The Best US Prepaid Data Deals

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Last update: 26-Nov-2010. What’s new: Prepaid Android phones from Virgin Mobile, Cricket and MetroPCS, T-Mobile Web Day Pass, overpriced monthly prepaid smartphone plans from Verizon, $0.10/min calls on AT&T prepaid.

Prepaid mobile plans are a great way to save on voice and SMS but what about data? Using data on prepaid here in the U.S. will require making some compromises. Reasonably priced prepaid data options are scarce and what few deals there are are saddled with restrictions. That isn’t true in the rest of the world. In Italy prepaid users on WIND can get 1 GB of 3G data for € 9.00/month (about nine tenths of a US penny per megabyte). The best rate in the US for GSM/GPRS/Edge/EVDO data is AT&T’s $20 for 100 MB on prepaid, which is 22 times as much as the Italian price!

How can a frugal or cash strapped consumer on prepaid get a little of that web browsing, app using data excitement without wiping out the savings that brought them to prepaid in the first place? Here’s my assessment of all the current data options I could find on U.S. national carriers.

Boost Mobile Logo

Boost Mobile (CDMA): Boost now offers CDMA service using Sprint’s native 2.5G and 3G network. Boost has $50/month unlimited and $0.10/minute pay as you go plans. The unlimited plan includes unlimited voice, SMS, MMS AND 1RTT or EVDO data. Pay per minute users can add unlimited data for $0.35/day

A Boost branded phone is required to activate the service, nothing else will work. Activation is free with a new phone or $10 for a used one.

Most of the Boost CDMA handsets are basic feature phones but at least they fully support installing Java applications over the air. Boost also offers the BlackBerry Curve 8330, which is available only on a special $60/month BlackBerry Unlimited plan. The plan includes BlackBerry Internet Services (BIS) which is the proprietary BlackBerry data service that is required for the famous BlackBerry push Email and PIN messaging to work

An interesting thing about Boost CDMA is that a Boost phone is only required for initial activation. Once the plan is activated you can call customer service and switch the plan to another Sprint phone. Not all CS reps seem to be willing to switch services to a non-Boost phone so it may take several tries. Not all Sprint phones can be used on Boost CDMA, however. Android and Palm WebOS phones are not allowed and neither are certain BlackBerry, Windoes Mobile and feature phones. There’s section on HowardForums dedicated to Boost CDMA. It has information on which Sprint phones work and tips for gettingSprint phones on Boost and is recommended reading you are interested in trying to use a Sprint phone on Boost CDMA.

Boost Mobile (iDEN): Unlimited data is also included in Boost’s $50 month unlimited iDEN voice and data plan. Data on the iDEN network flows at a glacially slow 19.2 Kbps. Handset selection is limited to iDEN phones, which except for the BlackBerries and the Motorola i1 Android phone have tiny screens and limited web capabilities out of the box. With some tweaking (instructions for: BlackBerry, Non-BlackBerry) Opera Mini, Gmail, and several IM apps can be installed and can make the Boost Web experience tolerable.

Using a BlackBerry on Boost iDEN (aka a “BoostBerry”) is an interesting hack. There are no BlackBerry BIS or BES servers available so some features like BlackBerry’s trademark push email and BlackBerry Maps won’t work. But BlackBerries are much more capable phones than any of the Boost handsets. They can multitask and run the latest versions of Java apps like Opera Mini, Gmail, Google Maps and multi-network IM program Nimbuzz. Prospective BoostBerry users should read the compilation of what works and what doesn’t at HowardForums.

AT%T Logo

AT&T: Adhoc data is automatically enabled on all AT&T prepaid accounts at the obscene rate of $0.01/KB ($10/MB). At that price I wouldn’t even think about surfing on AT&T without a data add-on. Data packages are available at $4.99/1 MB and $19.99/100 MB (0.20/MB). The packages expire after 30 days, but if you add another one before expiration, the unused data rolls over. So if you you use less than 100 MB in a month, which isn’t a lot, on the 30th day of your package’s duration you can add another $5 or $20 package to retain your balance.

To add a data package to your account you can either call 611 from the handset and wade through the voice response menus or use the AT&T’s Pay As You Go Online site. It’s also possible to set up automatic refills using the web site.

The $19.99 plan is overpriced at 0.20/MB but at least you can use any phone that supports ATT’s 850/1900 bands and isn’t locked to another operator. Even the iPhone should work if you manually change the settings as described here.

AT&T recently reduced the price of voice minutes from $0.25 to $0.10.  Without a text bundle, texts are a steep $0.20/each.

For the Apple iPad, At&T offers two pre-paid data-only packages: 14.95/month for 250 MB or $25/month for 2 GB. The SIM must be activated in an iPad. There’s reportedly a hack to activate the iPad SIM with a PC browser using a modified user agent to impersonate an iPad. Once activated it’s currently possible to use the micro-SIM with an adapter in other devices. The iPad SIMs are data only, there is no option to use voice or text.

Verizon Logo Verizon: has what at could potentially be a pretty good deal for data. Unlimited data is available for $1/day, which is only charged on days when you actually use data. The catch is that Verizon will not allow any smartphones, BlackBerries or even feature phones that have a touch screen or any phone that requires what Verizon calls an “Nationwide” plan to be activated on the basic prepaid plans that include dollar a day data.

