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BasicsEdit

The US does a lot of things differently: voltage, plugs and the mobile (here often called: cellular) phone system too. This leads to a lot of errors and confusion when you come from a different part of the world. Here is a short guide to avoid disappointments.

CDMA- vs. GSM-based networksEdit

In the US two different mobile network systems operate which are not compatible (at least until LTE has arrived). The CDMA technology is used in very few countries of the world. But in the US it is employed by major operators like Verizon and Sprint. You could easily identify it by the non-detachable SIM card (but this has changed for LTE). Still, the device is “married” with the provider and you can’t change that. You can still buy a Verizon phone or modem but you can use it only on their network and nowhere else.
The big advantage of GSM-based technologies: the SIM card of (unlocked) devices can be taken out and changed to one of another operator and country. This what this WIKI is all about. As only GSM technology enables you to perform the procedures described here, GSM-based providers are shown in the list below. This leaves you with a rather limited choice in the US as only two (physical) cellular networks support GSM and its advancements: AT&T and T-Mobile US (and their respective MVNOs).

Slowly the gap between CDMA and GSM narrows as the same 4G/LTE is now used by both system lines. CDMA-operators sell "world phones" with a SIM card slot working in GSM networks outside of the US. GSM-device owners still have a very restricted access to CDMA networks as shown in this sub-article "CDMA in the US". For this list we stick to GSM.

AT&T vs. T-Mobile US networkEdit

This is a very tricky one. You can count yourself lucky that you still have the choice as some years ago T-Mobile US was to be sold to AT&T but this was rejected by anti-trust authorities. Superficially, it’s an easy call. AT&T has more than three times as many customers and undoubtedly the better nationwide coverage on 2G, 3G and 4G. But T-Mobile has focused on the big cities and gives better speed there combined with very aggressive pricing well below the rates of AT&T.

Compatibility and frequenciesEdit

To really work out the difference you have to compare the frequencies of your device with the frequencies offered by AT&T and T-Mobile as there are a lot of incompatibilities. For major phone models it is shown HERE. Have in mind that some models or modems are sold in different versions in the US and Europe/Asia.

2G/GSM (GPRS, EDGE)Edit

For 2G you have to have a phone that supports 850 and 1900 MHz bands. From Europe or Asia a tri- or even better a quad-band phone does this. AT&T is better on 850 MHz, T-Mobile on 1900 MHz if you have a tri-band. On 2G you can only get EDGE with slow data speeds up to 200 kbps. AT&T has already shut down its 2G network in certain areas, and 2G will be entirely disabled by 1 January 2017. If you need 2G coverage on AT&T, check the coverage map frequently as they indicate which regions require a 3G phone, and more markets get shutdown every month.

3G/UMTS (HSPA+, DC-HSPA+)Edit

Now it’s getting complicated: AT&T has a good (though sometimes slow) coverage on 850 MHz and 1900 MHz up to HSPA+ (21 Mbps) speed. In most markets they use both bands with aggregation for extra speed, but in some states they have licences for just one of them. When checking frequencies on your device, be aware that 1900 MHz on 2G does not automatically mean, that it is on the same frequency on 3G.
T-Mobile used to operate 3G on the 1700 MHz (= AWS) band only. This is (almost) the only operator in the world on this frequency, so hardly any non-T-Mobile US phone can cope with it. AWS is sometimes referred as “1700/2100” MHz suggesting a 2100 MHz phone would work. This is misleading as AWS is using the 1700 spectrum for uploading and 2100 for downloading and can’t be handled by a 2100 MHz-only device.
Luckily, T-Mobile changed the game when it acquired new frequencies in 2012. They were now shifting (or “refarming”) the most of their 3G spectrum from 1700 AWS to 1900 MHz (= PCS band). This gives much better compatibility with lot of devices like the iPhone. In 2014 the refarming has been completed and 1900 MHz HSPA+ (up to 21 Mbps) coverage is guaranteed at least in these major areas aka “markets” (unfortunately T-Mobile doesn’t release a 1900 MHz-only map):

Ann Arbor, MI Atlanta, GA Austin, TX Baltimore, MD Boston, MA
Cambridge,  MA Chicago, IL Dallas, TX Denver, CO Detroit, MI
Ft. Lauderdale, FL Fort Worth, TX Fresno, CA Houston, TX Kansas City, KS/MO
Las Vegas, NV Los Angeles, CA Miami, FL Minn.-St.Paul, MN Modesto, CA
Napa, CA New York ,NY Newark, NJ Oakland, CA Orlando, FL
Philadelphia, PA Phoenix, AZ Providence, RI Reno, NV Richmond, VA
Sacramento, CA Salinas, CA San Antonio, TX San Diego, CA San Francisco, CA
San Jose, CA Santa Ana, CA Santa Cruz, CA Santa Rosa, CA Seattle, WA
Springfield, MA St. Cloud, MN Stockton, CA Tampa, FL Tucson, AZ
Vallejo, CA Virginia Beach, VA Warren, MI Washington D.C.

T-Mobile started to shut down 1700 AWS in these markets in 2015 and keeps on shifting more markets from 1700 MHz AWS to 1900 MHz PCS on 3G. In markets where 3G HSPA+ is offered on both 1700 MHz and 1900MHz, T-Mobile offers DC-HSPA+ at speeds up to 42 Mbps on devices that support 1700 MHz/AWS,which is mostly only phones sold by T-Mobile in the US. Phones that don't support 3G on 1700MHz/AWS are limited to 21 Mbps. T-Mobile's DC-HSPA+ network will become less and less relevant as they are rapidly shutting down 3G on 1700 MHz/AWS wherever possible to use these frequencies for LTE.

To add to the confusion AT&T and T-Mobile call any UMTS-based technology up to at least 14.4 Mbps a “4G” network while 4G is synonymous with LTE technology in the most parts of the world. Typically, most phones (even international models) will indicate "4G" next to the network name to indicate connection to HSPA+ networks, and indicate "LTE" next to the network name to indicate connection to LTE networks. This is unlike the rest of the world, where "4G" on the status bar indicates an LTE network.

