Straight talk about cellular service

I’ve been a Verizon Wireless customer for a very very long time, and except for a short flirtation with MetroPCS (or as it’s often called — GettoPCS) I’ve been reasonably loyal.

But that’s about to change.

This week my Google/LG Nexus 4 arrived as well did an AT&T SIM card (through Straight Talk available on-line or at Wal-Mart).

I have an old Verizon plan, unlimited for a reasonable price (roughly $82 with tax after my 20% discount through a previous employer); and I had a Google/Samsung Galaxy Nexus S2, so I enjoyed LTE (in areas where Verizon had LTE service).

With Straight Talk, I’ll get unlimited AT&T services (MVNOs don’t generally have access to LTE) for $45 per month plus tax; but wait, until 18-Feb-2013 Straight Talk is offering a $2.50 reduction on your monthly service if you sign up for auto-pay (if you currently have Straight Talk with auto-pay, cancel your auto-pay and immediate set it back up to take advantage of the discount). Note, the $2.50 discount does not apply to your initial service payment, that’s going to be $45.00 plus taxes even if you immediately sign up for auto-pay.

I activated the SIM (you don’t actually even need a phone to activate a SIM card, you use a “serial number” they provide with the SIM card to register everything, then just pop it in the phone) on Thursday morning (yesterday), didn’t want to do it Wednesday night after returning from Mardi Gras (even though the phone and the SIM were laying on the front porch — sleep was more important).

And voila, it works — and it works well.

Straight Talk actually offers service on all four major networks: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

For AT&T or T-Mobile you simply need an unlocked GSM phone and the SIM for the network you would like service on (purchased through Straight Talk / Walmart). Or you can just purchase a handset with a SIM installed directly from Straight Talk / Walmart. Note, if you go with an unlocked GSM phone, there will be a couple settings you’ll have to change on the handset to have full function with the network; but those are well documented online.

For Verizon or Sprint you must purchase a handset from Straight Talk / Walmart that works on the network you choose. You can purchase a used Straight Talk handset on Craigslist or eBay, but remember that if it’s marked as stolen or lost, you might not be able to activate it.

And… the cost of the service is the same, regardless of what network you’re on, and the service is unlimited (keep in mind unlimited in cellular speak doesn’t mean what it does in the rest of the English language, if you use abusive amounts of service you’re likely to get throttled or terminated).

Now what’s the catch — well… you deal with Straight Talk customer service rather than the network’s customer service (let’s face it — they’re all horrible, and hopefully you’ll never need to deal with them at all); you don’t have access to partner or roaming, only the network you actually have service with (which really doesn’t matter generally unless you travel to fringe areas — and if that’s the case, stick with what works); you don’t have a contract (oh, wait, that’s not a catch); you own your handset outright (though Straight Talk does offer insurance on handsets they sell; or you can do what I do and pay for the service with a credit card that provides some level of cellular handset insurance coverage free).

And yeah I hear all of you — what about the iPhone… well, Straight Talk will sell you one (and Walmart has 0% financing so you can spread out the payments over a year), or if you’re going with AT&T or T-Mobile service you can just purchase a GSM handset from the Apple store or buy one used.

I’ve actually been considering switching for about a year; originally I was fixated on going with Verizon service since it was the only carrier I trusted, but times change. AT&T has been busy building out it’s network and increasing coverage, Verizon has been busy reinforcing the fact that they don’t care about their customers and re-tuning their towers to support LTE data services (and apparently forgetting that some people still want to make voice calls).

Now your mileage may vary, and the downside of choosing Verizon or Sprint is that you’re stuck with the selection of handsets offered by Straight Talk (which isn’t the latest and greatest — other than the iPhone 5); with AT&T or T-Mobile you can choose any handset (by just getting the SIM).

I don’t think this is the end of traditional wireless carriers, after all, Straight Talk depends on them for the actual service, but pre-paid unlimited plans like this truly seem to be the most economical way to have cellular service; and you don’t have to miss out on the latest and greatest equipment (with GSM service), all you have to do is front load the cost by buying the handset outright.

My guess is with more consumers buying handsets outright, the price of handsets will actually moderate closer to what they really cost, and not carry a surcharge to support the deep discounts the manufacturers give to cellular carriers to woo them to offer their handset.

http://straighttalk.com/