You can tell if a specific phone is allowed by looking at it’s description on Any phone that says “Nationwide Plan Required” or “HTML Web Browsing Capable” is verboten. The phones that actually can be activated have pretty basic browsers. The newer Samsungs with the Netfront browser are probably the best of the lot. The phones Verizon allows on prepaid also lack Java so no Opera Mini, Gmail or Google maps either. If you are into flashing firmware there are a several older Verizon Motorola phones that can be flashed with Bell or Telus Canada firmware which has Java. It’s not the best Java implementation (no task switching and limited support for recent Java apps) but it can run older versions of Opera Mini, Google Maps and Gmail. Detailed instructions are available for flashing the E815 and K1M/L7C The V3C can also be flashed to Bell firmware. Tethering is also possible with these phones.

More advanced phones including smartphones can only be activated activataed on Verizon’s overpriced Prepaid monthly plans whicg start at $64.99 for 450 minutes and unlimited text.  Add another $30/month for unlimited data and you are looking at $94.99/month!

Page Plus Logo Page Plus: has data on all their plans but it’s not cheap. A megabyte will run you $0.60 on the unlimited and Talk n Text 1200 plans after the included 20 (unlimited) or 50 (Talk n Text 1200) MB monthly allotment is used up. Data is $1.20 / MB on the pay as you go “Standard” plan. Page plus will activate Verizon and Alltel postpaid phones except for BlackBerrys, which are not allowed. Phones sold for or last active on Verizon’s prepaid service are not allowed. Most non-Page Plus phones will require some tweaking to get the data settings right before the browser will work. Windows Mobile and Palm phones usually work out of the box with Page Plus’s data features. Another option is QNC data, a very slow (14.4 Kbps) data standard that can be enabled on most CDMA Motorolas and some older Windows Mobile phones. Although it’s slow, QNC does have the advantage of being completely free to use.

Straight Talk LogoStraight Talk: América Móvil’s $45/ month unlimited plan comes with unlimited data. Straight Talk’s $30/month All You Need plan, which offers 1000 minutes and 1000 SMS, also includes 30 MB of data. With either plan only StraightTalk’s phones can be used. One quirk of the $30 plan is that if you use up your minutes, texts or data that feature stops working until you add another $30 top up. There’s no roll over either, adding $30 dollars resets your balance to 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and 30 MB of data.

Straight Talk offers CDMA phones which use Verizon’s native network and GSM phones running on AT&T or T-Mobile . Straight Talk phones do not officially support the installation third party apps. However, users at Howard Forums have discovered that one of the Straight Talk GSM phones, the LG 630G, is able to install apps from 3rd party sites using the browser. Opera Mini 3, 4.2 and 5.1, Google Maps and the Gmail app have all been reported to work.

Straight Talk recently started to offer a couple of Symbian smartphones, the Nokia E71 and the Nokia 6790 for $199.99 each.

T-Mobile logo T-Mobile: Finally! T-Mobile’s U.S. prepaid service has  data in the form of  the Web Day Pass which provides 24 hours of unlimited data for $1.49.  Officially only the first $30 MB get full 3G+ speeds.  Speed is supposed to be throttled to 60 kbits/second after 30 MB but when I tried the service shortly after launch, I used over 200 MB in a day with no apparent capping. The Day Pass can only be activated by visiting with the phone’s browser.

Even without purchasing a Day Pass, T-Mobile prepaid customers get a small walled garden of sites called T-Zones that is completely free. Officially that only includes ABC News which is linked off of the T-Mobile prepaid home page ( But there a few other sites that also work including Yahoo and the wml version of BBC News ( The free T-Zones sites should work on just about any T-Mobile or unlocked GSM phone, including the iPhone. The only exception is Android devices, which are explicitly blocked. Set the APN to on non T-Mobile branded handsets.

Unlimited SMS/MMS is a $15/month add-on on T-Mobile prepaid. Without the add-on incoming texts are five cents and outgoing SMS  cost 10 cents each.


MetroPCS logo Metro PCS offers unlimited talk, text and web for $40/month. The operator’s roaming agreements give users no extra cost text almost everywhere in the country. Voice service is available in most major cities. Data service is limited to a dozen or so metropolitan areas. Available smartphones are a $249 BlackBerry Curve 8350 and the LG Optimus M Android device  in MetroPCS’s handset lineup. The BlackBerry requires a $60 BlackBerry plan and the Android phone requires a $50 plan. Many non-MetroPCS CDMA handsets, if professionally flashed with MetroPCS firmware, can also be activated on the service.  MetroPCS can be a good option if you spend most of your time in the areas where  there is data coverage.

Cricket Logo Cricket charges $45/month for unlimited talk, text and web on feature phones.  Thanks to a roaming agreement with Sprint, extensive nationwide talk, text roaming and data roaming (map) is available at no extra cost.  Cricket has a $299.99  Blackerry Curve 8530, which requires a $60/month Berry plan and two Android phones, the $149.99 Huawei Ascend and the $249.99 Sanyo Zio. Both require a $55/month  Android plan. Phone prices are often substantially disconted  for online purchases from Cricket’s web site. Cricket also accepts non-Cricket phones, if flashed.

Virgin Mobile Logo Virgin Mobile: Has three Beyond Talk packages that induce unlimited data and messaging. The packages vary only by the number of included voice minutes; 300 for $25/month, 1200 for $40/month and unlimited for $60/month. Virgin recently started offer the $249 Samsung Intercept Android phone which can be used on any Beyond Talk plan at no additional cost. Virgin also has a  $199.99 Virgin branded BlackBerry Curve. There’s an extra $10 a month fee to use the BlackBerry on Virgin but it includes includes full BlackBerry Internet Services with Push email and PIN messaging.