4G/LTEEdit

AT&T started its 4G/LTE in 2011 on 700 and 1700 MHz depending on region added by 1900 MHz and 2300MHz later in some city centers. It covers 320 Mio. people in 2015 in THESE areas. T-Mobile started with real 4G/LTE in 2013 on the refarmed AWS frequency of 1700 MHz and acquired licences on 700 and 1900 MHz to reach 290 Mio. people in 2015 in THESE areas. The employment of 700 MHz in rural areas by T-Mobile will further broaden their coverage and reduces their gap to AT&T and Verizon.

Unfortunately all mentioned LTE frequencies are hardly used for LTE anywhere else in the world and a phone from outside the US is unlikely to handle US LTE. Note, that the 700 MHz frequency used in the US is on Bands 12, 13, 14, 17, and 29 that are incompatible with 700 MHz going to be employed or already used in Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America on Band 28. Nevertheless, some manufactures produce multiband chipsets that can cope with more than 30 different LTE bands which are in use worldwide nowadays. At least LTE is able to bridge the gap to CDMA (see Basics above and here) as both systems agreed on the same technology for 4G/LTE.

GSM AT&T T-Mobile
2G (GPRS, EDGE) 850, (1900) MHz

to be closed down in 2017

(850,) 1900 MHz
3G (UMTS, HSPA+) 850, 1900 MHz

1700, 1900 MHz

4G (LTE) 700, 850, 1700, (1900, 2300) MHz

(LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 17, 29, 30; primary 2,4,5,17)

1700, (1900, 700) MHz

(LTE bands 2, 4, 12)

MAP Coverage

Coverage

Prices and taxes Edit

Like usual in the US, all prices mentioned below are without taxes. In most (but not all) states, you need to add sales taxes of up to 10% to the given prices. This applies to starter packs as well as refill cards sold over the counter. Even online refills on the websites of the providers are taxed additionally. A reliable workaround for many providers is the 3rd party top-up site of callingmart. For whatever reason, they don't charge any tax and only a minimal fee of up to 2% on some operators, which can sometimes be waived by using promotional codes.

If you need further information, check out this brilliant updated survey: http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2011/03/us-prepaid-gsm-voice-text-and-data.html

Thrown-off phones Edit

If necessary, or in a emergency, you can buy in some supermarkets or pharmacies, some cheap cellphones for use with some prepaid plan. Usually, these phones costs under 50US$ and have a prepaid unlimited plan enabled and free in the first month. Be aware that these phones are just for spare, or emergency use, and usually only work on the north-american GSM/3G frequency plan, and have a great chance that these phones won't work outside USA.

US Territories Edit

Outside of the 50 states and Washington, DC are several territories belonging to the US. In the Caribbean, AT&T and T-Mobile operate in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as domestic areas and plans work as on the mainland. There are also additional operators such as América Móvil's Claro brand that don't serve the mainland.

The Pacific territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa are not treated as domestic areas, and the US networks don't serve those territories. Instead, those territories have their own providers.

AT&TEdit

ATT-logo
AT&T is the biggest GSM-based provider in the US rivalling only with Verizon. It has the best coverage nationwide and gives the most compatibility.
2G is on 850 and 1900 MHz up to EDGE in certain areas only and scheduled to be shut down by 1 January 2017. 3G is on 850 and 1900 MHz up to HSPA+ and 4G/LTE on 700, 1700, 1900 and 2300 MHz (see Basics chapter for details).

Availability and start-upEdit

Their prepaid lines are all called GoPhone. A starter pack is called “GoPhone SIM card kit”. The SIM card only is referred as “Bring your own” (device). The SIM card is available for free from AT&T stores (locator) or for $9.99 online to be sent to an US postal address or at other stores such as Target (also for $9.99). Take care that some mall kiosks like to charge you more for the SIM card. Alternatively, you can buy at online dealers e.g. on eBay to be shipped overseas for a very small surcharge. Mini-, micro- and nano-SIMs are available.
There are two kinds of plan on offer: with voice, texts and data for phones and data-only for tablets. The data-only plans work in phones and modems too, but are intended for tablet use and your phone will not send/receive calls or text messages with this kind of data SIM (even though it has a phone number). To avoid confusion in shops state that you want to use it in a tablet even if you plan to put the data-only SIM into a phone. There is no need to conceal anymore that you bring an iPhone from overseas. This caused problems until some years ago, but AT&T now welcomes foreign iPhones too.

The SIM cards sold in stores like Target work with both the data-only and phone plans, you decide when activating the SIM which kind of plan to use (it's unclear if you can change from one type to another later). The instructions with the SIM explain how to activate it (which is done differently for the plans).

If you buy the SIM in an AT&T store then keep your receipt, it shows the phone number of the SIM card. SIM cards bought in their stores may not have any instructions or other information and you get only the plain SIM card.

ActivationEdit

Activation can be done in three ways:

  • from your GoPhone (phones only): place card in phone, turn it on, select rate plan, type activation code, select ZIP code, send, turn it off and turn it on after 10 minutes to be activated.
  • from any phone: call 877 426 0525 and follow instructions

When you are not in the US and want to activate your phone before (e.g. to know your number ahead) follow this procedure: Use the online link (see above), as IMEI enter 15 times 1 (“111111111111111”), you can add a non US-based credit card, but choose USA as country and use any US address you can think of. AT&T uses entered IMEI number to determine, if device supports LTE. If it thinks that this device is not LTE-capable, the network will not allow any LTE connections. E.g.“111111111111111” is considered not LTE capable. It's recommended to enter a LTE-capable IMEI, if you need LTE. If LTE is not activated on your account but your phone supports LTE, better disable LTE on your phone. If you don't, your phone may periodically try to switch to LTE, but fails and for the duration of the attempt you may lose connection altogether. As ZIP code take any US ZIP code and as 4 digits of SSN enter “1234”. Then you can recharge, but can’t choose your plan though, because the verification SMS won’t be forwarded roaming abroad. For that you have to call customer service at +1-800-331-0500 to add your data plan manually. Have in mind, that the plan starts from this moment on.

