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Straight Talk: Keep AT&T Humming While Chopping Your Cellphone Bill in Half

It takes a lot to get us excited about a cellphone service deal these days. But, we’ve got two terrific deals to tell you about today, and both of them are thanks to WalMart. If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone or any other GSM phone plan with AT&T in the United States and you’re the lone wolf or only have a few phones on your plan, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. You can cut your monthly rate as much as 2/3 while remaining on the AT&T network. Here’s our recent Speed Test using an iPhone 4S with the $14.99 $4.99 StraightTalk SIM. Coupon code: SIMSAVE

To put it down where the goats can get it, let’s review the current AT&T subscription plan. With an iPhone on a 2-year plan, $70 a month buys you 450 anytime minutes and 2GB of data per month. Actually the 2GB data plan is no longer available so it’s $75 a month with 3GB. If you want text messaging and anticipate sending or receiving more than a couple text messages a day, then that’s another $20 a month. After taxes and fees, it comes in just under $100. If you actually talk a lot on your phone, then add $30 more for unlimited calling in the U.S. only. That brings you to $135 a month after taxes and fees.

Would you believe you can get the exact same service on the exact same AT&T network for $45 a month by switching to Straight Talk? Did we mention there’s no long-term contract? Does your phone have to be unlocked from AT&T? No. Does your iPhone have to be rooted? No, unless you want to receive multimedia messages. But that’s a 2-minute drill thanks to Absinthe. Rooting an iPhone also gets you FaceTime using 3G. If you like the assurance of a long-term plan, you can prepay for a year’s service for $495. Want to add unlimited international calling to many (not all) countries, just pay another $15 a month (includes Mexico wireless). To get started, purchase a StraightTalk SIM and AirTime Bundle.

We hear you. So what’s the catch? Well, if Fox News is your idea of Fair and Balanced™, then you’ll feel right at home with StraightTalk. But, if reading Terms of Service is your thing (we happen to enjoy it), then Straight Talk is anything but straight in describing their offering as "Unlimited." Of course, if you’ve ever read AT&T’s terms of service, you’d come away in a cold sweat as well. The bottom line is Straight Talk doesn’t want you using their plan for streaming music and videos to your phone all day. And they don’t want you tethering your PC to your phone and using it as your primary Internet connection. Can you do any of these things once in a while? According to the message threads, probably so. Most users report no problems so long as your monthly data usage is under 2GB and daily consumption does not exceed 100MB. Is it a good idea? Probably not, especially if you purchased an annual subscription and Straight Talk has an absolute right to drop you like a hot potato. The bottom line is this. If your primary use of your smartphone is to make phone calls, send text messages, read your email, and look up stuff on the Internet, then this plan has no equal. And you will save a pile of money while continuing to enjoy AT&T’s network as if you never left. In fact, you haven’t. If you happen to have AT&T’s 3G MicroCell to improve calling in your home or office, then Straight Talk works with that, too. It will display as "ROAM" on your cellphone. Just remember that dropping all of your AT&T cellphones will also result in your MicroCell being disabled as well. The one thing we haven’t quite gotten used to is getting better performance with StraightTalk using AT&T’s cell towers than we do through a MicroCell connection with 20GB Comcast Business Class Internet sitting behind it. Go figure.

Early Termination. The question arises whether it makes sense to cancel your existing AT&T Plan and switch to Straight Talk now. AT&T’s current policy goes like this. The Early Termination Fee is $325 minus $10 for every full month you’ve been on your plan. If you’re on the Full Enchilada Plan™ (unlimited talk, unlimited messaging, and 2GB or more of data per month), then you’re spending $130 a month versus $41.25 for the StraightTalk annual plan. So it’s costing you $88.75 for every month you delay switching. As you can see, you make up more than the Early Termination Fee in less than 4 months even if you just signed on with AT&T this week. For those that have been with AT&T at least 15 months, your time to break even on the $175 early termination fee is less than 2 months! So, unless you’re within a couple months of fulfilling your 2-year commitment on the Full Enchilada Plan, you’ll save money by ditching AT&T.

You can run your actual numbers using your AT&T phone bill. Subtract $41.25 from your current phone bill. The result is your Monthly Savings, i.e. how much you’ll save each month with StraightTalk. Next, calculate how many months you’ve been on your current AT&T Plan. Multiple that number by 10 and subtract the result from $325. That’s your actual Early Termination Fee. Finally, divide your Early Termination Fee by your Monthly Savings, and that will tell you how many months it’ll take you to start saving money by switching to StraightTalk.

Best of Both Worlds. So how do we do it? Simple. We keep one phone on an AT&T Plan with minimal features so that we can buy discounted cell phones as they are released and keep our MicroCell humming along in our office. Remember, it works with AT&T and StraightTalk cellphones as long as it is activated. For the phone plan that we actually use to do Real Work™, it’s StraightTalk all the way. Even with two phones and two separate phone plans, it’s still cheaper than an unlimited plan for one phone with AT&T. And the service is identical.

The T-Mobile Stealth Plan. We told you we had two specials to tell you about, and this next deal is equally amazing especially for kids and those that don’t talk on the phone very much. Through Wal*Mart, T-Mobile offers a pay-as-you-go plan with 100 voice minutes, unlimited texting, and unlimited data (5GB at 4G speed and 2G speed thereafter) for $30 a month. Extra voice minutes are 10¢. It’s not only an amazing deal, but the fine print doesn’t seem to preclude tethering. You can use it with any T-Mobile phone including all of Google’s Android phones. For tethering support, any rootable Android phone works as well as the unmodified $349 Galaxy Nexus purchased directly from Google. The Galaxy Nexus gives you 4G performance as well. If you don’t care about tethering but want 4G performance, then take a look at the $189 Samsung T679 available at WalMart. Beware: Most AT&T GSM phones will also work, but you’ll only get 2G data performance because of the different radio frequencies used by AT&T and T-Mobile for 3G and 4G service.