Virgin doesn’t allow activation of non-Virgin Mobile phones. Except for the BlackBerry and Android phones, the Virgin handsets are rather basic feature phones. Most Virgin phones do support Java, but Virgin blocks downloading anything from 3rd party sites and locks the phones down to the extent that side-loading is virtually impossible. An exception is the LG Rumor Touch where HowardForums users have found a hack for installing apps using a USB cable

STI Logo STi Mobile: is a Sprint CDMA MVNO that advertises “unlimited” data for 19 cents a day. This is another deal that is nowhere as good as it sounds. The 19 cents is on top of a 9 cent a day access fee. Both fees are charged every day whether you use the phone or data or not. Only STi branded phones are allowed, all of which are really old basic models. The Java implementation on these phones is MIDP 1.0 which can’t run Gmail or current versions of Opera Mini or Google Maps. None of the STI phones support EVDO but the real show stopper with STi is the “fair use” data cap of a mere $12 MB week. If you exceed that STi will cut off your data without warning. They will restore it once if you ask, but exceed 12 MB again and they will ban your account from using data permanently. Pretty draconian especially considering that STi doesn’t provide any way to check to your data usage.

Recommendations: As I said at the outset, there really aren’t a lot of great deals out there for prepaid users who want to surf the web and use data aware applications on a modern, reasonably powerful phone. That’s especially true for someone who doesn’t talk enough to justify an unlimited voice plan. the situation does seem to be getting better. Boost CDMA is probably your best bet if you can swap out the Boost Feature phone for a Windows Mobile or legacy Palm OS smartphone or can use the BlackBerry unlimited plan. If you must have GSM and/or want to be able to use any phone your most affordable options are to use AT&T or T-Mobile for voice and WiFi for data.

I hope that the lack of decent data options for U.S. prepaid users is a temporary thing. Two of the biggest buzz words in mobile in the U.S. are prepaid and data. They are also the fastest growing areas in terms of subscriber growth. As the number of U.S. prepaid users increases consumer demand and market forces will eventually drive more of the operators to offer affordable data plans on prepaid. This has already happened with T-Mobile and Sprint’s Boost CDMA and Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk plans. I’m hoping we will see some good prepaid options for GSM from T-Mobile before too long.

Here’s a table summarizing all the plans mentioned above.

Plan Monthly Minimum Price (sales tax of 0-10.75% of total cost additional) Network SIM Cost or Activation Fee
Allowed Phones Voice Text Data
T-Mobile prepaid $3.33 T-Mobile (GSM) 0 Any T-Mobile or unlocked GSM $0.10-$0.33/min $0.05 to receive, $0.10 to send each
Unlimited – $15/month
Unlimited (throttled after 30 MB) – $1.49/day
Boost Mobile Unlimited $50/month (BlackBerry $60) Sprint (CDMA or iDEN) 0 ($10 for used phones) Most Sprint Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Boost Mobile Pay As You Go $3.33/month Sprint (CDMA or iDEN) 0 ($10 for used phones) Most Sprint $0.10/min $0.10/each Unlimited – $0.35/day
Verzion Prepaid $15/month Verizon 0 Verizon Prepaid feature phones only * $0.25/min
* $0.10/min, free Nights, Weekends and to Verizon phones – $0.99/day (charged only on days used)
*$0.05/min, free Nights, Weekends and to Verizon phones – $1.99/day (charged only on days used).
*Unlimited – $3.99/day (only charged on days used)
$0.10 on $0.99/day plan,
$0.05 on $1.99/day plan,
$0.01 on $3.99/day plan,
250 + unlimited to Verizon phones – $10/month
unlimited – $20/month
unlimited – $1/day
PagePlus Prepaid $2.50/month Verizon (CDMA) 0 Any CDMA except BlackBerry and Verzion prepaid $0.04-0.10/min $0.08/ea,
$2000 – 10.95/month,
unlimited – $19.95/month
PagePus Unlimited Talk n Text $44.95/month Verizon (CDMA) 0 Any CDMA except BlackBerry and Verzion prepaid unlimited unlimited 20 MB (overage $0.60/MB)
AT&T Go Phone $8.33 + $0 – $1.50 911 fee AT&T (GSM) $20 Any At&T or unlocked GSM e $0.10/min $0.20 each,
200 – $4.99,
1000 – $9.99,
unlimited – $19.99
ad-hoc – $0.01/KB,
1 MB – $4.99,
200 MB – $19.99
AT&T GoPhone Unlimited $60+ $0 – $1.50 911 fee AT&T (GSM) $20 Any At&T or unlocked GSM phone unlimited unlimited ad-hoc – $0.01/KB,
1 MB – $4.99,
200 MB – $19.99
AT&T iPad Plan 14.95 AT&T (GSM) 0 iPad only (workaround exists) voice not available text not available 250 MB – 14.95
2 GB – $25
Straight Talk All You Need $30 Verizon (CDMA), AT&T, T-Mobile (GSM) 0 Straight Talk only 1000 (overage not available) 1000 (overage not available) 30 MB (overage not available)
Straight Talk Unlimited $45 Verizon (CDMA), AT&T, T-Mobile (GSM) 0 Straight Talk only unlimited unlimited unlimited
MetroPCS $40 (Android $50, BlackBerry $60) MetroPCS (CDMA) 0 MetroPCS and some other flashed CDMA unlimited unlimited unlimited
Cricket $45 (Android $55, BlackBerry $60) Cricket & Sprint (CDMA) $15 Cricket and most other flashed CDMA unlimited unlimited unlimited
Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk $25 (BlackBerry $35) Sprint (CDMA) 0 Virgin Mobile Only 300 unlimited unlimited
STi Mobile $2.70 Sprint (CDMA) $4.95 Sti Only $0.089/min $0.05/each $0.19/day, $0.29/day data + MMS (12 MB/week cap)

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146 thoughts on “The Best US Prepaid Data Deals

  1. I followed Dennis’ instructions and got myself a AT&T prepaid and then went to the unlock it website. Worked like a charm. One drawback, though: every salesperson I’ve spoken to says there is no data plan for prepaid.