Recharges and validityEdit

At least some non-US-issued credit cards can be added to the account (see above). If you don’t succeed in adding yours, just buy vouchers, called refill cards in the US. They are available at AT&T stores, many supermarkets, gas stations, Walgreen’s and CVS drugstores, 7-Eleven and many other outlets. Minimum value is $15. A refill of $15 is valid for 30 days, up to $50 for 90 days and from $100 for 365 days. Take care: If not used up and extended in time, your credit will be lost, the account closed and the SIM card terminated. The account closure time differs between phone and data-only plans (as of March 2015 the phone plans close 60 days after last credit expiry and data plans 365 days after last expiry).

Voice plans with dataEdit

The following monthly packages are offered for smartphones:

Rate Domestic voice Data
$ 30 unlimited not included, $2/MB or 100 MB for $5
$ 45 unlimited 3 GB @ 4G included, upsize $10 for 500 MB
$ 60 unlimitd. (Mexico and Canada included)

6 GB @ 4G included (in Mexico and Canada too); upsize $10 for 1 GB

All plans include unlimited domestic SMS and MMS and international SMS to most countries. Upsizes can be made up to three times per month and may roll over to the next month. When data volume is used up, speed will be reduced to 128 kbps. Data default rate outside the mentioned packages is 1c per 5 KB. A profile for a mobile hotspot necessary for tethering on an iPhone is supplied only for the $60 package. Unused data on the $45 and $60 plans will roll over to the next month, when the plan renews, but then plan data will be used before rollover data and the data rolled over will finally expire after the 2nd month.

AT&T considers one month to be 30 days, including the day of activation. Monthly plans expire at 11:59 PM Central Standard Time on the 30th day of service. If you link it to auto-pay on your credit card, the plans are discounted by $5

Daily plans Edit

$2 per day for unlimited domestic voice and text, charged only on the days used. Outgoing call or SMS, or accepting an incoming call, activates the plan for the day. $8.33 is the minimum monthly cost. A $0.25 to $2.50 per month "911" fee is deducted from your prepaid balance in some states. This daily plan expires at 11:59 PM in the time zone where it was activated.

Default data rate on this plan is 1c/5 KB or $2/MB, but AT&T actively blocks this default rate on smartphones to avoid bill shock. However, in case AT&T doesn't accurately detect your device type, use caution to avoid accidentally emptying your balance.

Instead a new $1/day 100 MB Data Day Pass is now available to users on the $2 Day Plan. The new Data Day Pass for Daily plan users is interesting, since using data doesn't trigger the $2 daily fee, which is only charged if a call is made or received or a text sent. $1 per day for data-only use is a pretty good deal for short term international visitors or anyone who needs data only occasionally. Visit https://www.paygonline.com to activate this data pass, or free call 611 from the device.

This $1/day 100 MB day pass expires at 11:59 PM Central Time (not your local time zone) the next day following the day of purchase or upon using the whole allotment. So by purchasing in the morning of the first day, you can get almost two full days of usage on one pass.

Once you have used at least 90 MB you may purchase another pass manually, it does not auto-renew. Purchasing a new pass does not expire the remaining MB from the previous pass. To check data remaining, call *777*3#.

Data-only plansEdit

These monthly packages are for tablets, but work on phones and modems too:

Rate Data Volume Upsize
$ 25 2 GB 500 MB for $ 10
$ 50 5 GB 1 GB for $ 10
$ 75 8 GB 2 GB for $ 10

Unused data will not roll over to the next month. Plans expire in 30 days and can be renewed prior to expiration as long as the account is active. They don’t renew automatically. No voice or text on this line. Accounts can be managed online or by calling 866 707 5550. Accounts for data only plans are cancelled 365 days after the last plan expires (ie if you have a plan for January 2015 and it expires on 1st Feb 2015 then you can still renew the plan anytime until 1st Feb 2016. After that time the account is closed and you must get a new SIM card). This expiry time is longer than for phone plans (which expire 60 days after the last plan expires). 

Note that AT&T uses the device IMEI No. given during account setup to determine the type of device being connected to the network. If your device can't be ascertained by AT&T's system IMEI, the system defaults the account to a phone, not a data-only account If you later try to go into AT&T's online account management system and change your plan from one of the above listed plans to another (say $25 to $50 data plan) you can only change to phone plans. In order to change the data plan, you must call AT&T and have it changed manually by a customer service representative.  

If your device connects proper to the AT&T network, but can't get data connection (only a few AT&T sites), check the appropriate APN (see below). If you then get a message that you don't have any data credit available even if you have topped up before, your account may have been switched to phone by default (see above). So call 1-800-331-0500 and talk to a technical support representative to activate your plan as data, not as phone.

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN for smartphones: phone
  • APN for modem, routers and tablets: broadband
  • Customer Support for GoPhone: 800-901-9879
  • Website: www.att.com

T-Mobile USEdit

Tmobile-logo
T-Mobile US is the rising star amongst the “Big 4”. Though having the smallest network of them, it gained the most customers by low and variable price rates.
2G is on 850 and 1900 MHz up to EDGE speed, 3G on 1700 and 1900 MHz up to DC-HSPA and 4G/LTE mostly on 1700 MHz. See Basics chapter above for specifics and compatibility.

Availability and start-upEdit

Their starter packs are called “activation kits” and consist of a SIM card and an explanation leaflet in English and Spanish. They are available online to be sent to an US postal address, at T-Mobile branded stores (locator) and other stores without ID. Note that activation kits sold in T-Mobile stores need to be activated at time of purchase. You can not buy just the SIM card. Micro-, mini- and nano-SIMs are available or may be cut to size.

The official price in stores has been raised in 2014 and again in 2016 to $20 (plus taxes) containing about $3 credit. Some shops want to charge even higher prices or hefty fees for cutting. So it's a better idea to buy the SIM in advance by independent merchants on eBay (search for “T-Mobile Activation Kit”) that are also shipped overseas for a small fee to avoid being overcharged. They have often bought the activation kits at one of T-Mobile's many promotions for $1. But you can't rely on getting one for this start-up price in a T-Mobile shop and promo codes are only for online orders to be sent to an US postal address.

