May 29, 2014

Discount Pay as You Go Cell Phones under $5 a month

Long while ago I wrote about getting cell phone service for $5 a month.   But then for quite a while it seemed that such cheap plan rates had disappeared.  Nowadays (based on TV ads) it seems that an unlimited cell phone plan for $40 a month is a great deal.   But lately I've heard about some MNVO's that have some pretty cheap rates and minimum prices.

Here's a few cell phone service providers that I found that can get you service for $5 a month or less:

minute Text MB data min/mo Min Expire network
Ptel 0.05 0.02 0.10 $5 $10       60 T-mobile
Lyca 0.02 0.04 0.06 $0 $10  no  T-mobile
Spot mobile 0.10 0.05
$1.67 $5       90 T-mobile
H2O 0.05 0.05 0.10 $3.33 $10       90 AT&T
PagePlus 0.10 0.50 0.10 $2.50 $10     120 Verizon

Generally best for light usage

If you use your phone a lot then one of these cheap plans is not for you.   If you talk on the phone just 30 minutes a day thats about 900 minutes a month and that along will cost you a minimum of $18 for the plans below.  If you use a lot of data then you will quickly outspend one of these plans.    Heavy music or video mobile use will pile up data usage quickly.   You can use this calculator at AT&T to estimate your data consumption.    However you're only charged for mobile data so if you use a local wifi network in your home or public area then that data is not going to cost you.   One way to go is to look at your current plan usage levels and then find the maximum amount of phone, text and data you used for a single month in the past 6 months.   Add in a 10% margin to that and you could give get yourself a baseline usage need for yourself.

Expiration periods / minimum monthly rates:

Lycamobile has no expiration period on their prepaid credits.    So if you use it a very small amount in a given month then your monthly charges can be extremely small.    Lyca looks like the best deal in general based on their rates and the lack of an expiration.

Otherwise the providers offer minimum pay-go rates that expire in 60-120 days.    That results in a minimum monthly charge of as low as $1.67 for Spot.

Cheap SIMs on Amazon

If you buy the SIM from the provider then they charge $5-10.    But you can get the SIM cards on Amazon or eBay for next to nothing.   Prices I found on Amazon :

H2O Wireless for $0.01
Lycamobile for $0.01
ptel for $0.99
Spot Mobile for $0.01

Data rounding

If all you want or use is simple phone calling then data isn't an issue.  But if you do want to use a little data or have a smart phone that might do so then then how they figure your data usage can matter a lot here.

Big potential problem with Lycamobile is that they seem to round up any data usage to 200kb.   So if you send one byte a minute then you'll end up paying 200kb a minute and that can add up fast.   Apps which use occasional data for updates or status may do this kind of thing.   You'll have to be real careful there and its probably best to turn off data entirely unless you absolutely need it.   You can then just rely on wifi usage.

Ptel does not round up data and does not charge you till you accumulate 1 cent worth of data usage.   You'd have to check the details on the other plans to see how they handle data usage.


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