    • To get data on prepaid, visit or dial 611 from your prepaid phone or 1.800.901.9878 from a landline phone and select the option to ‘Buy Features’ and then choose ‘MediaNet’. The $20 for 100MB/month charge will be deducted from your prepaid balance.

  2. Hi

    Great site – thanks!!! I’m coming to Florida for 2 weeks in August and would like to use my HTC Touch HD (UK version) for a little bit of data roaming. I’d like to use it for Google Maps, the occasional email and some light browsing. I’m thinking the AT&T deal is the simplest, although I’d be grateful for clarification on whether my handset will work on 3G. (I got a bit lost in the discussion on frequencies above!). I

    If I do go for the AT&T, can I purchase the SIM card in the UK (e.g. off eBay).

    Many thanks


    • Dennis – thanks for the very useful advice!! I’m thinking: put up with EDGE for internet on the move and do any serious stuff in Wifi range.

      Really appreciate your help.


  3. Travelling to the USA from Aust for a month. Have wifi iPad and a netcomm myzone for 3G. Need a recommendation for the best prepaid data sim to enable email, google maps and limited browsing for the time away. Is AT&T data plan $20 per 100mb the only option and can I pre purchase in Australia or is it better an LAX? Am on a tight timetable so don’t want to spend hours with a saleperson in US.
    Thanks in advance. Great info on this site.

    • You could use a cut down prepid SIM and prepaid plan but for an iPad but you are better off getting the iPad micro SIM and an iPad prepaid plan from AT&T. It’s available as either 250 MB/month for $15 or 2 GB/month $25. You can get the SIM on eBay or any AT&T shop which are quite prevalent though there’s none at LAX. See:

    • Thanks Dennis. Unfortunately my iPad is wifi only, hence the use of the netcomm my zone, which takes a standard sim. The data plan I am aft in the US is for a month only and as I said it’s only for email and occasional use on the road via the 3G netcomm capability.
      Thanks anyway.

  4. Hi Dennis,
    Thank you so much for this article.
    I’ve read every comments and I cannot find my answer.
    I have an iPhone 4 unlocked so with micro sim inside, going from France to the west USA for a month in august.
    I only need data, wich plan do you think will be better ? Do you think I’ll get a micro sim ?

    • Using an unlocked iPhone 4 on US prepaid is currently problematic.

      AT&T disallows the iPhone on their prepaid plans. Supposedly you can get around this the following proceedure. Note that I haven’t tried this personally but believe that it should work

      1. Obtain an un-activated AT&T MicroSIM or a cut down un-activated AT&T regular SIM. Both are available on eBay. Regular SIMs can be purchased at AT&T stores (just don’t tell them you are using an iPhone).
      2. Activate the SIM in the store or online at You are required to enter an IMEI when activating. It must not be an iPhone IMEI or the activation will fail.
      3. Put the SIM in the iPhone, voice and SMS should work
      4. To get data working go to with the iPhone browser using WiFi, choose “custom” and then “AT&T” and follow the instructions.

      You could also use T-Mobile as they have no problem with people using iPhones on their PrePaid Flexpay plans. You would need to cut down the SIM as T-Mobile doesn’t AFAIK offer microSIMs and you wouldn’t get 3G as T-Mobile’s 3G bands are not supported by any current iPhone.

  5. Great details, however Im still not sure what will work. Im also traveling to the US for a week, arriving monday, and need a phone and small data plan for the week. I only need to use google maps, so not a lot of browsing
    I have a unlocked nokia e71.

    Anyone suggest a prepaid plan that will give me phone and 3g data


    • Unless you have a North American market E71 3G won’t on any US network, but for Google Maps, email and light browsing Edge should be fine. For a week, AT&T with the $20 for 100 MB plan is probably the most cost effective solution.

  6. Please add Simple Mobile too. It’s $60 for unlimited everything. Basically they’re b re-selling T-Mobile airtime as a flat rate. Works fine, but because of that you won’t get 3G on an iPhone, their EDGE network is fast and reliable however. I’m using it on an iPhone 4 with a trimmed SIM to fit the micro slot, works absolutely fine.

  7. Hi guys, thanks for the info on this site. It’s great stuff. I live in the UK and I will be travelling to NYC in a couple of weeks. I have an unlocked Dell streak. Can any one recommend the best prepaid data plan to use with my streak for two weeks?

  8. Dennis is absolutely right in that comparing Prepaid Boost CDMA to Sprint PostPaid is like comparing apples to oranges. And for all the reasons he eloquently stated. There are so many other analogies that come to mind when a corporate entity differentiates its different brands in the same general marketplace (eg,car manufacturers, hotel chains, etc). Personally, I think that before I fire off a letter to Mr. Hesse (or anyone else for that matter) I’d do a bit more in-depth research and understand the details.