ActivationEdit

The activation kit comes only with an activation code and no number assigned to it. Activation is done by calling 877-778-2107 from any phone, *611 from T-Mobile phone or online HERE. This is where you can choose your number and plan too. Signing up can be done while you are in the US or before at home. You will get a text message for verification. This SMS used not to be forwarded abroad when roaming on a network other than T-Mobile US. Recently, first users succeeded in activating it through non-US roaming networks. So you might give it a try before leaving for the US.

In 2016 first reports came out that T-Mobile changed their policy and now ships SIM cards already pre-activated on the $3 "pay as you go plan". This gives the advantage that you only have to change the plan, but the highly popular $30 plan (see below) seems to be only available to unactivated kits or at Walmart.

Recharges and validityEdit

Top ups can be done online, but you seem to need mostly an US-issued credit card. Non-residents should use vouchers instead, called refill cards available at T-Mobile stores, many supermarkets, gas stations, Walgreen’s and CVS drugstores, 7/11 and many other places. Minimum value is $10.

For refill cards, be aware that you are likely to pay more than the 'face value' of refills in stores due to the recently-introduced '911 Prepaid Wireless Emergency Service Fee', which for example in Los Angeles is around $5.80 on a $30 refill.

For refills with foreign credit cards callingmart is a great source. They charge a 2% fee, but no taxes. They take PayPal.

The SIM is valid for 90 days after the last refill. Beyond that, it will be terminated and the remaining credit is lost. Since August of 2014 T-Mobile has a $3 monthly minimum charge.

There is one exception to this termination rule and minimum charge. For iPads with LTE connectivity and possibly certain other tablets too, T-Mobile offers a 200MB/month free plan which doesn't expire after 90 days or charge a monthly fee. According to T-Mobile, these accounts expire after 365 consecutive days of no activity. Since free activity counts, you only have to use data once per year to keep this free plan alive.

It's now verified that you can re-activate old T-Mobile SIM cards that have been terminated before and shut off. You can buy an T-Mobile Activation Code (without the SIM card) on eBay for a few $ and activate it online on the old disused SIM. Thus, you will get a new number, but don't have to buy a new SIM card (at $20) or obey expiry rules and waste money on useless monthly minimum charges.

Default rate: "Pay as you go"Edit

Their default rate for voice and data costs a $3 monthly fee. This includes 30 minutes voice (incoming or outgoing, domestic only) OR 30 text messages (domestic only). These two data packs can be added:

  • $ 5: 500 MB for 1 day (based on one calendar day on Pacific Time)
  • $ 10: 1 GB for 1 week

Activating one of the data packs can be done online at the "mobile" My-Account site ma.web2go.com[1], in person at a T-Mobile store, or by calling customer service. The $10 data pack can be renewed within the 7 days when the data is used up (or before, but you lose any remaining data for that pass).

Monthly rates: "Pay by the month – Unlimited":

Rate Dom. calls/txts Mobile Data
Simply Prepaid Plans:
$ 30 *  100 min 5 GB *
$ 40 unlimited 3 GB
$ 50 unlimited 5 GB
$ 60 unlimited 10 GB
Simple Choice Prepaid Plans:
$ 50 unlimited 2 GB
$ 65 unlimited 6 GB &
$ 80 unlimited 10 GB &
$ 95 unlimited unlimited @

The difference between the plans: For a $5 add-on you get 4G data in Mexico and Canada included in your plan on Simply Prepaid Plans of $40 and more. On Simple Choice Prepaid plans this is included for free as well as unlimited internatl. texting from the US, on Simply Prepaid plans don't.

All prepaid customers are exempt from "unlimited worldwide roaming" to 140+ countries. This is only offered to postpaid clients after a credit check and throttled to 128 kbit/s.

& = on these plans unused data rolls over to the next month, what T-Mobile calls 'Data Stash' for a max. of 12 month and 20 GB.

@ = T-Mobile randomly throttles clients based on a unclear fair use policy. Some users and areas from site, reports which speed de-priorization starts when user uses around 28 GB of data, but this information stills unclear. The de-priorization consists in a soft-cap, where user have less traffic priority than other, until the billing cycle ends.

* = the $30 plan is only available when activated online (i.e. web) using an activation kit, but not when activated in T-Mobile stores or activating by phone. When you purchase an activation kit in a T-Mobile store, it must be loaded with a plan of some kind - and because the $30 plan is not available in shops, this means you must somehow buy an unactivated kit online e.g. on eBay or in a Walmart store. When a different plan is loaded, you will never be able to change it back to the $30 plan; once you've moved away from it. It's gone forever - you'll need to buy a new unactivated kit. The $30 plan only allows 100 MB of WIFI hotspot data. The new shipment policy of already preactivated SIM cards (see activation above) makes it even harder to get this plan, as you need to get an unactivated one e.g. at Walmart.

Effective 2015 T-Mobile has opened the unrestricted use of all plans through a hotspot, also called tethering. Only the $30 plan is limited to 100 MB hotspot data.

For calling abroad, you can have a special add-on called "Stateside International Talk". This can be added to all prepaid plans costing $40/month or higher, not the $30 plan or daily and weekly rates. There are two options:

  • $ 10: unlimited calls for landline phones of over 70 countries (list, countries in bold)
  • $ 15: like the $10 plan plus 1000 minutes for mobile phones of over 30 countries (list, all countries)

International Tourist PlanEdit

For $30, T-Mobile offers a new International Tourist Plan. This plan is aimed towards short term visitors to the US and only lasts for 3 weeks, not renewable or expandable. It includes 1,000 domestic minutes, unlimited domestic and global texting to 140 countries, and 2 GB of 4G/LTE data along with a free SIM card. Beyond the given volume speed will be throttled to 2G. You can't add extra packages. Visitors to the United States wishing to activate this plan can just walk into any T-Mobile and ask for it.

Data-only plansEdit

T-Mobile sells data-only packages too. They are called “Pay in Advance Mobile Internet” and don’t have voice or text. You can activate any unused starter pack to it, but once a SIM is activated to a phone, it's not eligible for data plans. These data plans are for non-telephony devices only - although the T-Mobile site is silent in this matter, store representatives indicate these plans are only for tablets and the like - not for phones.

