Friday, October 18, 2013

Finding a Good, Cheap Cellphone Service: Part 1 My Plan with Ptel for $5/Month

Several friends have asked my recommendation of the cheapest deal on a cellphone service and I often write a long email explaining the pros and cons of different plans, but sometimes the deciding factor for them is something beyond cost like the availability of a certain model phone, coverage in their area, or family plan compatibility. Below I'll describe my current cellphone service and its pros and cons. I have a hunch that many Americans spend a lot more on their cellphones and plans than they might if they had more information, so this is my first attempt to inform.

My Plan: 

I've paid $5/month for my cell phone service for the past 6 months and can honestly say it's a great, reliable service and I don't feel like I've given up anything in transitioning from my previous $40/month plan from Sprint/Virgin Mobile. In fact I have over $10 in surplus credit that I haven't used which equates to about 2 months of normal service costs for me.

The service provider I use is Ptel, which is an MVNO (essentially a small carrier renting a bigger carriers network) that uses T-Mobile's network and has equal service of T-Mobile users and a 12 year track record of good service itself. I use their Pay As You Go plan and pay $10 in credit every 2 months as that's the minimum required to keep an account active and from this credit Ptel deducts 5 cents/minute, 2 cents/text, and 10 cents/ MB for data I use.

I also supplement Ptel's service with Google Voice's free service where I make free texts and calls from my computer through Gmail and phone when connected to WiFi (to make said free calls through my Android phone I use the GrooveIP app but the call quality tends to be lesser than via my laptop).

Given I'm so often at home I typically take advantage of this, but I don't hesitate to use my phone's cellular service through Ptel when out of the house for calls, texts, and data for all kinds of things including GPS navigation. Initially I was hesitant to use my phone for GPS navigation as I imagined the data usage would need to be constant, but you only need to have data on initially to search for the location you want to go to if you're not on WiFi, after that just turn your data connection back off and your navigation app of choice and GPS will give you voice-directed navigation at no additional data cost.

I know that this plan won't work for everyone, but for anybody who's frequently around WiFi and doesn't have huge data needs I think it's a good way to have the major benefits of having a smartphone and spend much less than a typical cell phone plan. You can also buy larger amounts of service credit if you need or you can try Ptel's $40/month and $50/month unlimited plans as well. Additionally most modern features of cell phone like International calling, Call Forwarding, MMS, Online Call Records and Bill Payment, Free information services calls (611 - PTel customer care, 711 - TRS for the hearing and speech impaired, and 911 are included in all Ptel plans.

My Assessment of Ptel:


  • Extremely Cheap - As low as $5/month and there's no tax or fees
  • Flexibility - No contract required and more credit can be purchased as needed
  • Works with any T-Mobile phone, Unlocked GSM (AT&T) phones, or Ptel's own phones
  • 12 Year Track Record with Good Reputation
  • 6 cents/minute International calling to many major countries(including Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Peru, Russia (Metro Moscow), Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and Venezuela) and varying rates to others
  • No Family Plan
  • No Free Minutes but I've found I've saved a lot by not paying for unlimited service
  • Rollover Minutes Expire
  • More Effort: If on Pay As You Go Plan you'll likely want to be conscious of keeping data off on your phone and possibly using Google Voice when around WiFi 
  • (maybe)T-Mobile Service: Less coverage and less speedier data than other carriers, though some of this is likely overblown by AT&T/Verizon marketing as I've had no problems. That said you should check T-Mobile coverage in the areas you'll be using your phone to make sure it's a good option
The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for me and I'm really enjoying my modern smartphone for $5/month. I did pay $250 for my phone but even including that expenditure over the course of my first year I'm going to save $150 from what I was spending, and will save over $400 the next year. If I were on an average plan from the 4 big carriers I'd likely be saving over $700/year with this plan.

Looking Ahead

In future posts I will walk through the steps I took to get my phone and plan running and make a chart of other low cost phone service options that use other networks, and possibly even a guide to to finding the best alternative for you beyond what the major carriers advertise as a normal plan or you're familiar with. If you have any questions or comments about my plan or about cellphones and their plans please leave a comment below.
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