    Best regards,


  9. Ugh finding the right data plan isn’t easy. I use Sprint and actually have come across a pretty recent problem and am NOT happy. Sprint’s unlimited plan is $99/month and I came across that Boost’s unlimited plan is just $50/month. The president of Sprint (Mr. Hesse) owns BOTH. So why is it that I pay $50 more a month than Boost customers? Unequal treatment. So I emailed him complaining and I completely deserve the same deal as a devoted Sprint customer. If anyone has the same problem, here’s his email address if you want to save extra each month:

    • You are comparing apples and Oranges. The Boost and Sprint unlimited plans are not really comparable.

      On Sprint you can roam at no extra charge on Verizon and local carriers in places with no Sprint native service. Boost has no roaming, the phone simplify does not work where there is no Sprint coverage. Also Sprint exclusive phones such as Android and WebOS devices can not be activated on Boost. Users need to weight the pros and cons of each and choose what works for them.

      It’s not reasonable to expect Sprint service, which includes off-network roaming (which Sprint has to pay for) at the same price as Boost.

  10. Please note that AT&T prepaid data plan will NOT work with the iPhone. I bought data plus phone service, got my SIM card, stuck it in my iPhone and spent 2 hours on the phone with AT&T and Apple trying to figure out a way to get it working. Bottom line…prepaid AT&T data service for iPhone without a plan–no way. See, I live outside the US and bought an unlocked iPhone here (no such thing as locked phones in this country). I visit the US once or twice a year for a week or two at a time, so a monthly plan makes no sense for me. Unfortunately the idiots running the US phone companies have no interest in the folks carrying iPhones and visiting the US on short trips. I guess they’re getting some kind of kick back from foreign phone companies on the international roaming fees. Who knows. I am just deeply disappointed in US wireless offerings.

    • I’m heading to the US for 3 months in a few days and am planning on getting a AT&T go phone SIM without a handset (I’ve heard if the SIM is avctivated with an iPhone IMEI data is blocked but getting it activated in the store without a phone is best) & adding data & changing the APN with for my unlocked Aussie iPhone 3Gs.

      Does anyone know if updating to iOS 4.0 before I leave will cause any issues? Also, can you buy the data add-on in-store or do you have to call 611 and do it?


  11. Virgin Mobile in the US has recently released a new phone the LG Rumor Touch 2. It’s listed for sale as 149us but has them for 125 on sale. Then with their beyond talk starting at $25 you can get unlimited talk, data & web (plus 300minutes if you want to talk). I have the phone and it’s a pretty nice little phone, it has built in GPS, googlemaps, youtube, opera for webrowsing, works fine with gmail, twitter, facebook etc. I think it is a nifty little phone, while not superpowerful, is good enough for 3G browsing of the web, checking emails, and GPS/Googlemaps if you are visiting the US for a bit. Though the initial investment might be a bit steep at 125/150 US dollars.

  12. So what is the difference between Sidekick for prepaid and Flex-Pay Even More Plus? Does Sidekick for prepaid support iPhone?

    Please advise. Thanks.

    • Port 80 and others are blocked on Sidekick prepaid. All ports are open on Flexpay. The only way the Sidekick plan will work with a non-Sidekick device is if you set up a proxy that listens on a port that’s not blocked and configure the device to use that port

  13. Thanks for your information.
    I have bought a T-Mobile Flexpay, data unlimited, voice x00 min, sms unlimited.
    price, 60+.
    My blackberry and iPhone cannot work with its 3G, but can work with its EDGE. Good enough for me.
    I mostly use its data.

    • Hi Dong, how do you sign up for the flexpay? I am struggling to find the flexpay entry link on t-mobile’s website….Thanks in advance!

  14. Excellent guide and information but sorry I’m still confused because I’m not good at anything that related to phone or its plans. Can the sim card carried unlimited data plan from Verizon or T-Mobile work with PC with USB wireless stick inserted with the above sim card? I’m headed to NJ, USA for one month, and would like a simcard to use with D-Link DWM-156 3.5G USB stick that supports HSUPA、WCDMA(3G)2100MHz、GPRS quad band and EDGE through my laptop. Unlimited data plan and less than US$150/month are what I’m looking for now (No VOICE needed, USA Coverage only). Any suggestion?
    Thank you very much for your help.

    • If it’s unlocked your USB stick will work with either a T-Mobile or AT&T SIM. You would get 3G on AT&T, but only Edge on T-Mobile, as it doesn’t have support for the 1700 MHz band that T-Mobile uses for 3G.

      Verizon is a CDMA operator and is completely incompatible with your D-Link USB adapter

  15. Alot of good info here.

    I’m headed to California for 1 month, and would like a simcard to use with my HTC Desire. I will basically only need data since I will use skype to call through my laptop.

    I gather that i have 2 options. T-Mobile and AT&T. Now I can also understand that T-Mobile will not work for 3G on my Desire, but it will work on AT&T?
    I don’t mind paying 20$ for 100mb on AT&T, since it will mostly be for google maps and other “turisty” stuff

    • According to the specs I’ve seen, the Desire only has the 900/2100 3G bands, not the 850/1900 ones used by AT&T or the 1700/2100 used by T-Mobile in the US. So you won’t get 3G on either.

    • T-Mobile uses 1700 for uplink and 2100 for downlink. You need both to establish a 3G connection.

      US Cellular uses a different technology (CDMA) and the version of the Desire they are getting will have a completely different radio module than the GSM/EVDO models sold in the rest of the world.