T-Mobile now offers 200MB/month free for iPads with LTE connectivity and possibly other tablets as well. Once you sign up for this 200MB/month plan, you can't use the same SIM in any other tablet or phone. But you can buy the on-demand packs below to expand beyond the 200MB, and also the free renewing 200MB plan keeps your SIM alive for 365 days without any activity. So it's ideal for travelers.

  • On demand rates
Rate Data Volume Period
$ 5 500 MB 1 day
$ 10 1 GB 7 days
$ 30 3 GB 30 days
$ 40 5 GB 30 days
$ 50 7 GB 30 days
$ 10 5 GB 150 days (see remarks below)

If offered, a special promotional 5 GB for $10 pass lasts for 5 months and can only be purchased once. After any pass has been purchased, this special pass can not be bought again. So buy this special pass before any other passes. This special pass is not available to everyone, but often appears after activating the free 200 MB/month plan on LTE capable iPads and possibly other tablets.

These packs can be booked online on demand through your account and don’t renew themselves. One day is based on 0.00-23.59h in Pacific Time.

  • Monthly packs

Furthermore there are monthly packages (for 30 days) which renew automatically:

  • $ 20: 2 GB
  • $ 35: 6 GB
  • $ 50: 10 GB
  • $ 65: 14 GB
  • $ 80: 18 GB
  • $ 95: 22 GB

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN: epc.t-mobile.com
  • APN for LTE devices: fast.t-mobile.com
  • Customer Support Line: 877-453-1304

AirVoice Wireless (on AT&T)Edit

Airvoice
AirVoice Wireless is a MVNO on the AT&T network in 2G and 3G (frequencies see AT&T).

Start upEdit

Their SIM Cards are available only online as mini-, micro- or nano-SIMs for $4.99 to be sent to an US postal address. International customers can use vendors on Ebay who do overseas shipping for a surcharge. Refills can be done offline at Western Union outlets (list). Available are top-ups of 10, 20 or 30 $ which keep the card active for 90 days each. Online you can use www.callingmart.com without surcharge via PayPal or credit card. Activation is done online here or by calling 888 944 2355 from another phone.

Data packagesEdit

Following monthly packages are available and include domestic and many international calls, domestic and international texts and these data allowances:

  • $ 30: 500 MB
  • $ 40: 1 GB
  • $ 50: 2 GB
  • $ 60: 3 GB

For whatever reason you have to call customer support that they release the second half of your data package. Default data rate is $0.066 per MB.

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN: att.mvno
  • Proxy: 66.209.11.33
  • Customer support: 888 944 2355

Cricket Wireless (on AT&T) Edit

Cricket

Cricket Wireless belongs to AT&T but is not sold at their stores. It uses AT&T in 2G, 3G and 4G where available.

Start up Edit

The SIM is sold online or offline at various independent shops and Walmart (locator) but not AT&T stores for $9.99, where refills can be found too.

Data packages Edit

They have these monthly packages on offer. All packs include unlimited domestic calls and texts.

  • $ 40: 2.5 GB
  • $ 50: 5 GB
  • $ 60: 10 GB
  • $ 70: "unlimited"

There is a further reduction on all plans of $5, when you enable "autopay". By this your prepaid turns to a contract, billed on a credit card. You have to have a MasterCard, VISA or Discover and at least in the US a good credit rating. Be aware, that you need to cancel "autopay" online if you leave the country, or they will keep on charging your credit card.

Max. speed is 8 Mbps on LTE and 4 Mbps on 3G. For data beyond the quota, speed will be throttled to 128 kbps. All packages will renew automatically if there is credit. If not, service will be suspended.

Additional data is advertised at $10 per 1 GB extra. For tethering, they offer a "mobile hotspot" feature for $10 extra on $50 and $60 plans. But beware, their "officially supported phone" list for the "mobile hotspot" feature is very short and includes no iPhones at all, and only several specific Android and Windows models.

Additionally on $50, $60 and $70 plans, the domestic data allotment can be used in Mexico and Canada subject to TOS restrictions (Mexico and Canada roaming voice, messaging or data use must not exceed 50% of total use in any consecutive three month period) similar to certain T-Mobile plans.

Settings and info Edit

  • APN: nd
  • Customer support:  1-800-CRICKET (274-2538)

MetroPCS (on T-Mobile) Edit

MetroPCS

MetroPCS used to be an own CDMA provider until it was acquired by T-Mobile in 2013. The parent company then moved customers from CDMA to its own GSM network. In June 2015 CDMA was closed, but MetroPCS remains a seperate brand reselling T-Mobile's GSM network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (for coverage and frequencies see T-Mobile). Since 2014 MetroPCS supports BYOP (Bring your own phone) of any T-Mobile capable, unlocked devices.

Start up Edit

SIM cards for BYOP are available online to be sent to an US postal address or at MetroPCS stores and authorized dealers (locator) for $10 each. All SIM sizes are offered.

Recharge and Credit Check Edit

MetroPCS offers a number of ways to pay without surcharges: Online using a credit/debit card or a MetroPCS payment card sold at Walmart, BestBuy and other retailers. For a fee of $2 you can use a 24-hour payment machine at a MetroPCS store. For $3 you can top up over the counter at a MetroPCS store or authorized dealer.

Check your balance and expiration date on the MyAccount section of the MetroPCS website, using the MyMetro app on the phone or by calling *611 from your MetroPCS phone, or 888-863-8768 from any phone.

Data packages Edit

MetroPCS offers only combined monthly packages for data and voice for BYOP:

  • $ 40: unlimited domestic talk and text, 3 GB data
  • $ 50: unlimited domestic talk and text, 4 GB data
  • $ 60: unlimited domestic talk, text and data (hotspot use/tethering limited to 6 GB)

Beyond the included data quota, speed will be throttled to 128 kbit/s.

You can activate monthly packages online, at a MetroPCS store or an authorized dealer. The $30 and the tablet plans are not available for BYOP. For these plans you'll have to buy the device at MetroPCS.

