Best prepaid cellphone services (AirVoice wireless, H2O wireless, Page Plus cellular)
In my last post, I wrote about my recent recommendation of best phone deal out there today on Nexus 6. As I explained, I am a big fan of prepaid cellular service / no-contract cellular service. I have been using prepaid/ no-contract model since 2010. In my prepaid journey, I have tested several services and ported my number multiple times. I decided to put on few key points based on my experience.
First, not many people really know that there are over 200 prepaid service providers exist in the USA! A Wikipedia article has a really good table that summarizes them all. I highly recommend you to take a look at the table there. All of these providers are virtual as they use one of the four major networks for their service – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. Some of them even use two networks for different plans. They are also referred as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO).
Stick to AT&T and Verizon MVNOs
This is a first tip that I give to all my friends. There are a number of reasons and it gets really complicated when you are choosing between all four major networks when you sign up for a two-year contract. The deal depend on phone/ up-front price / service availability/ your own preferences/ plan choices and it’s suitability for your need / family or friend’s recommendation/ etc.
Thanks to the T-Mobile’s aggressive push for no-contract cell phone service, mainstream providers are also slowly moving toward no-contract service but overall it’s still not there as well general peoples are still less aware of no-contract options.
Primarily, when one sign-up for contract service, the price is a most important factor that is highlighted by Sprint and T-Mobile. If you are in the good network area for these two, you can generally get a better deal on contract cellphone services with them compared to big two – AT&T and Verizon. However, in the prepaid category, there is no such advantage for getting into T-Mobile or Sprint MVNO since essentially you would pay a very similar price but get an inferior network. There is a prepaid service that will fit your need and price-range and use the network of your choice from any four (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile). Therefore, when in the market for pre-paid service, stay with AT&T or Verizon MVNOs for the best network experience at no significant cost difference.
AirVoice wireless or H2O wireless is best pre-paid service that uses AT&T network
At the moment, I personally use AirVoice wireless monthly plan for my family. But you can also opt for H2O wireless for equally good service. Both MVNOs are around for long enough and provide adequate features and customer service for your need. Since prepaid plans are changing very frequently for the better, it would be hard to list comparable here since it will change quickly. You can go to their websites for plan details. As of the writing, I use AirVoice wireless $20 and $30 monthly plans in my two lines. The difference is the data as one provides only 100MB and another 1GB but both with unlimited Talk and Text. H2O has several other features mainly international calling that is a great value if you are using it.
Keep in mind that you do need a GSM phone. If you have a phone from AT&T, you do not need to unlock it since AirVoice/ H2O are still AT&T network, it would work right away without any extra work around. You can buy AT&T brand phone from Craigslist/ Ebay/ Brand new unlocked as you prefer. To use the T-Mobile phone or any other non-AT&T GSM phone, you would need to unlock it or just buy factory unlocked version exactly as I bought LG G3 or more recently, Nexus 6.
Page Plus Cellular is best prepaid service that uses Verizon network
Page Plus Cellular was the first pre-paid service I used and really liked it so much. I used it for almost 3 years before I switched to AirVoice. Page Plus offers the most reliable network (Verizon) and had the best monthly plan at the time. It is also one of the old MVNOs and has really good community support and user base.
Outdated reasons for my exit from the Page Plus Cellular are as follow:
- International travel creates trouble as my phone would not take other Sim card
Using latest smartphones was not supported (Page Plus has now improved on this and does support all latest 4G LTE smartphones)
Since the Verizon now offers 4G LTE phones that take Sim card and is supported by Page Plus as well, both of my reasons to switch out are outdated. My understanding is that you can take 4G LTE phone that takes sim card and pop in any other GSM sim for at least call service. There may still be some hiccups using GSM on it, that’s why I did not think to go back to the Page Plus.
However, if you have Verizon 4G LTE phone and do not travel internationally, you can be best served by Page Plus on the best network (Verizon) in the USA. I think the 4G LTE phase of the Verizon service uses GSM network, In essence, Verizon is CDMA network that is less-preferred outside the USA. I like to now stick with GSM phones and the service for easy portability and simplicity anywhere.
Customer service and Community support
Customer service and community support are important features to think about but is not listed anywhere. All three service providers that I recommend (AirVoice / H2O/ PagePlus) are in the business for long enough and have a reasonably good number of users who regularly discuss things on the internet. They may not have 24×7 service center like primary carriers but is good enough. I did not have any issues with any of them in terms of network, customer care, customer care timing and the service it can provide.
If you are switching from AT&T/ T-Mobile or prefer GSM network and phones, go with AirVoice wireless or H2O wireless.
If you are switching from Verizon or has a top of the line Verizon phone, go with Page Plus Cellular.
If you are switching from the Sprint, you would probably need to buy phone anyway since it would directly not work with AirVoice / H2O/ Page Plus. Also, there is no reason to stick with Sprint MVNOs. I highly recommend you to make a choice on technology (GSM/ CDMA) and preferred phone and go with any of the above three MVNOs depend on your network preference.