    This page has a lot of great data but hard to assimilate information. It would be tremendous if it would be set up with a summary table. If it was then people could quickly understand. This might people to fill in the missing data fields. I never cease to be amazed how many words there are on the Internet and how scarce and hard to find is the easy to understand information.

    Plan PerMB Expiration Note
    At&t 100MB $20 $00.20 30 days Rollover if refilled b4 30
    At&t 1MB $05 $05.00 30 days Rollover if refilled b4 30
    “At&t 100MB $20″,”$00.20″,”30 days”,”Rollover if refilled b4 30″
    “At&t 1MB $5″,”$05.00″,”30 days”,”Rollover if refilled b4 30″
    “PlatinumTel”,”$0010″,”?”,”Only their phones”

    • Yes those are a no contract plans so you can cancel after one month. Howeve, by themselves the Data Only plans are post paid plans and require a credit check and an activation fee. You will probably fail the credit check if you are not a US resident with a US credit card and work history.

      I believe you can combine a data only plan with prepaid Flexpay billing ( ) which doesn’t require a credit check or activation fee.

  17. Great review, Dennis!!!

    Btw, PlatinumTel, a Sprint MVNO, now offers voice at 5cents/min, SMS at 2cents/message, and DATA AT 10CENTS PER MB. Brand new plans on pay as you go just started within the last 2 weeks. Of course, as seems to be the case with ALL Sprint MVNOs, no BYOD (bring your own device). The phones don’t look too bad, to me at least. I know that at least one device has Java (SANYO M1). And I have heard that individual dealers DO have a wider range of device offerings.



    • I have heard of the iWireless plan and actually listed in the pre-update version of this post. But I called iWireless and was told that the plan is only available to customers residing in their service area (most of Iowa and small parts of Illinois and Wisconsin). They will only ship SIMs to addresses in the covered area and their TOS prohibits excessive roaming use. So it’s only a good deal if you’re willing to move to Iowa.

  18. Just to re-affirm ( without too much schadenfreude ) Dennis’s point about the woeful nature of US prepaid – I pay, on the three network in the UK, £5 (~$7) p/m for 2gb, which can be added to at any time, plus with every top up I get 150mb free! And this is true for any phone, locked or unlocked, three brand or not, plus dongles, MiFis etc! Until the US catches up with these kinds of tariffs, no matter how many iPhones etc they produce, your mobile ecosystem will always be behind. Here, and elsewhere in the world ( including parts of the developing world ),the mobile web is truly for the masses!

  19. On Boost Mobile, both cdma and iden, you are confusing “data” and “web” (as Boost uses those terms). Data services are free, the $.35/day is for “web” — i.e., the use of Boost’s portal and the Boost phone’s native browser. If you use other java apps instead — Opera Mini, Bolt, Gmail app, etc. — there’s no charge.

  20. Actually it looks like the AT&T plan is 10 mb for $20, not too good a deal unless you just want to be able to check email.

  21. Virgin does offer “Broadband2Go” prepaid 3G data service in US – not for phones, but for their USB 3G adapters, on EVDO network (i assume Sprint’s):

    Pricing is comparable to to contract data 3G.

    p.s. i’ve no personal experience with this service.


  22. Thanks for the useful info Dennis! I’m heading to the US from Australia for 3 months (too long for roaming!) and hope to use my iPhone 3Gs (unlocked from Optus) for voice, text and data while there. I’m leaning towards the AT&T pre-paid + add-on data but am nervous about all the problems I’ve read about with iPhones, data and AT&T pre-paid.

    I also found a SIMple Calling USA SIM Card at which costs $19 with $10 starter credit and you recharge for talk & text. They say it “Works on AT&T, T-Mobile & Rogers networks for superior coverage” – not sure how it does this.

    You can also add a data package (GPRS or 3G?) with USA rates of $US15 per MB (minimum charge is for 100kb and usage is charged in increments of 10kb). This should work on the iPhone in theory. Just wondering if anyone has used this before, if it will definitely work on an iPhone or if it is a good deal?

  23. I’m not sure if I understand this correctly.
    I’m going to the US in a couple of weeks, for a three week holiday. I’m Dutch.
    Can I buy a T-Mobile FlexPay simcard, top it up with unlimited data for a month? And I will never receive bill, after I’ve used up the month of data-access?

    The T-mobile website isn’t really clear about all this. And what will it cost me?

    Or will AT&T with a $20 data thingy be best for me. In that case, only email.

    • Unfortunately the US does not currently have any decent prepaid wireless options available.

  24. i got a flexpay some 3 months ago. and paid the full data plan extra. (smartphone)

    i ended up only having edge access since my phone do not do AWS.

    and i used all my flex pay minutes on the 1st month.

    i never paid anything else to tmobile.

    and it’s been 3 months. and i still have unlimited data (over edge, sigh).

    everyone get’s that? when will they cut my access? i’m seriously considering using it forever and no voice/sms :)

    • omg same thing here!

      my plan is Even More Plus 500 Talk with FlexPay

      500 Whenever minutes
      Unlimited Weekend Minutes
      Unlimited Weeknight Minutes
      T-Mobile Smartphone Unlimited Web with FlexPay

      .. and i only paid for 1st month in the shop.. i havent paid for my 2nd month yet and i cant call out or receive calls.. and receiving smses have wiped out my flex balance ! but i still have my data :/

    • Your monthly services are currently not available. To restore them, you will need to pay the Amount Due and you’ll receive a prorated amount of services and features for the remainder of the current service cycle.