  • for a $ 5 surcharge, you are offered unlimited talk, text and data in and to Mexico or Canada too

Settings and info Edit

  • APN: fast.metropcs.com
  • Customer support: *611 from a MetroPCS phone or 888-863-8768 from any phone
  • Website: http://www.metropcs.com

GoSmart mobile (on T-Mobile)Edit

Gosmart
GoSmart is a subsidiary of T-Mobile on their US network in 2G and 3G (check frequencies in Basics and T-Mobile section). It has opened 4G/LTE only for Facebook and Facebook Messenger so far, other speeds stick to 3G of 1-20 Mbps, but no 4G/LTE.

Start upEdit

The SIM is sold as a Mobile SIM Kit online or offline at various independent shops  (locator) but not at T-Mobile stores for $ 8, where refills can be found too.

Data packagesEdit

They have these monthly packages on offer. All packs include unlimited domestic calls, internatl. SMS and unlimited Facebook and Facebook Messenger in 4G/LTE, other data is on 3G:

  • $ 25: unlimited 4G Facebook only
  • $ 35: 4 GB, then throttled to 128 kbps ($30 with auto-pay / linked to a credit card)
  • $ 45: 12 GB, then throttled to 128 kbps
  • $ 55: 20 GB, then throttled to 128 kbps

All data except Facebook are on 3G speeds. All packages will auto-renew, if there is credit. If not, service will be suspended.

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN: multibrand
  • Customer support:  877-582-7788

H2O Wireless (on AT&T)Edit

H2o
H2O Wireless is a MVNO on the AT&T network in 2G, 3G and newly on 4G/LTE (frequencies see AT&T).

Start upEdit

H2O sells SIMs for $9.99 for regular and micro SIMs and $14.99 for nano SIMs with free shipping in a lot of retailers like Target, 7/11, Best Buy or Family Dollar (locator) where refills can be too or online at www.callingmart.com without surcharge via PayPal or credit card. It's also possible to buy SIMs on eBay for less than $1, including shipping.

Top ups are available for $10, $20 and $30 keeping the account active for 90 days and for $100 active for one year. Activation is done online or by calling 800 643 4926 from another phone.

Data packagesEdit

Following monthly packages are available and include unlimited domestic calls and domestic and international texts, some international voice and these data allowances:

  • $ 30: 500 MB hard-capped, $ 10 intern. call credit
  • $ 40: 3 GB, $ 20 intern. call credit
  • $ 50: 4 GB then reduced to 128 kbps, $ 20 intern. call credit
  • $ 60: 4.5 GB then reduced to 128 kbps, $ 20 intern. call credit

Default data rate is $0.10 per MB. Additional data is available at 5¢/MB by adding a $10 "Feature Card". Unused Feature Card balances expire at the end of the plan month. When using auto-pay rates are discounted by 10%.

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN: att.mvno
  • APN for 4G/LTE: PRODATA
  • Customer support: 800 843 4926

NET10 and Straight TalkEdit

These are two MVNOs of América Móvil by Mexican Tycoon Carlos Slim with similar rates and setups. Both brands can be used on AT&T and T-Mobile network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (frequencies see above). But you must choose one net, when buying a SIM card and there is no switching or roaming between AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

Straight TalkEdit

St
The SIM card-only with “bring your own phone” is sold exclusively at Walmart (Store finder), including the only available monthly plan: Unlimited domestic calls and texts and 5 GB data in 3G or 4G for $45. When data is used up, speed will be reduced to 64 kbps. There have been reports of data throttling when using more than 100 MB daily on AT&T and problems sending international SMS.
Activation is done online or by calling 877-430-2355 from any phone except the one you are trying to activate. Top-up cards can be bought at some convenience stores and at Walmart only.
Customer support can be reached on 877 430 2355 or online at www.straightalk.com

Net10Edit

Net10
The SIM card-only can be bought for $6.99 at certain retailers like Radio Shack, BestBuy and Walgreens and others: NET10 store locator where refill cards can be purchased as well. They have monthly packs with unlimited domestic calls and texts and a data allowance in 3G and 4G:
Price $ 35 $ 40 $ 50
Data 500 MB 1.5 GB 5 GB

When all data is used up, speeds will be reduced to 64 kbps. Activation can be done here. Customer support is 877 836 2368 or online www.net10.com

Settings Edit

For both Straight Talk and Net10:

  • On AT&T net: APN:  tfdata  /or/  att.mnvo     Port: 80
  • On T-Mobile net: APN: wap.tracfone   Port: 8080

TracFone (on AT&T) Edit

Tracfone

Tracfone is another MVNO of the América Móvil family (see above) on Verizon and AT&T networks. Starting in summer 2015 Tracfone allows "BYOP" (= Bring your own phone) GSM devices for their AT&T based SIM cards. AT&T's 4G/LTE is supported too.

Start up Edit

You can buy the SIM card in stores or the activation kit online for $6.99. Shops include major retailers like Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Costco. GSM phones should activate automatically when the phone is turned on with a Tracfone SIM in it. Tracfone requires to buy an airtime card for at least $19.99 as a base plan. This is valid for 90 days and contains 60 domestic minutes.

Reload cards or codes are available at convenience stores, supermarkets, chain drugstores and big box retailers like Target or online by credit card.

Data feature packages Edit

To the airtime card of at least $19.99 (for 3 months), you can add these plans for data:

  • $ 10: 1 GB for the running time of the base plan
  • $ 15: 200 MB, 200 mins, 200 SMS for 30 days
  • $ 25: 500 MB, 500 mins, 1000 SMS for 60 days
  • $ 35: 1 GB, 750 mins, 1000 SMS for 60 days
  • $ 125: 1.5 GB, 1500 mins, 1500 SMS for 365 days

All these packages need to be purchased online on http://www.tracfone.com/

Settings and info Edit

Tracfone users can make calls to 60 countries including Canada, Mexico, China and most Western European countries (list) for the same price as a domestic call. To make an international call you first dial 1-800-706-3839. You will then prompted to select your language (1 for English) and then to dial 011 plus the country code and number. It's not possible to call other countries besides the 60 supported ones and Tracfone doesn't support sending international text messages either.

Simple Mobile (on T-Mobile) Edit

Simple mobile

Simple Mobile started as MVNO, was taken over in 2012 by Tracfone and now belongs to the América Móvil family. It uses T-Mobile US in up to 4G/LTE and gives good roaming rates in Mexico too.

