Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are the industry's best-kept secret. Companies like TracFone resell surplus airtime on the leading cellular networks, at a fraction of the cost and free of recurring monthly obligations.
Pop this SIM into your unlocked smart phone (works well with iPhone, not just Android phones), purchase airtime on the TracFone Web site (requires initial Internet access, of course), and you'll have affordable cell phone service tailored to your actual usage.
What differentiates TracFone is that you need not choose a recurring monthly plan. You can, if your usage remains the same every month, but you also have the option of strictly "paying as you go". The text messages, minutes of talk time, and megabytes of cellular data that you purchase are not for one month at a time. They carry over indefinitely, as long as you make some sort of purchase to keep the SIM active.
Data is by far the most expensive component of cell phone service. I recommend using iOS or Android settings to limit cellular data usage. For example, why pay a leading carrier for unlimited data, just so you can download software updates? Update at home, over WiFi! Do you really need your phone to check automatically for new e-mail messages every minute? Can you buy your favorite songs and sync them to your phone (storage capacity at a given price point doubles every year or two), instead of paying over and over again to stream them on the cell network?
Best of all, if you use GSM (this kit contains TracFone-branded SIMs for the nation's two leading GSM carriers, and for one of the two CDMA carriers), upgrading to a new phone requires no intervention from a carrier. Just pop this SIM out of your old phone and pop it into your new phone!
TracFone does have some limitations:
- TracFone-branded SIMs work only in the US. To make calls while traveling, buy a SIM in the foreign country.
- TracFone-branded SIMs allow receiving SMS text messages from foreign numbers, but not sending to foreign numbers. On an iPhone, iMessages to and from other Apple users all over the world will still work. On Android, use a third-party messaging app.
- TracFone has horrible customer service, all of which is outsourced to the Philippines. If you stick to buying airtime on the Web site, you'll never need to call. (Porting your phone number from another carrier occasionally requires calling in.)
- Support for WiFi calling is uncertain.
- There is no support for visual voicemail.