      You can continue to use your FlexAccountSM balance to make calls, send and receive messages, and use other optional services. If you don’t make a payment or your phone is not used within 90 days, your account will be cancelled.

      This is a ONE TIME PAYMENT. This payment will not automatically recur in future months.

  25. What the… I’ve been using t-mobile for 2 years and never heard you could get on yahoo with t-zones. I could have been checking my mail on my phone this whole time? Why don’t they advertise this more? The sales reps never mentioned t-zones to me once when I asked about prepaid and data options.

  26. Hey, Dennis..
    I will go to Florida for about 2 months, and I plan to bring my Blackberry along…is it possible for me to have it used there? Or you would suggest for me to use GSM phone only? since I will not use the voice service…so if I use GSM and use application such as Opera Mini or ebuddy, I will be charged for the data transfer…and it will be cheaper compared to Blackberry service package, right? what would u suggest, Dennis? Really need your suggestion.

    Thx a lot :)

    • Correct, the regular unlimited data plan is $10/month on T-Mobile FlexPay vs. @35 for the BlackBerry plan. AT&T doesn’t offer a BlackBerry plan to prepaid customers, only postpaid.

  27. Hi Dennis

    Useful post, thanks, although the link you give for the unlimited data addon for T-mobile USA on 15th April doesn’t seem to have any details on data service other than the Web Guard feature.

    I’m going to Florida from UK on 28th April. I had a T-mobile pre pay sim all arranged through MrSimCard with unlimited data (I don’t need phone calls), but they contacted me today to say that they were stopping activations for that card and would I like a card for the same price with only 150Meg? Umm, not really…

    Is there any way I can get a pre pay sim card for an iphone for up to 30 days with a good amount of data for Flickr, Google Maps etc (500Meg plus) which I can pick up somewhere when I get to the States (Orlando area) or ship to the villa I’m staying at? I don’t care what calling rates there are as I won’t use them, it’s only the data that’s important.

    Thanks in advance.


  28. Hi Dennis,
    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for eventhough I don’t really understand the IT terms. My sister is coming to US for about 3 months, and she’s bringing her Blackberry Gemini along, hoping that she can use it to browse the internet while she’s here, using a prepaid plan. What would you suggest on this one? Thanks so much.

    • It’s possible but it’s not going to be cheap.

      To be fully functional a BlackBerry needs to connect to the operator’s BIS (BlackBerry Internet Server). AT&T doesn’t offer BIS for prepaid so the only option is T-Mobile’s “Flex-Pay Even More Plus” hybrid plan.

      You pay up front by the month. Unlimited BlackBerry internet is $25/month A voice package is also required at prices ranging from $29.99 for 500 minutes to unlimited at $49.99. Text packages are optional and range from $5 to $20/month. Their are also taxes and fees which average about $9/month plus a $4.99/month “Control” fee.
      which is waived if you sign up for autopay with a credit card. Bottom line will be between $54 and $99/month.

      You can sign up at any T-Mobile company operated shop. The phone needs to be unlocked, of course.

  29. Hey,
    loved your article! now my question…
    I’ll be going to NYC (I live on a US military base in Italy), and want to use google maps on my unlocked iphone 3gs for the two weeks i’ll be there. What would be my best bet? I really just need enough MB (say 200?) to use maps all day. What ID do I need to buy one? Will my US passport be enough?
    Thank you!

    • There are no government identity requirements in the US when optaining a prepaid SIM although some sellers may ask for an ID, a passport should be fine.

      You have two options for service T-Mobile or AT&T. Neither are optimal.

      AT&T: “Go Phone” prepaid $20 for a SIM at an AT&T operated store 2G and 3G on 850/1900 mHz

      Technically you are not supposed to use an iPhone on AT&T prepaid. If AT&T shops give you a hard time about the iPhone you can pick up a prepaid kit containing a basic phone and a SIM from chain drugstores like Walgreens and retailers like Target or Walmart for between $20-40. The SIMs in kits will be locked to whatever phone you first use it in so don’t try it out in the kit phone!

      AT&T has a variety of prepaid packages for voice and text. See here.
      Data is enabled by default at $.01/KB (outrageous!)
      Data “Feature” package is $20 for 100MB with 30 days validity. Can be added as often as necessary. There are other Feature packages for text bundles.

      Flex-Pay Even More Plus”: SIM is free when activating Flex Pay at a T-Mobile shop. 3G on 1900 mHz. 3G of 1700 mHz so no 3G on an iPhone.

      Voice plans range from 500 minutes @29.99 to unlimited at $49.99.

      Unlimited data add on is $10/month for feature phones, $25/month for “smartphones”

      There is a $4.99/month “Control” fee unless you sign up for autopay with a credit card and a $1.21/month emergencies services fee

      Bottom line T-Mobile is cheaper if you plan on using more than a little bit of data but there is no 3G.

    • I used AT&T using a prepaid Bestbuy AT&T phone and when I tried to activate the SIM card on my unlocked Iphone. It does not work anymore. And I called AT&T, it says you can’t activate it on an Iphone.

  30. Hi, Dennis,

    Very great post!! Just wondering what is the cheapest phone for Verizon data plan with the tethering function?

    • Of the four I mentioned the E815 and V3C would be the cheapest because they are older than the K1M/L7C. BTW, I’ve not used tethering on Verizon myself so I’m hardly an expert, just repeating what I’ve read on sites like

  31. Thanks for your reply, Dennis!
    A friend of mine suggested a T-Mobile plan with free data that is paid monthly in advance, and can be stopped when I leave the country. It’s $55 a month, so I figured there would be a better way. But the AT&T package looks a bit skinny to me, especially if I want to tether my MacBook and keep my blogs running.

