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How to do a Data Only Smartphone Plan for $25/month

by weave on October 1, 2011

These days having a smartphone means spending $60/month or more for a base package of loads of minutes you may never use, text plan, and a mandatory data package.  But what if you could buy just data, run voice over the data plan, and use IM clients instead of text?   Well now you can.

There are some pre-requisites for the scheme I’ve tested:

  • Unlocked GSM phone that understands T-Mobile 1700/2100 3G/4G plan or a phone locked to T-mobile and supports VOIP or Skype. The VOIP provider must be a true provider and not fake, like Google Voice, that works by using mobile voice minutes instead of data.
  • A $25/month Prepaid Simple Mobile plan (or $45/month for more data if needed). Simple Mobile is an “MVNO” that basically buys in bulk T-Mobile service and resells it.
  • A VOIP provider if you want to make calls, like Skype or localphone

This isn’t for the faint of heart, it requires some manual configuration changes, reading web sites, and an understanding of how all this fits together.

The Simple Mobile FAQ for its data only plan, which is mainly geared towards laptops and tablets, states:

I don’t own a Tablet, can I use wireless broadband on my smartphone?
While the Wireless Broadband plans are primarily meant to be used on a Tablet, they will also work on your smartphone. Please note that voice calling and SMS text messaging is not provisioned with these plans. The Wireless Broadband plans are for data use only.

Internet Access

To make this work, you need a supported unlocked (or locked to T-mobile) smart phone and a new SIM from Simple Mobile first, then add the $25/month plan.  There are multiple ways to get the SIM. You can order it from Simple Mobile’s website for $12.99 or buy it from a number of those small mobile phone shops that are in strip shopping centers or farmer’s markets (they can charge like $25) or buy one from ebay or amazon.com for a buck or two.

When you get the SIM, it needs to be activated on Simple Mobile’s website.  To activate it requires paying the first month of the plan.  I tried this using a credit card and had problems, probably because of high-fraud rates with prepaid mobile plans. Instead I went to my corner shop and asked for a $25 voucher for Simple Mobile. They just hand you a receipt with a PIN. Enter this into the website instead.

Once activated, you are given a phone number which is all but useless. You can’t use it to make or receive calls or send/receive texts. Remember, this is a data only plan. But you can use the Internet on your smart phone once it’s configured for your device (instructions on their website).

Adding Voice

You can now add a Internet-based voice account.  These usually cost per-minute for calls placed, but it can be pretty cheap like a penny a minute.  So even if you talk for 1000 minutes, that’s just $10.  And if you get an incoming phone number, that can include unlimited free incoming minutes.   I have been using LocalPhone for about a year now and have two incoming phone numbers, one in US in area code 302, and another in UK.   Each costs me 99 cents a month and you can choose which of your numbers is used for Caller ID.  So yeah, I have a local number in UK and it is displayed as my Caller ID.    You can also use other providers, like Skype if your phone supports it (but it must also support making those calls over data, not cellular voice).

Once your account is set up, on the LocalPhone website go to your account info and find “Call using the Internet” and on that page is info for how to set up calling on your VOIP device. It includes your account ID and password to put into your phone.

VOIP doesn’t use much data, but it does use data. And that data will come out of your prepaid Simple Mobile balance, which is 750 megs for the $25/mo plant. If you run out, you’ll need to add another month of data. If you run out a lot, best bump up to $45/month plan for 2 gigs or think about using their unlimited $40/month data/voice/text plan (although reports are they limit your Internet speed horribly on that plan).

