New T-Mobile prepaid voice and data plans especially interesting for tourists

The U.S. prepaid mobile phone market is finally playing catch-up with the rest of the world. For years, prepaid options over here were lousy at best.

In recent months, we’ve already seen operators like Virgin Mobile and Verizon reduce their prices and offer better products for people looking for a prepaid way to make calls and get online.

Starting October 18, T-Mobile will be the next big operator to improve their prepaid plans, changing every aspect of what they have to offer.

Of course, the real advantage of prepaid voice and data is that you don’t lock yourself into a contract, and you don’t need to pass a credit check – making the plans ideal for short term use or tourists who can’t provide a Social Security Number.

The biggest change in the new plans is that prepaid customers can buy much larger bundles of minutes, messages and data – with a plan starting at just $1/day offering 1500 texts/minutes and 30MB of data. Even heavy users are taken care of, with a $70 unlimited talk/text plan that offers a generous 2GB of data.
The new plans:

New T-Mobile Prepaid Monthly Phone Data Plans:

  • $70/month Unlimited Talk and Text with 2 GB of Data
  • $50/month Unlimited Talk and Text with 100 MB of Data
  • $30/month 1,500 Talk and Text (mix and match voice and text messages) with 30 MB of Data
  • Unlimited Text and $0.10/minute
  • $1.49/day Web DayPass

New T-Mobile 3G mobile broadband data packages:

  • $10 week pass (100 MB)
  • $30 month pass (300 MB)
  • $50 month pass (1 GB)

Along with the launch of the new data plan, T-Mobile will also introduce a new prepaid USB modem, complete with a SIM card and online connection manager.

Gadling gear review – Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service is one of the only true pay as you go mobile broadband products on the market. The service is as simple as it gets – you buy the adapter at your local Best Buy for $149.99, then you add money using your debit/credit card, or a prepaid Virgin top-up card (available at thousands of retailers) whenever you need to get online.

The adapter

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go adapter is made by Novatel Wireless. It is the same top of the line adapter sold by many other mobile operators. The adapter itself is quite small, and comes with the installation software stored in flash memory (for Windows and Mac). The adapter also features a built in MicroSD card reader, which means you can pop a card in and use your mobile broadband adapter to store important files.

Installing the adapter is simple – you plug it into a spare USB port, let the autorun installer do its work, and at the end, it’ll open a registration page. Once you provide some basic personal information, you go through a quick programming procedure, and the modem is ready to use.

The Virgin Mobile broadband service

The service itself is great – Virgin Mobile uses Sprint as their network provider. The Sprint broadband network is everything it should be – reliable coverage and good speeds. I did 10 different speed tests all around my area, and the average speed was always well over 1 mbps, which is on par with many residential DSL speeds.

When you plug the adapter into your machine (after installing), it activates the connection manager. Simply click connect, and you are online. I tested the connection extensively, and actually found it to be extremely smooth. On several occasions, I had switched from my home broadband to the Virgin Mobile service without even noticing any drop in speed.

The cost

This is sadly where we reach the one downside to the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service – the price. There is no way to beat around the bush – the Broadband2Go service is not cheap. To use the service, you pick from one of four different plans:

$10 – Expires in 10 days – 100MB data allowance
$20 – Expires in 30 days – 250MB data allowance
$40 – Expires in 30 days – 600MB data allowance
$60 – Expires in 30 days – 1GB data allowance

As you can see, access does not come cheap. That said – if you have ever spent $20 to access the WiFi in a hotel, you’ll find a $60 investment for one month of speedy access to be quite reasonable. For comparison – a postpaid mobile broadband account from one of the major operators costs the same as the 1GB plan on Virgin Mobile, but those plans usually come with a 5GB limit. In other words, for the luxury of no contract and no monthly fees, you lose 4GB each month.

There is however one major advantage to the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service – there is absolutely no commitment involved. You can add credit to your account when you need it, and if you don’t select an auto-replenish option, you will never be charged a penny for not using the service. Personally, I find the expiration periods (10 days/30 days) to be too short and the data allowance on the $60 plan is just too low.

Final thoughts

The pros of the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service outweigh the cons. The adapter is good, the speeds and coverage are good, and the connection software is well made. The cost upfront for the adapter and the price for access are a pain to deal with, but since Virgin Mobile is one of the only real pay as you go options, you won’t have any other choices. Other non-commitment services on the market include:

Verizon Wireless Daypass
– $15 for 24 hours unlimited usage.
Cricket Wireless – $40/month for unlimited data but the service
Slingshot – from $24.95/month (at the moment, no retailer appears to be selling this service)
Rovair – $63/3 days (Rovair is a mobile broadband card rental service)

There are several obvious target audiences for the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service. For starters, it is a great way for foreign tourists to get online if they are staying in the United States without any other connectivity option. With mobile data roaming rates around $20/MB, picking Virgin Mobile could save them a fortune.

I’m also convinced that anyone else who is regularly on the road could benefit from the service – keeping the adapter in your bag for emergencies is a great way to access the Internet when things turn sour. There are no costs involved in keeping the service active, and you can be online in a matter of minutes for just $10, as long as you are within range of the Sprint network.

The Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go service only works in the US, and there is no option to roam. Since the adapter works on the CDMA sysyem, it will be of no use to anyone in Europe and there is no unlocking option that can make it work elsewhere.

Keeping in mind the this is the only real prepaid service available at the moment, I’m going to give the Mobile2Go service my two thumbs up.

Fly in South Africa – and pay by the minute

An upstart airline in South Africa is working hard to find somewhere to rent their planes and clear regulatory hurdles for their planned routes. Of course, upstart airlines are nothing new, they appear (and disappear) every month.

Airtime Airlines is different though, and grabbed our attention thanks to an innovative new pricing method.

The airline has taken a cue from the mobile phone industry, and plans to sell prepaid flight time, where passengers pay by the minute.

Basically, passengers will buy “air time” in advance. Flight time will cost 5 Rand per minute (about 53 cents) and the airline is quick to point out that the predetermined flight time is what you pay, regardless of any delays on the ground.

Of course, with just 3 routes (Durban to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth), the entire scheme sounds too wacky to succeed. If the whole prepaid plan doesn’t sound complicated enough, they are making things even harder by implementing fluctuating “top off rates”. The current rate of 5 Rand per minute could go up and down, depending on promotions and a host of other factors.

At the end of the day, the whole thing will result in fluctuating airfares, just like on every other airline in the world.

Still, upstart airlines are what shake up the industry, and we really need innovations like this to remind the legacy carriers that they are not going to get away with poor service and bad airfares forever.

(Airtime Airlines, via Wired)