More Prepaid 4G Smartphones

Category: Mobile

Fans of prepaid phone service are finally getting 4G service and smarter phones. The good news is faster data speeds without a contract. The even better news is that you won’t have to pay the full retail price of a compatible smartphone, although they’re still not cheap. Here’s the scoop on prepaid 4G mobile, and a little-known way to use a smartphone with no contract or monthly fees...

New Options for Prepaid 4G

Until recently, mobile phone users who wanted a prepaid calling plan with a cool 4G smartphone were out of luck. My article Are Prepaid Wireless Phones a Good Deal? discusses TracFone, Net10 and several other options for prepaid calling plans, but most are coupled with the less exciting “feature phones” or smartphones that are limited to much slower 3G speeds.

But smartphones that can access the Web at 4G speeds and run popular mobile apps are so popular now, that several mobile service providers have begun to offer prepaid plans for 4G-capable iPhone and Android smartphones. (Note that despite the name, the iPhone 4 is not a 4G device. You'll need the newer iPhone 5 to use a 4G network.)

Here are several options for prepaid 4G smartphone plans. (Oh, and at the end of this article, I'll mention a sneaky way to use a smartphone with ZERO monthly access fees.)
Prepaid 4G Smartphones

Sprint owns two prepaid phone subsidiaries that use its WiMax network where it’s available, and Sprint’s wider CDMA network elsewhere. The two brands, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, have different marketing strategies and plans.

Boost Mobile is offering unlimited voice, data, and text prepaid 4G service starting at $55 per month. “Starting at” usually means the cost goes up from there, but not in this case. Boost’s incredible Shrinking Payments plan actually reduces your monthly bill if you make your payments on time – up to a maximum savings of $15 per month. Your rate drops by $5 for every six months of on-time payments. So after 18 months of being a good customer, 4G will cost you just $40 a month. Add mobile hotspot capability for another $10.

When the Shrinking Payments plan launched only the HTC EVO Design 4G was available with it. Now, in August, 2013, you have a choice of over 20 next-generation phones, including shipping and a 30-day return privilege. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S III is going for $339 vs. $399 list price. Activation is free, there’s a 14-day money-back guarantee, and you can keep your old phone number with paying transfer fees.

Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk unlimited 4G plan costs just $35 a month, which includes 300 minutes of voice service. But don’t worry; you can buy voice minutes separately. Virgin Mobile sells the iPhone 5 16GB or 32GB for $550 and the iPhone 5 64GB for $750. Android phones include the Samsung Galaxy S III ($340) which is comparable to the Boost phone, and the slightly less fancy LG Optimus F3 ($153).

Note that the "unlimited" data plan has one important limitation. If you use more than 2.5 GB in a month, your data speed may be throttled to 256 kbps for the rest of that monthly plan cycle. (For reference, that's really slow -- about 30 to 40 times slower than 4G speeds.)

Prepaid 4G From T-Mobile, Verizon and Others

T-Mobile’s 4G service is based on HSPA+ and its 4G network has broader coverage than Sprint’s. The company offers a half-dozen prepaid Monthly4G plans with different data caps and combinations of voice minutes or text messages. Only the most expensive option ($70 per month) seems to offer truly unlimited voice, data, and messaging for one price. Pay no attention to the word “unlimited” on the other plans. T-Mobile’s prepaid 4G phones include the LG Optimus F3 ($300), Galaxy S II ($420), Google Nexus 4 ($492), Galaxy S III 16GB ($588) and the Nokia Lumia 521 ($204).

Verizon Wireless offers a prepaid 4G plan for $60 a month with 2GB of data or 4GB of data for another $10 a month, including unlimited text, voice. Two phones are available on this plan: the LG Optimus Zone ($53) or the Samsung Illusion ($67). Verizon also sells a prepaid mobile hotspot device called the Verizon Jetpack™ 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi® 4510L. The device costs $100. Service will cost you $15 a month for up to 250 MB of data weekly; $60 for up to 3 GB monthly; or $90 for 10 GB monthly.

