What Your Unlocked Smartphone Can Do For You: Some Contract-Free Options for the Contract-Bound

I ordered an iPhone 4S last week as my Christmas gift this year, and expect to receive my beloved iPhone within the next two days. Since I own a locked Samsung Galaxy S3 with US Cellular, I cannot sign a contract with another phone carrier; I can, however, purchase an unlocked smartphone and select a prepaid plan by which to operate my new smartphone. Since many tech lovers like me want more than one device to use simultaneously, it is best to purchase an unlocked smartphone while keeping voice and data costs low at the same time. There are both mobile virtual network operators and actual network operators. You need to know about both in order to make an informed decision.

To this end, there are contract-free options available for those who want to own two or more smartphones for various reasons. One non-contract smartphone option available is a program called Straight Talk. Straight Talk SIM cards can be purchased at retail stores such as WalMart and Target and require only $45 a month. Straight Talk provides you with unlimited voice and text messaging, plus 100MB of data each day. Straight Talk is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), a prepaid option that uses another well-known carrier network by which to operate. MVNOs often use other carriers and actual carrier networks; Straight Talk uses both AT&T and T-Mobile networks to provide its data and voice plans. AT&T has a wonderful 4G service but fails in its other areas such as dropped calls, according to a recent Consumer Reports study. T-Mobile, on the other hand, provides only EVDO 2G speeds. T-Mobile has been improving its cellular service in the hopes of attracting additional iPhone customers. Currently, T-Mobile has one million iPhone customers and provides excellent iPhone carrier service in fifteen cities in the United States. If you intend to purchase an iPhone, you may want to consider using your Straight Talk service with T-Mobile. The advantage of Straight Talk is that it provides both AT&T and T-Mobile voice, text, and data services for half the cost of the same services provided at both independent carrier networks.

FreedomPop is another virtual network operator that relies on an independent carrier and carrier network. In the case of FreedomPop, it relies on Sprint’s WiMax service and provides both WiFi and 4G services. When you sign up for the service, you are granted 500MB initially and can increase your free data amount through tasks offered by the provider (reading a poem, clicking on a link to visit a site, friend referrals, etc.). FreedomPop offers fourth-generation iPod Touch cases, iPhone cases, and WiFi hotspot devices (FreedomPop Photons) for purchase. These devices require a one-time fee of $99.

FreedomPop works in this manner: you are provided 0.5GB (500MB) of free data; should you get within 100MB of exceeding this free data, you will be billed an additional $10 for an additional 1GB of data. While this data plan comes out to $50 for 5GB of data (the same plan I have with US Cellular), you will not find another carrier that provides free data – nor offering you free data through easy tasks and friend referrals. Both plans provide excellent options for customers who, like me, want to remain in their contract plans while exploring their smartphone horizons.