Bye, Sprint, hello Straight Talk

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Well, I did it. I joined the ranks of people who scare the cr*p out of wireless carriers — prepaid users!

Mostly I’ve done it because Sprint pissed me off one final time™
Out of major carriers Sprint has been one of the last one(s) to offer unlimited data (now T-Mobile is back with their new unlimited plans) plus their prices used to be alright. Night and weekends from 7pm, unlimited mobile to any mobile, US+Canada messaging (yeah, I was surprised to learn that they don’t charge extra for texting people Up North), 450 “anytime” minutes, unlimited data, WiMax. Not bad. Plus I had a discount. Then they added “FU Smartphone Users” $10 fee, cancelled special hardware update perks, and in the last billing cycle wrote that I need to “re-confirm eligibility when upgrading your phone”. I know, they’re short of money, but cutting more and more of perks brought their price to the point where prepaid plans are cheaper. Their 3G is waaaay slow, WiMax is still spotty if you’re on the go, and upcoming LTE network is a bit off.

So I went back to GSM. Specifically, to Straight Talk. It took me a while to figure out which one of the MVNOs to choose. Practically all of them have a full range of plans, and generally all have sucky data options. I chose ST because:
a) they give you a choice between AT&T’s network and T-Mobile’s network, so I am familiar with the coverage, and you can use locked phone with corresponding SIM card.
b) $45 buys you unlimited talk/text/international text/data

Wow. I mean Sprint still charges you *for receiving* of international text messages. And here everything is included. I don’t use that many minutes for talk, but their $30 plan has only 30Mb of data, so, that was a no-go. AT&T’s network is bigger in my area, so I went with that. Minus is that you have to buy their SIM for $15 (unlike all the other providers, where SIM is a dollar) but I wrote it off as an “activation fee”.

Good:
– Native AT&T coverage
– International text is included
– Unlimited minutes
– Voice mail included
– Samsung Galaxy S II SkyRocket works just fine
– HSPA+ network is faster than both Sprint 3G and WiMax (I hit 3Mbps down)

Meh:
– Visual Voice Mail is not supported (the AT&T’s one, though iPhone version also doesn’t work)
– No LTE per APN restriction — don’t care much as HSPA+ is fast enough, though in retrospect it means I would have been better off with unlocked T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II, giving me more options should I decide to switch to T-Mobile’s SIM
– No call log/text log. Not critical, as minutes are unlimited, but sometimes it’s convenient to be able to log into your online account and copy/paste phone numbers etc

Bad:
– Data shenanigans, and it’s the biggest minus (but mostly on AT&T’s SIM plan).

Specifically — even though technically data is unlimited, people all over the web report that if you use it “too much” you get a warning, or get severely throttled, or outright cancelled for terms violation. That “too much” is very squishy and general consensus is that if you use under 2Gb a month and under 100Mb a day, you’re safe. I don’t use _that_ much data as I’m generally around WiFi networks, and so far I haven’t had any throttling and/or warnings. For those on T-Mobile SIM there seems to be less of a problem (perhaps T-Mobile charges Tracfone/Movil less, or their network is not overloaded like AT&T’s is). If you get terminated for using too much data, you have to call the support and ask them to turn your account back for a bit to be able to port number out (only active account allows porting out, but if you don’t care about your phone number that’s probably not an issue).

Another problem is that data is not very reliable. Frequently APN would just disconnect/become unresponsive after my phone is on WiFi for a long time. This manifests in data connection just “going away” (indicator shows that it’s connected, packets are outgoing, incoming once in a while, nothing works). Generally speaking after a bit it all comes back (sometimes it helps to switch phone to Plane mode for a while and then back, or do a quick reboot). Once it comes back, everything is fast and great. This doesn’t bother me too much, not yet anyway.

I also performed a number port, and that was an adventure. Looking back, I realize that I should have just ported my number when I activated freshly purchased SIM card. Instead I decided to run around with both phones and see which one fares better. But…

To port you have to call support and have a new SIM card shipped to you. I don’t know why, but their system simply doesn’t support re-programming of the phone number. So I’ve spent about 30 minutes talking to the support lady, then she shipped me out a new SIM with my ported number. Current temporary number got deactivated. Shipping took a few days (everything was free). Once I got the SIM, I had to call them again, to finish porting. That took another 40 minutes or so.

Representatives were very polite but it’s just a slow and tedious process. Then I was instructed to wait until my old Sprint phone stops working, and turn my phone back with the new SIM. All the remaining balance I had (about 20 days of unlimited plan) was successfully transferred. About an hour or two after finishing that lengthy chat number ported 🙂 New phone said “Welcome to AT&T, your number porting is now complete”.

I should have simply ported number at the beginning, so if you know that coverage is fine in your area, just do that.

Otherwise, it’s a pleasant experience. And at $45 a month surely beats dealing with Sprint’s “let’s cut another little thing” issues.
Perhaps, when Sprint rolls out LTE everywhere I’ll switch to Ting. For now, Wal-Mart reselling Tracfone reselling AT&T is fine with me. Oh, and I get to roll custom roms on Galaxy S II 🙂 AOKP JB ROMS FTW!

Update: As of October 2012 the data troubles seem to be gone, and I haven’t had issues with switching between Wi-Fi and HSPA+ in my area

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