Start up Edit

You can buy the SIM card online or in small independent stores (locator) for $0.99. Shops are mostly small telco outlets and the SIM card only is refered as BYOP (= bring your own phone). Mini and micro SIM sizes are available.

You need to activate you SIM card online or by calling 877-878-7908 from another phone.

Reload PINs are available from their outlets. The PIN code has to be texted to 848484 like this: REUP#<PIN Code>. Alternatively, you can top up online by debit or credit card. To this card, you can link auto-pay. Thus, you will receive a 10% discount on every top up, but your SIM card becomes more vulnerable.

Data feature packages Edit

You can add these combined plans valid for 30 days. All contain unlimited domestic voice and domestic and international SMS and domestic MMS and this domestic data allowance and are on 4G/LTE too:

  • 2 GB: $ 40
  • 4 GB: $ 50
  • 10 GB: $ 55
  • unlimited: $ 60

The unlimited plan is really unlimited but requires auto-pay. The other plans will be throttled to 64 Kbps having reached the quota. For a $5 surchage you can add international roaming to the limited plans. This includes data roaming in Mexico on Telcel (debited from the bundle) and calls to many countries (list). They furthermore offer a weekly plan:

  • 2 GB: $ 20 weekly plan (7 days), unlimited voice, texts and MMS and data in the US and Mexico on 4G/LTE too

Aimed at tablets, routers and modems, they sell data-only plans that are called Wireless Broadband Data Plans. These plans valid for 30 days are offered:

  • 1.5 GB: $ 20
  • 4 GB: $ 40
  • 6 GB: $ 60

For more data, you can renew your plan at anytime.

Settings and info Edit

Plans will auto-renew every 30 days (or 7 days depending on plan). If you do not have sufficient funds in your account your service will be suspended. If you do not renew within 90 days after your account is suspended you will lose your phone number.

You can check your cash balance, change plans, add PINs and make a payments using a credit or debit card using the My Account option online (free registration required) or by calling ADD (233) from your Simple Mobile phone.

  • APN: simple
  • Customer Support: 611 from your Simple Mobile phone or 877.878.7908 or 877.441.4844 from another phone. Support hours are 8am - midnight (EST) every day.
  • Website: http://www.simplemobile.com

Red Pocket Mobile (on AT&T or T-Mobile)Edit

Red pocket
Red Pocket Mobile is a MVNO on AT&T while T-Mobile was dropped in 2015 and rejoined in February 2016. You have to decide which network to use. There is no roaming between them.

Start up Edit

The SIM cards are available for $9.99 online to be sent to an US postal address or offline at Red Pocket outlets. Take care which network you choose. Unfortunately they don’t have a retail outlet list, but on eBay vendors sell them as low as 99c plus postage with international shipping. Reload cards can be found in many supermarkets and chain drugstores or at callingmart.com without surcharges. Available top-ups are: $10 for 30 days, $25 for 90 days, $50 for 180 days, $100 for 365 days. If not topped up, account will be terminated and credit is lost. The SIMs can be activated online or by calling 888-993-3888 from another phone.

Flagship PlansEdit

Their flagship plans are available across both networks with very minor variations. All plans include unlimited domestic voice and domestic and international SMS, 200 internatl. minutes and unlimited calls to China and Hong Kong valid for one month

Value $ 29.99 $ 39.99 $ 49.99 $ 59.99
Data 500 MB (AT&T)

1 GB (T-Mobile)

1 GB 2 GB 3 GB (AT&T)

5 GB (T-Mobile)

AT&T Plans Edit

They included unlimited talk, text and MMS, unlimited calling to landlines and mobiles in China, Hong Kong, Canada and Thailand and unlimited calling to landlines in France, Israel, Mexico and UK valid for one month.

Value $ 24.99 $ 29.99 $ 39.99 $ 49.99 $ 59.99 $ 69.99
Data 100 MB 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB 3 GB 4 GB

T-Mobile Plans Edit

Their reintroduced T-Mobile plans include unlimited domestic talk, text and MMS, unlimited international texting and up to 200 minutes of international calling for one month.

Value $ 19.99 $ 24.99 $ 34.99
Data 100 MB 250 MB 2 GB

Settings and infoEdit

  • APN for AT&T: att.mvno
  • APN for T-Mobile: wholesale

Lycamobile (on T-Mobile)Edit

Lycamobile
Lycamobile USA started 2013 as MVNO on the T-Mobile Network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (see Basics and T-Mobile section).

Start up Edit

Lycamobile SIM cards can be found in stores (locator) or on Lycamobile with shipping to the United States only at $7 (free shipping if bought in combination with a plan).

In the US you can activate a new SIM by by calling 845-301-1612 from another phone, but abroad you can successfully activate on their website instead.

Recharges Edit

You can buy refills on lycamobile.us (even with a non-US credit card). Refill cards are available from local Lycmobile dealers. Some local and online dealers including callingmart.com offer instant PIN-less refills direct to your phone.

Data packagesEdit

Lycamobile offers data only on the following data on monthly plans. The default rate outside packages is $0.06 per MB. All monthly packages include unlimited domestic voice, domestic and international text, free incoming text, a data quota up to 4G/LTE speed and an international call credit for international calls.

Value Data (in up to 4G/LTE) Internatl. Call Credit
$ 19 100 MB
$ 23 100 MB $ 1.50
$ 29 500 MB $ 2.50
$ 35 2 GB
$ 45 4 GB -----
$ 49 1 GB $ 12.50
$ 55 10 GB

All packages include "unlimited" data, domestic texts and voice and "unlimited" free calls among Lycamobile worldwide.

"Unlimited" means that data volume is soft-capped meaning throttled to 120 kbps when exhausted. All packages will renew automatically if there is credit. If you do not have sufficient funds in your account to renew your service will be suspended. Unused call credits rollover provided you top up on time before the account is deactivated for inactivity.