MetroPCS offers 4G LTE service starting at $40/month. Smartphone options include the Lg Optimus F3 ($99), the Samsung Galaxy S 4 ($549), the LG Optimus L9 ($119), and the Samsung Galaxy S III ($399).

AT&T’s prepaid GoPhone offering has several 3G options, but I didn’t see any 4G phones available. I also searched for 4G offerings at Net10 and Tracfone, and came up empty again.

Smartphone Service for $0 per Month?

Okay, I promised to tell you about a way to use your smartphone without any monthly fees for talk, text or data. Here's the secret: Once you buy a prepaid phone, it's yours. You can drop the monthly 4G/cellular calling plan if you like. So what good is a smartphone without access to a cellular signal? In a word... wifi. If you're within range of the wireless router in your home, or a wifi hotspot away from home, you can use your smartphone to access the web, download and run apps, even send texts and make phone calls. See my articles Free Text Messaging Services and Free VoIP Calling on a Mobile Phone to learn how that works.

Of course, if you're not in range of a wifi network, you won't be able to make calls or access the Web. But wifi is becoming more and more common (see See How to Get Free Wireless Internet) and for some people it's a great alternative to paying $40, $60 or $80 per month to have always-on access to a cell tower.

Your thoughts are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "More Prepaid 4G Smartphones"

Posted by:

02 Sep 2013

Bob, Boost currently offers a free month's service if you buy selected Samsung phones. It's limited to online purchases.

But I have a question -- what if you have an operational iphone (mine's a 3g with an AT&T sim card).

Can you get 3g service on any of the pre-paid networks by using a iphone 3g with a new simcard? I'm not sure how to unlock this phone but at this point it is not worth much money it only has utility value! But that's something (sorta like my 19 yr old Ford Ranger).

Do you know who other than T mobile offers sim cards for iphone 3gs?


Posted by:

02 Sep 2013

Bob - You're tip on using WiFi with a smartphone is right on. I recently bought (online) an unlocked Galaxy SIII mini ($250 via Amazon) plugged in my T-Mobile Sim card which has voice/text pay as you go plan. When I'm in range of my home WiFi (which is most of the time) or any other open WiFi I have fast data. When I'm out of range I still have voice/text. Since I'm a T-Mobile "gold" customer (bought over $100 of time) my minutes last for a year. I don't use a lot of voice/text - so the $100 lasts a year - that's about $8 month. Can't beat that.

Posted by:

George Gordon
02 Sep 2013

Bob I use Straight Talk using T Mobil sim card on a Nexus 4 purchased through Google.Costs 45.00 with auto pay get a 2.50 discount. Voice text and data are all unlimited also Nexus 4 is 3g but switches to data when using my home network can't beat it better than Boost which I left when purchase of Nexus 4 was made.

Posted by:

02 Sep 2013

I'd also like to know how to use an iPhone 3gs on a prepaid service. And how to tell if my iPhone is unlocked from AT&T. It was a gift from a family member who upgraded, and they said they had it unlocked, but can I test that somehow?

Posted by:

03 Sep 2013

4G with the iphone 5 on Virgin Mobile starts at $30/month, if you pay monthly automatically with a credit or debit card(which I think most people would). About a week ago Virgin Mobile had a one day sale on the iphone 5, with 20%off making it $440 for that one day.

Posted by:

04 Sep 2013

Bob, Regarding the Verizon deals you mentioned: The Samsung Illusion is a 3G device, and the cost on Verizon's web site today is $99. That's what we paid a month ago through a Verizon store. There was a special offer for the phone a month or so ago, but it was only available with on-line purchase.

Posted by:

Rema Sah
08 Sep 2013

Fix to "Nokia Lumia 3g/4g not working"
Watch solution at following youtube video:

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- More Prepaid 4G Smartphones (Posted: 2 Sep 2013)
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