talk less it will be around $60 dollars a month.

Also, your current phones will work on T-mobiles network, so there is not cost there. I recently got an unlocked galaxy nexus from google and use it on their network and absolutely love it. 30 dollars a month for a smartphone? Sign me up!

Anyways, hope this helps. 

http://prepaid-phones.t-mobile.com/prepaid-plans

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #22 on: August 04, 2012, 05:30:59 PM »
Thanks a lot.  I had read that the T-Mobile data works only as 2G on the iPhone 4 instead of 3G.  Can you verify this? 
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #23 on: August 04, 2012, 05:42:01 PM »
Thanks a lot.  I had read that the T-Mobile data works only as 2G on the iPhone 4 instead of 3G.  Can you verify this?

I can.  It is EDGE, rather than 3G.
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #24 on: August 04, 2012, 05:46:17 PM »
I just called the T-Mobile store and they said that the $30 plan is Wal-Mart only (which is fine, but interesting).  They also said that existing iPhones would be able to use 3G on T-Mobile beginning in December.  I might go for this anyway...
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #25 on: August 05, 2012, 10:33:48 AM »
Hmm, I am not aware of what kind of speeds you get with an Iphone 4 on T-mobile. Good luck!

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #26 on: August 06, 2012, 04:01:06 PM »
After calling the T-Mobile store and finding out that the $30 plan is online or Wal Mart only, I headed to Wal Mart today and found out that they only do contract phones.  Called T-Mobile back and they said that I would have to do it online.  Went online and they are sold out of SIM cards.  Back to waiting it seems...
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #27 on: August 06, 2012, 11:31:22 PM »
Sorry to hear that mate. What a frustration! I hope everything works out.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #28 on: August 07, 2012, 08:08:43 AM »
Just so you know I have an Iphone 3GS that has never been on a data plan. I bought it from a friend ($40 broken + $10 screen). I had it with AT&T contract plan with no data. Somehow they never bothered me about getting a data plan.

Anyway a little over a month ago, I went with H2O Wireless, they have a $25 plan for 1000 minutes, 1000 texts, or 80 meg of data, or any combination thereof.

That works out to 2.5 cents a minute, and so far so good. I put my wife (Iphone 4) on the $40 unlimited minutes/texts plus 50 megs data.

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #29 on: August 07, 2012, 09:25:35 AM »
Thanks for the advice!
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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #30 on: September 27, 2012, 05:29:44 PM »
I didn't think Verizon's iPhones worked on AT&T network and vice versa.

With the exception of their first CDMA model (the iPhone 4), the CDMA friendly iPhone 4S (and likely subsequent CDMA models) is technically a CDMA/GSM world phone, so they work on both networks... it's just a bigger PITA to port devices between CDMA carriers than GSM.

So DH and I each have an iPhone 4 on Verizon.  I have read the SuperGuide (ok, I'll admit it, I read two pages . . . that thing is a novel.  A kickass novel, but man, it is LONG!).  I did read what I read very carefully, though, and this thread too, and my head is spinning.

Seems like, from what I read here and from calling AirVoice, that Verizon iPhone 4 people are SOL since there is no sim card and it is a CDMA while all the networks that take your own device are GSM.  I did look into one carrier from the SuperGuide (PagePlus) that looked promising but then it said no iPhones.

Right?

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #31 on: September 27, 2012, 10:51:28 PM »
So DH and I each have an iPhone 4 on Verizon.  I have read the SuperGuide (ok, I'll admit it, I read two pages . . . that thing is a novel.  A kickass novel, but man, it is LONG!).  I did read what I read very carefully, though, and this thread too, and my head is spinning.

Seems like, from what I read here and from calling AirVoice, that Verizon iPhone 4 people are SOL since there is no sim card and it is a CDMA while all the networks that take your own device are GSM.  I did look into one carrier from the SuperGuide (PagePlus) that looked promising but then it said no iPhones.

Right?

Yup, you're pretty much SOL unless you're willing to either jailbreak the phone and flash the device to change the ESN so you can take it to PagePlus, or re-purchase GSM versions of the device. Apple has an agreement with Verizon blacklisting the ESNs for iPhones from being used... this hasn't kept some folks from doing it anyway through technowizardry, but yeah. I know one outfit that claims to do it for you for $40, but I won't mention their names or link to them as I know nothing of the outfit and can't speak to how trustworthy these beige fellers are, and it makes me nervous that it appears that you're paying them money and mailing them your phone to port it over to PagePlus.
Hi, I'm Daley, the Howard Cosell of MVNOs and the Technical Meshugana. I'm also the author of the Frugal Communications Guide and our own Superguide.

sibamor

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #32 on: September 28, 2012, 09:06:17 AM »
I've just called AT&T to unlock our phones, which they've done, so I think this lets me now go to T-Mobile, but I want to maintain data and unlimited text.  I think they have a $30 monthly plan that does that.  That would be ~ $60 a month for my wife and I versus the current $160, but I'd lose minutes (not a big deal) and my hotspot (more of a big deal).  Any experience with T-Mobile?

Solution to this lack of minutes.  Get yourself a Google Voice Account!

https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=grandcentral&passive=1209600&continue=https://www.google.com/voice&followup=https://www.google.com/voice&ltmpl=open

Can use all that unlimited data as means to your minutes solution. 

Kazak

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Re: AT&T / iPhone-- is there a frugal solution?
« Reply #33 on: September 28, 2012, 09:43:21 AM »
When you make calls over Google Voice, it still uses your plan's minutes, even if you use WIFI only calling. It does allow you to text for free over the data plan, however.