Friday, June 06, 2008

The Cheapest Cell Phone Service

The cheapest cell phone service

Let's say that you are looking to find the least expensive cell phone service in America. For example, say you want to have a cell phone strictly for "emergency purposes", so you aren't going to use it much if at all on a month to month basis. Or let's say that you want to have a phone that you do not plan to use very much -- say 20 or 30 minutes a month.

I've looked around, and as best I can tell I think that Virgin Mobile is the cheapest way to go. Virgin has a pay-as-you-go cell phone service. Here's how it works:
You have to buy a phone from Virgin. The cheapest one you can get right now is a Nokia phone available at Wal-Mart (or the Virgin site) for $39.

You have to buy a "top-up card" to put minutes on the phone (or you can use a credit card through the web site). The cheapest top-up card is $20, and you must top-up every 90 days even if you don't use the phone.

If you use the phone, you pay 25 cents per minute for the first 10 minutes every day, and then 10 cents per minute after that. There are no long-distance or roaming fees with Virgin.
For a zero-usage phone, you will be paying $20 every 90 days to keep your number active. If you use the phone for 20 minutes a month at the rate of a minute or two every other day, you'll pay 25 cents a minute, so you will actually use the $20 that you put on the phone. In other words, whether you use the phone for 0 minutes per month or 20 minutes per month, it costs the same.

If you assume that the phone lasts 24 months, and it costs $39, you are paying $1.63 per month for the phone. $20 divided by 3 months works out to $6.67 per month. So that means that it costs $8.30 per month for cell phone coverage using Virgin.

My question is this: Does anyone know of a less expensive way to get low-usage cell phone service in the United States?

# PermaLink -

I believe any cell phone can dial 911, even without an active service plan. If that is indeed true, all you need for an emergency plan is a phone - no service plan required.

# posted by COD : 2:50 PM

In Canada I know all deactivated cells are still able to call 911.

Marshall, it is funny because I came up with the same conslusion with Virgin up here. It is definitely cheaper if you are a low usage customer.

However my provider has me locked in indefinitely because of discontinued plan that I refuse to drop because it is pretty sweet.

# posted by Jon : 3:03 PM

Marshall, I run the website so I get these types of questions all the time (it's a cell phone news/review site).

I set my mom up with 7Eleven's SpeakOut service. It's a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) just like Virgin Mobile USA. The difference is that minutes on SpeakOut last for one year, so you don't have to re-up every three months if you didn't use it.

Minutes are a flat $.20/minute. My mom doesn't make any long calls, so the Virgin plan isn't ideal. For her use cycle it is very very cheap. I think she's only had to buy airtime.

After rebate I think the phone cost about the same as Virgin's (and it also came with something like $10 in airtime).

# posted by Jon Gales : 3:44 PM


I use T Mobile To Go (prepaid) and my cost is similar to what you quoted. I also think the awareness of hours caused by having to recharge the phone curbs excessive usage.

They also let you keep your minutes for a year.

# posted by K Wendelken : 7:07 PM

My uses and says it is the cheapest she found. The math is all to confusing for me :)

# posted by Anonymous : 9:26 PM

I have a feeling when you say "emergency" you mean "calling the wife" rather than "calling 911". There's "911 phones" that dial only 911 like this. For "calling the wife" 20 minutes a month, virgin sounds cheapest.

# posted by Anonymous : 6:08 AM

I know another way. It is extremely cheap.

When you want to make a call, use a fixed line phone. Or beter, use a pay phone (yep, they exists. Really, they do. It's no joke.). Or even better: borrow a phone of one of your co-worker.

If you don't have a co-worker, then why don't you wait until you get home? Since when does the world depend on you, making a call within 3 minutes?

Really love your work, marshall! Keep it up! We need more people like you! You know, the people that tell the truth!

Technology is a thrill, you know. I really live for it!

# posted by Anonymous : 5:18 AM


Check out STI Mobile at $0.12 per minute fixed with no expiration and runs on the Sprint PCS network, same as virgin mobile. I recently switched from Virgin mobile and am very satisfied. There's a lot of discussion over at if you're curious.

Really enjoying your blogs -- I was in your CSC102 class (Think Pascal on theold macs) back in the day at NCSU. Glad to see that things have gone well for you.

- Charles


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