Pay-as-you-go plan Edit

Their pay-as-you-go rate outside of monthly packages doesn't offer data or MMS. Current Lycamobile monthly plan users can switch to the pay-as-you-go plan by adding a $10 top up and letting their plan expire. It's the least expensive way to park a phone number as regular top-ups aren't needed. Funds added to a Lycamobile pay-as-you-go account never expire as long as a non-toll-free call is made or received or a text is sent at least every 90 days. That means, it costs less than 20¢ a year to keep a SIM alive.

Lyca started charging 5 cents/minutes from March 2016, see:

http://www.prepaidphonenews.com/2016/03/lycamobile-ups-paygo-voice-cost-from-2.html

Settings and infoEdit

  • a T-Mobile US locked phone does work on Lycamobile US using the newer 4G SIMs
  • there are reports that certain VoIP programs like Google Voice don't work
  • APN: data.lycamobile.us
  • Username: lmus (that's not capital I, but lowercase L)
  • Password: plus
  • Customer Support: 866-277-3221 (toll-free)
  • Website: www.lycamobile.us

ZIP SIM (formerly Ready SIM, on T-Mobile)Edit

ZIP SIM

NOTE: Ready SIM rebranded as ZIP SIM in April, 2016.

ZIP SIM is a MVNO on the T-Mobile network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (see Basics and T-Mobile section). It is aimed at short-time visitors. The SIM card can be bought a shops (locator) or online. As a special service, they also ship overseas in 7-20 business days. The SIM card is supposed to be self-activating. They have a very rigid top up scheme: To be eligible for a top up, your ZIP SIM must either have an active plan, or your plan expired within the last 72 hours.

Data packagesEdit

  • Data only
Data Volume 500 MB 1 GB 2 GB
Validity 14 days 14 days 30 days
Value $ 15 $ 25 $ 40
  • Voice, text and data
Data volume 500 MB 1 GB 1.5 GB 2 GB
Validity 7 days 14 days 21 days 30 days
Value $ 25 $ 35 $ 45 $ 55

These packs include unlimited domestic calls, domestic and international text and a data quota.

Settings and infoEdit

  • Tethering is allowed
  • Mini-, micro- and nano-SIMs available
  • APN: wholesale
  • Customer Support: 611 from ZIP SIM phone
  • Website: www.zipsim.us

Ultra Mobile (on T-Mobile) Edit

Ultra

Ultra Mobile is another MVNO that started in 2012 using the T-Mobile network in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE (see T-Mobile section and Basics for details).

Start up Edit

SIM cards cost $9.99 with free shipping within the US on their website or their dealers (locator). Regular and micro SIMs are available. SIMs are also available from Amazon and eBay for as little as 1¢ with free shipping in the US or for a surcharge abroad. Retailers like CVS have a starter kit for $34 which includes $29 credit which can be applied towards any of their plans (the packaging may have outdated information). Sim size is regular and nano. Activate online easily or by calling 888-777-0446. Activation is free, you can change plans at any point.

Top-ups can be made by credit card online or over the phone or by vouchers with PIN codes sold at their outlets or online with a discount. Ultra adds a "cost recovery fee" to all recharges made at retail locations. The fee is 50¢ on loads of $10 or less and $1 on loads of $10.01 or more.

Data plans Edit

These monthly plans are offered:

  • $ 19: unlimited talk, unlimited internatl. text, 100 MB at 4G/LTE speeds, $1.25 call credit, and unlimited international calling to 11 countries
  • $ 29: unlimited talk, unlimited internatl. text, 1 GB at 4G/LTE speeds, $2.50 call credit, 1000 internatl. mins to more than 15 countries, and unlimited internatl. calling to 60 countries 
  • $ 34: unlimited talk, unlimited internatl. text, 2 GB at 4G/LTE speeds, and unlimited internatl. calling to 11 countries
  • $ 39: unlimited talk, unlimited internatl. text, 2 GB at 4G/LTE speeds, $2.50 call credit, 1000 internatl. mins to more than 15 countries, and unlimited internatl. calling to 60 countries 
  • $ 49:unlimited talk, unlimited internatl. text, 1GB at 4G/LTE speeds, $12.50 call credit, 1000 internatl. mins to more than 15 countries, and unlimited internatl. calling to 60 countries

After the plan limits are reached data speeds are reduced to 128 Kbps or less for the rest on the month and completely shut off at the first two plans.

Additional 'UpData' high-speed data packages priced at 500 MB for $5, 1 GB for $10 or 2 GB for $20 can be added to any plan. To activate, text 'BUYDATA' to 6700. Added data expires at the end of the current plan month.

Plans renew every 30 days. If you do not have sufficient funds in your account to renew, your service will be suspended. If you do not renew within 30 days after your account is suspended you may lose your phone number. To check balance and validity, text 'BALANCE' to 6700; to check data consumption, 'DATA' to 6700.

Settings and info Edit

  • Tethering is prohibited in their Terms of Service
  • APN: wholesale
  • Customer Support: Call 611 from an Ultra Mobile phone or 888-777-0446 from another phone
  • Website: http://ultra.me/

Roam Mobility (roaming on T-Mobile) Edit

Roam mobility

Roam Mobility is a Canada-based MVNO which offers SIM cards for the US (and Mexico) in Canada. So this is only a possibility, if you live in Canada or travel from Canada to the US. They use the network of T-Mobile US for roaming in 2G, 3G and 4G. For frequencies and coverage see T-Mobile above. Note that the SIM doesn't work in Canada.

Start up Edit

Their roaming SIM card can be bought in Canada only at their authorized dealers: http://www.roammobility.com/where-to-buy or online for CAD 9.95. You can activate and top-up the SIM as well as choose a plan on their website using AmEx, Visa or Mastercard.

Data packs Edit

These US data-only packs are available and can be booked via their website:

  • 300 MB, 3 days, CAD 7.95
  • 500 MB, 7 days, CAD 14.95
  • 1 GB, 7 days, CAD 19.95
  • 2 GB, 30 days, CAD 29.95
  • 5 GB, 30 days, CAD 59.95

To these data packs more data can be added by data bolt-ons: 300 MB for CAD 5.95, 500 MB for CAD 9.95 and 1 GB for CAD 14.95, vaild each for the rest of the running time of the existing data pack.

Settings and info Edit

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