Warnings

  • Simple Mobile uses T-mobiles network, but unlike T-mobile proper, it doesn’t include roaming on other networks. So you only get coverage in T-mobile areas. That includes pretty much all decent sized population areas but if you’re going to visit your relatives in Montana, forget it (the entire state doesn’t have T-mobile service)
  • To get 3G (i.e., decent speed) requires a phone that understands T-mobile’s data frequencies.
  • iPhones and iPads require a Micro SIM, needs to be unlocked and it will only run at slower 2G/EDGE speeds. Not recommended.
  • To do voice, the phone needs to support some sort of VOIP service.  That’s going to cost you extra, but not much.
  • People can’t text you.  Hey, you want cheap, you can’t have everything.  Install an Instant Messaging client on your phone and use that for messages.
  • There’s other prepaid MVNO plans out there that use other networks, like AT&T, but I haven’t found a data-only plan this cheap and that will work on a smartphone.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren October 10, 2011 at 15:13

TMO and Wal-Mart are also teaming up to offer 100 minutes, unlimited texts, and unlimited data (2GB of 3G/4G) for $30 a month with no contract. And I believe it does include roaming on AT&T.

Supposed to be debuting on 10/16

Jason October 11, 2011 at 21:56

Have you tried groove ip and google voice for a voice solution?

weave October 12, 2011 at 03:26

@Lauren, thanks for the tip. Just recently heard about that as well. That blows the socks off of this plan and one can still use VOIP to supplement the low voice minutes.

@Jason, I already do use Google Voice. My Nokia N900 has no support for Google Voice though, and dialing numbers requires using voice minutes, which this data-only plan doesn’t use. Groove IP looks like a great way for Android users to make this sort of plan work even better than I can with my Nokia N900 since you can place calls over the data channel. Thanks for that tip!

jason October 14, 2011 at 19:33

Not sure of the details yet but came across this article today about a $30 4g plan that includes 100 voice minutes. http://www.androidguys.com/2011/10/03/tmobile-walmart-announce-walletfriendly-contract-4g-plan/

I am shopping around. Getting ready to ditch Verizon SOON! Will keep you posted.

mld March 8, 2012 at 09:42

I have an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S 4G, sould the phone be set up using phone settings or Tablet settings? Really curious if this is an active blog. . .

weave March 8, 2012 at 10:05

I’m not familiar with that device. But instructions are on their website:

http://www.mysimplemobile.com/Support-Center-Phone-Programming.aspx#Samsung

AC March 30, 2012 at 15:20

Hi… I currently live in the states and I’m looking for a smartphone that supports a data only plan as it can support VOIP. What did did u find? What carrier should I use? What smartphone should I get? What plan should I buy?

weave March 31, 2012 at 18:36

AC, you usually have better luck getting a prepaid option. Most of the prepaid operators are something called MVNO’s — they resell another carriers service. For example, SimpleMobile resells T-Mobile so if T-mobile doesn’t work in your area, that’s out of the picture. The other piece of the puzzle is to make sure that carrier works with your device. Not all phones work at 3G/4G with T-mobile. For example, the iPhone doesn’t. Finally you should ideally have an unlocked phone.

A great site for mobile phone info is the Howard Forums at http://www.howardforums.com/forums.php

tim April 14, 2012 at 16:15

weave,
I called simple mobile twice, talked to very nice gals, both stating I cannot buy a $25 data plan for my blackberry 9700 bold so I can do BBM only. Both stated I must purchase the $50 phone plan. What do you think?

weave April 14, 2012 at 17:10

It worked for me on a phone. I couldn’t place calls or text with it, but the data worked fine. I’m thinking they don’t know. Worth a try. If it doesn’t work, you can change the plan for the next month.

tim April 14, 2012 at 17:31

I’ve got an amazon simple moble sim card coming for a buck. If the 25 data plan does not work, no great loss. Wondering when you did your experiment? Since technology changes daily, maybe the ladies are updated. Thanks for your help!

One more question. If my wife wants to buy a iphone, I’d like to try the the following experiment to see if the bbm only (no voice or text) will work on her blackberry 9700 bold which now has an active voice, text, data account with T mobile. Slide out her active t mobile sim in her blackberry and install this simple moble sim and buy the data plan from simple mobile. If it works go buy an I phone and port the number. Think it will work, or do I have to call simple mobile and commit myself and port the number to another phone so the blackberry is not with a carrier?