  32. Dennis, thanks for a great post, it was really helpful.
    I’m planning a vacation in New York and New England in the summer (I live in Sweden) and at the moment I’m trying to find the best solution to keep on surfing over there with my iPhone 3G.
    Did any of your predictions come true? Are there any better options ATM?

    • Stellan, unfortunately not much has changed since I wrote that post. For an iPhone, AT&T’s $20 for 100/MB package is still your only option.

      I haven’t heard any success stories of people activating iWireless’ $50/mo unlimited everything plan from outside Iowa, plus that would be Edge only on an iPhone

  33. Just wanted to say that this thread has been QUITE helpful for someone who is just stepping into prepaid, wants to have some WAP capability, and almost brought a crap phone.

    By the way, it should be added to the Virgin section that the 5MB of data is only good for 24 hrs. So you are basically paying 5 bucks for 1 day of web usage. I don’t know about the longevity of any of the rest of them, but I intend to find out before I commit!


  34. Hello, The Verizon data plan is by far the best, does anyone know if you can activate it on a cheap phone and then place the sim card on an iphone for example?

    • Verizon is CDMA, it doesn’t use SIM cards. A GSM phone like the iPhone will never work on a CDMA network. On top on that Verizon will not activate ANY smartphone on prepaid.

  35. I talked to iWireless about getting their unlimited data plan outside of Iowa (from Maine actually). They said no go, I might be about to get it from iWireless in Ohio, but not from Iowa.

  36. This is a phenomenal overview of US prepaid data. Bravo. I haven’t seen anything even close elsewhere on the web.

  37. You can get a w385 boost cdma phone right off the boostmobile website. I just got mine in 5 days ago and still got the first month free. So that should stop the talk about the boost cdma side coming to an end.
    go to there web site and look at the phones, it is the last one in the list.

  38. As an Australian living in NYC who has used prepaid voice and data offerings all over the world, I just wanted to point out that T-Mobile actually have a great no contract/no SSN/no credit rating required pay by the month option called ‘Flex Pay’.

    I think I pay about US$80 a month for unlimited national texts, 250 minutes in voice and unlimited data. Not a bargain, but allows me to use a familiar handset and I think the best option out there.

    Funnily enough I can actually have good quality Fring calls over their EDGE network, so friends around the world can get to me with a Skype-In number or just Skype direct. I am a happy customer!

    If I had a US compatible 3G handset, I would be able to use their 3G network too.

    Definitely recommend it for anybody staying in the USA for longer than a few weeks.

  39. Thanks, Dennis.

    I think we can agree that as long as the economy is uncertain and the market is segmented, various offerings addressing different needs will be available.

    It’s also likely that these offerings will evolve to reflect changing needs and circumstances, as they have done in the past.

    Thanks again for your insights, and for being responsive, Dennis.

  40. StraightTalkMe, Thanks for your comment. I’ve corrected the unlimited plan’s price and América Móvil spelling.

    Regarding 30MB, it is indeed adequate for browsing made for mobile sites using the browsers built into the Straight Talk phones which can’t handle pages much over 30 KB.

    However users are no longer content with only browsing made for mobile websites. Since the iPhone, they increasingly expect their phones to have full web browsing, maps, navigation, streaming video and audio and downloadable apps.

    I don’t think that the Straight Talk phones are capable of streaming or installing 3rd party apps so the limited amount of data is adequate for now.

    I believe that the future will look more like the $50/month prepaid plans from i wireless and Boost UNLMT CDMA that include unlimited voice, messaging AND data (with a 5GB fair use cap) and also allow advanced devices. In that context 30 MB isn’t much.

  41. The Straight Talk info is not correct. Both the $30 plan (1,000 nationwide anytime minutes of talk and 1,000 texts) comes with 30MB of data. So does the $45 plan that offers unlimited anytime nationwide minutes (talk) and unlimited texts.

    There is no $50 plan that you mention.

    Though the 30MB data allowance comes out to approx. 350 web pages, which is more than enough for average users, the plans are primarily designed to accomodate talk and text, as you state.

    And the name of the parent company is América Móvil… not to be too nit-picky.


    Thanks, Dennis!

  42. Bravo on another excellent review and timely, intelligent analysis, Dennis.

    I shake my head in amazement at the state of data on both contract and non-contract plans in the USA. As you said, compared to the rest of the (developed) world this is simply incredible. My trips to Europe have found WiFi as well as any mix of voice, SMS, and data generally available in a nice mix of price options.

    I also want to see what T-Mobile does on the non-contract side with data. I see a huge opportunity for them IF they can put together a reasonable data package that does not involve just the Sidekick. Though some non-teens use it, many other people like me need a mobile with a more flexible OS such as Android or even Windows Mobile (flexible to me means able to incorporate “play” as well as business apps). The ball is in T-Mobile’s court.

    Mike J


  44. Just to clarify the UNTLD plan on Boost CDMA. It was actually rolled out as a nationwide plan after CDMA phone sales stopped.

    It’s more of a pilot program for Boost Mobile to see how many people will now “seek out” the discontinued Motorola CDMA phones, and then activate the new plan. If a lot of people do that, Boost may walk back into the CDMA market.

    Really, Boost will have to go to CDMA at some point, once iDEN is dismanted. However, we’re now years away from that with Sprint clinging onto the past.

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