Americans, our mobile phones cost way too much

Americans, our mobile phones cost way too much

So it’s no secret that we’re moving back to the US in April. As can be expected, I’m starting to think about all the logistical things that we’ll need when we get there, particularly mobile phones.

Right now, Bex and I both have unlocked iPhones. We are prepaid customers with, a German MVNO of E-Plus. We spend probably something like a combined €40 a month for prepaid access on our phones. It costs us €0.09 for outgoing calls to any German number, €0.09 a text to any German mobile, and €10/month for 1GB of 3G data. This is fantastic. (Don’t want to go with Blau? Here’s a handy chart easily comparing the 14 different options.)

So, in the US, what are our options?

If we want to keep our iPhones, our choices are pretty limited.

We can either go with AT&T (and sign a new two-year contract). For two people (family plan), 550 minutes/month, unlimited texting and Internet on both phones: $170/month.

Or, we can keep my existing T-Mobile plan. In that case, we’re looking at $80/month for unlimited everything for one line, nearly double that (about $150) with another line. And, of course, because T-Mobile and AT&T use different 3G frequencies, we’re limited to EDGE speeds in the US.

Another possibility is H20 Wireless, the only AT&T MVNO in the US, which offers unlimited text/minutes and 1GB of 3G data at $120/month for two phones. They don’t get stellar reviews, but as far as I can tell this largely has to do with their terrible customer service and the fact that they claim to offer unlimited (which turns out not actually to be unlimited).

$120/month is obviously better than $170/month, but it’s obviously not as good as what we’ve been paying here in Europe (€40 or $53/month prepaid for two phones, including 3G.)

Of course, if we sell our iPhones and get something else, like an Android phone, then we can get better speeds on T-Mobile and their MVNO, Simple Mobile.

The worst part, in the US, we get charged for incoming calls as well! As far as I know, this is the only country in the world that does thing. Why can’t we have service in the US?

CTIA, I’m sorry, but you’re just ripping us off.

Photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano

Update (March 6, 2012): I just found out about Straight Talk, an AT&T MVNO that offers $45/mo for unlimited min/text/data. Recently, the company started offering a SIM-only plan (BYO phone), which can be used with the iPhone. Some folks like it so far. Very interesting.


  1. Please also consider the quality of 3G service. In the States and specially in CA we barely get 3G connection anywhere outside the big cities. But in France all the highways and roads were perfectly covered with 3G network.

  2. America Movil has a prepaid MVNO on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US as well – You can google straight talk sim or net 10 sim. Unlimited everything with data for $45 with their straight talk offering or 50 with their net 10 option. The net 10 option has some interesting international add-ons.

    Not as good as your German option, but not completely terrible for a US iphone simcard.

    Good luck!

    Adam C Taylor
  3. I’m always–always–amazed at the crappiness of mobile networks in the US, every time I’m home. My phone works so much faster in the middle of nowhere, in rural China or India. And, as you mentioned, we pay more for the privilege of crappy service (but I didn’t realize just how expensive it’s gotten, I never paid more than about $50/mo. for service in the states before). It’s good to hear that there may be a few more choices, thanks for the update!


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