Thank you in advance!

weave April 14, 2012 at 17:53

Reread the prerequisites at the top of the page. The phone itself has to be unlocked or locked to t-mobile. Similar applies to your iPhone for taking the blackberry SIM. It has to be unlocked to accept a t-mobile SIM. Note that I’ve read that AT&T will unlock iPhones that are now out of contract. But — and there’s always a but — the iPhone takes a smaller SIM than most other phones so it probably won’t even fit (you can cut the card if you are careful, Google around for some instructions on that…..)

Illinoisjoe July 2, 2012 at 14:18

regarding google voice: since you have the option to route the call to google talk (i.e. the gmail chat application), you don’t HAVE to use mobile minutes to place calls and thus this is a (clunky) VOIP option. One free app for the iphone that takes advantage of this is called “Talkatone”. It’s a bit buggy but also handles the text message problem too, since people can just text your GV number and it will show up in the talkatone app.

karenminnesota September 21, 2012 at 11:38

Tip/advice…I don’t want to ‘reup’ my contract with t-mobile to get a discount on a phone, but I wanted a large smart phone like the note. I was able to order this on amazon: PAE8000 Unlocked Android 4.0.3 ICS Mobile Phone 5 inch Screen GSM 3G Free Tether WiFi GPS AT&T T-Mobile no contract phone . Still waiting for it to arrive. It doesn’t have the correct t-mobile signal for 3g, but I’m willing to live with that…heck there’s always wifi in many places, and, I can use my t-mobile 4g hot spot that I already have if I want to get faster service via wifi on the new smart phone. I’ll use the other sim slot for my tmobile phone sim card. I’ll block data on that line so as to be sure not to be hit up with a data plan.. This phone cost less than $200 delivered. It is a gamble, I know, buying from a US based seller shipping from China, but, I decided to go for it. I’m just hoping that I can put my sim card into this unlocked phone and get 2g edge web services off of it. I find reading about frequences and bands extremely confusing, and I imagine many people do…but I have read rumblings about t-mobile upgrading or changing their band frquencies so I am holding out some hope that this sim will now bounce off of some AT&T towers and will allow me 3g in more places even though this phone I’m ordering only has these frequencies: 3G – 850/2100, 2G -850/900/1800/1900. Any input or thoughts from folks out there would be appreciated! )

karenminnesota September 21, 2012 at 11:42

I should add. I have two t-mobile sim cards, one for voice and text, one web only sim card. I am hoping to use both in this one dual sim phone, and be able to switch between the web on the one and voice/text on the other. I can’t get out of the t-mobile contract for a year, so I’m pretty much stuck.

Pissed Tmobile user September 28, 2012 at 18:05

I have prepaid Tmobile and now they block Google Voice when the minutes get low. The very time you want to make sure you care using GV. I tried every method to make sure calls went out on GV when I was on wifi and they were all routed against my minutes. This really sucks. I will be posting thing every where I can to make users aware.

Ron November 1, 2012 at 19:44

The text plus program for android is a good app you can spend 20$ for 1300 minutes im still currious about how u might unlock a free or cheap internet plan for your phone… Maybe just carry a hotspot around with you?

Wally March 12, 2013 at 14:23

Hi – I’ve spent nearly an entire day looking for a solution here. I have an iPhone 3GS and an Apple MacBook, and I’m on my boat, on the US east coast, travelling between VA and FL. Simple’s coverage isn’t complete, do you have another carrier you could recommend?
I want to be able to use my laptop without having to depend on wifi. Have been looking at mifi solutions, etc., as they provide a hotspot, but really, all I want is to be able to surf when I need to. I use skype for talk.
What do you recommend?

Prem December 4, 2013 at 13:16

Hi Weave, thanks for this informative post. I am curious, does this work on a Google Nexus 5 (I don’t expect you to know everything, but just a shot in the dark)

Prem December 4, 2013 at 13:16

btw, i meant an unlocked google nexus 5 (bought directly from google site)

weave December 4, 2013 at 14:31

I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.

Kevin Moore April 3, 2014 at 22:58

What about 911 calls? Lol, pretty sure Skype and other VoIPs like Google Voice do not support this.

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