After being laid off from work (which paid for my entire cell phone plan, but graciously gave me the phone–Samsung Galaxy S3–as a parting gift), I was on the search for a new carrier/plan.  I wanted to keep my monthly costs as low as possible, which meant keeping my existing phone and avoiding the major carriers (who’s cheapest plans are still not that cheap and often require contracts).  I considered joining the family plan with my parents, but they used Sprint, which wouldn’t be compatible with my phone.  So, I started checking out the MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) — the ones advertising cheap, no contract, monthly and pay-as-you go plans.  You’ve probably heard of them before: Cricket Wireless, H2O Wireless, Metro PCS, Straight Talk, etc. (full list here).  Simply put, they buy minutes/data/access at wholesale rates from the carriers (who actually own the mobile network infrastructure) and set their own retail rates to the customers they acquire, manage, and serve.

My Choice and Why

I ended up choosing the H2O Wireless $30 monthly plan ($27 with 10% auto-pay discount) for a number of reasons:

  1. I had an AT&T phone that wasn’t unlocked (at the time), which means it wouldn’t work under most GSM-based MVNO, but would work with H2O which uses AT&T’s network
  2. No contracts meant I could try the service out and if I wasn’t happy (with speeds, coverage, etc.) I could cancel at any time
  3. The SIM cards were cheap (if bought online) and allowed me to have the SIM ready to go when porting my number to the carrier (vs. doing it online and having to wait a few days for the SIM to arrive–I couldn’t risk not having an active phone/number during those few days)
  4. It was the cheapest I could find for the level of service I wanted
  5. I am generally connected to WiFi most of the day, so only  having 500MB didn’t seem like a problem; I knew I could always upgrade plans at any time if needed
  • $27 monthly price (equivalent of $324/year) after 10% auto-pay discount
  • No contract, all-in price (no additional taxes, fees, etc.)
  • 4G LTE speeds (see my article on 4G LTE speeds)
  • Unlimited talk, text, and MMS (like most, they have fine print defining “unlimited”)
  • Unlimited International talk and text to 50+ countries (see list here–mostly landlines)
  • $10/month International Talk credit (including to cell phones)
  • Cheap SIM card ($0.01)
  • Easy phone configuration/setup
  • Good coverage and utilizes major carrier’s network
  • Works with unlocked AT&T phones
  • 500MB monthly limit (can choose more expensive plans with higher data allocations)
    • Note: when H2O plans were on 4G speeds, there was no “throttling” after the data limit was reached; I haven’t tested since upgrading to 4G LTE (but will update once I do) [UPDATE 3/9/15 — same is true for 4G LTE ]
  • Occasional disconnects from the network (it will say “Access Forbidden” in a web browser; switch in and out of airplane mode to fix it, essentially reconnecting to the network) [UPDATE 3/9/15 — this seems to have gone away with 4G LTE ]
  • MMS occasionally slow/delayed (haven’t found a pattern or a fix) [UPDATE 3/9/15 — this seems to have gone away with 4G LTE ]
  • 30-day pricing not technically “monthly”

4G Phone Configuration

[UPDATE 3/9/15 — See my Ultimate Guide to H2O Wireless 4G LTE here with new APN settings.]

In Android (4.3), go to Settings.  On the Connection tab, click on More Networks > Mobile networks > Access Point Names.  Click on the “+” at the bottom to create a new APN and fill in where applicable:

Setting Entry
Name: Your choice
APN: att.mvno
Port: 80
Username: Not set
Password: Not set
Server: Not set
Multimedia message proxy:
Multimedia message port: 80
MMC: 310
MNC: 410
Authentication Type: None (Note: this is different than “Not set”)
APN Type: default,supl,mms
Bearer: Unspecified
Mobile virtual network operator type: None (Note: this is different than “Not set”)

Click the Menu button and click Save. Select the new APN (whatever you named it) from the list.  Restart.

Final Thoughts

At the time of writing this, the cell phone carriers seem to be in an all out price war to compete for market share, which is great for the customer.  They seem to be employing plenty of marketing tactics: low monthly fees, no contracts, phone discounts, hefty contract buyouts, family and friend plans, and bill cutting events among others.  So, you might as well take a look and see if you can get the same (or better) service for a lot less.

Readers, have you recently switched cell phone plans?  Found a good deal?  Share in the comments.