If you have T-Mobile coverage in your area or if you spend a lot of time on the interstates and want network coverage for your laptops while you’re on the move, this is the plan for you. We call it the Stealth Plan because neither WalMart nor T-Mobile says much about it. It’s only available when you first sign up for service with your newly purchased T-Mobile SIM. Despite lots of chatter to the contrary, this plan is available (but unadvertised) by purchasing a 99¢ SIM directly from T-Mobile. Trust us. You’re only risking a buck. But, beware, if you ever switch to a different plan (or if you sign up for the wrong $30 plan originally… T-Mobile and WalMart both push a lousy plan that includes 1500 talk minutes with 30MB of data for the same $30), you can never go back to the good plan without purchasing another T-Mobile SIM. To activate your T-Mobile SIM once you have your T-Mobile phone in hand, go here. Remember. Make your initial selection carefully. To buy $30 refills, here’s the link. Enjoy!

Originally published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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  1. My wife and I have used StraightTalk for a while with great results. I use a Samsung Captivate (Android) and my wife an iPhone. My money saving suggestion: buying airtime from straighttalk.com will subject you to telecom taxes and fees. Buying from walmart.com will not, but you’ll probably have to pay sales tax. In the end, I save a few bucks by buying from walmart.com, which then emails me an airtime code that I enter on ST’s website. Also, I use my Discover card, which gives an additional 5% cash back on walmart.com purchases through ShopDiscover (discover.com). Also, the more months you buy at a time, the less $/month average.

  2. I’ve been with SimpleMobile for the last couple of months. They backbone off the T-Mobile network and have a $40/month plan for unlimited 3G / text and voice.

  3. Nice post. I like the T-Mobile stealth plan. Did you check out Freedom Pop. That can pair nicely with the T-Mobile prepaid plan with more minutes. You don’t get 5 Gigs, but you get a lot more than 30 megs. I wrote a blog about a similar topic if you want to check it out at Phone Fanatic

  4. My daughter’s ST phone (a Nokia E71) will not work on my AT&T microcell. The web page accepts the phone number, and doesn’t say that it is not compatible (like a non-3G phone shows), but it just will not connect.

    Did you have to do anything special to get your ST phone on your microcell?

    WM: Nothing special at all. Just added the phone number on the MicroCell web site, and our iPhone 4S just worked. Keep in mind the E71 is a very old phone (in phone years). Have you tried turning the phone off, standing beside the MicroCell, and turning the phone back on? If that flunks, my guess is the MicroCell doesn’t recognize the phone as a 3G device.

  5. For the T-Mobile “stealth” plan, just to make sure I understand this: I buy a 99 cent SIM card and then activate it on a $30 pre-pay plan which includes the unlimited text and data?

    [WM: Correct.]

  6. Great post re the details of T-Mobile, thanks! I was in a rush to add this plan to my Galaxy Nexus and ended up buying the cheapest prepaid phone at Walmart ($29.95) in order to get the SIM. I was lucky and got a Walmart person who knew all about the plan (she says its very popular with teenagers who only want to text and use Facebook and don’t need minutes) and said this was the only way to do this on the spot (many people had asked for the SIM only she said). Then she got on the phone with T-Mobile for ~15 mins and activated everything and started the port of my number from Telasip to T-Mobile.

    Apparently the number port was approved, but its been 24 hours now and its still working fine at Telasip and my $30 T-Mobile is still inactive. I had previously emailed Telasip to find my "account number" and "pin", but no joy, so I used the phone number as the account number and what I hoped was the pin. I don’t have high expectations, and Telasip’s service has been what I predicted (their voip service is still great, but finding a person has always been hard!)

    Fwiw, when I asked about this plan at a T-Mobile (corporate) store, they had no idea about it except to suggest that maybe it was a Walmart only plan. I do see that its advertised on their website as "web only".

  7. I have been using the Straight Talk deal for about 6 months now. I started out with the Virgin Mobile deal but my wife couldn’t stay off the phone so I moved her to Simple Mobile. That was a nightmare being limited to around 100kbps (forcing the phone to 2G networks only gave us 138kbps!!!). So then I got to looking again and found the Nokia E71/6790 sim swap hack. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note (was a Samsung Infuse before that) and my wife has an iPhone 4 and will soon be switching to a Galaxy Nexus once it comes in. I love only paying $84.80/month for both lines. I do have problems on soms months with the 2GB limit. At one point about a month ago I was throttled to around 160kbps. A 15 minute phonecall to "customer service" got me restored after I talked to a "supervisor". All in all great coverage at a super price.

  8. Pay through walmart.com for 3 months for $126. That’s $42 a month. Use any California address with your legit email address to get the ST code. Then check out with PayPal for tax free deal.

  9. Tom, did not think about that. I have been getting the "free" phone that you have to purchase the $45 card through. After shipping two of them comes to $96.30 and I get $11.50 fatwallet cash back. I will try that walmart.com trick.

  10. How can you keep 1 phone on AT&T with minimal features and buy new discounted phones as they are released? I thought #1) to purchase a smartphone you need to pay for the data plan, #2) you are only entitled to 1 discounted/free phone every 2 years, which then renews your contract.

  11. Not that it necessarily matters, but the ping times on ST (as I have experienced and as shown in the graphic above) are more than twice what you get on AT&T postpaid.

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