Down the Prepaid Cellular Rabbit Hole (Part One)

Good morning friends and fellow hackers!

In today’s article, I’m going to give you a little bit of background about my preferred prepaid cellular carrier, PagePlus Cellular, why I came to choose them despite their lack of notoriety, and how you too can get a new phone and a big network without a contract, by dancing around the “rules” a little bit.

Firstly, “who the heck is PagePlus Cellular?”

I’m glad you asked. They are a prepaid MVNO (that’s ‘Mobile Virtual Network Operator’, meaning they don’t own or run the network, they just pay to borrow it) based in Ohio, with an estimated customer base of 1 million users. They utilize Verizon’s towers as their primary network and as a result, get all the same coverage and features as any Verizon customer. In addition, Verizon’s ‘Extended Network’ contract with Sprint also applies to PagePlus customers. This means that where there is Sprint, but no Verizon, PagePlus users also get service, at their regular rates, although their roaming indicator may come on. That’s an awful lot of coverage for a prepaid!

“If they’re so great, why haven’t I heard of them?”

You probably have if you gas up your own car. PagePlus doesn’t run any walk-in stores, or advertise on TV or in the newspaper. This is a cost-cutting measure. Instead, their dealers (who work as individuals, often with no storefront to speak of) sell service and new or recycled phones at low prices at gas stations and convenience stores. This is the same sales model popularized for prepaid service throughout Asia, and it has been extremely successful there. If you’ve ever seen a banner sign outside a gas station with a big red owl graphic on it, they sell PagePlus airtime there, and possibly phones.

“So why choose them? There are lots of prepaids out there!”

There sure are. Very few offered such affordable service, though. With the PagePlus standard plan, a $10 card would get me 100 minutes, a $25 card gets me 416 minutes, and the $50 gets me 1,000 minutes. Text messages are 5 cents; data access is 99 cents per megabyte.

Of course, that will barely satisfy the connection appetite of a modern American. If you want something a little beefier, with a lower per-unit cost, they have that, too. They have monthly plans available for as little as $12 every 30 days, getting you 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 10MB of data. I use a plan that is $55/mo for unlimited anytime/anyone/anywhere talk, unlimited text, and 2 gigs of data. You can go as high as $69/mo and get the same unlimited talk and text with 5 gigs of data, at Verizon’s 3G speeds. PagePlus is limited to using only the 3G network at this time.

“Oh, so THAT must be the catch! You’re limited to 3G service, and only 3G phones!”

They are 3G only. That’s not a huge limit, though. Verizon’s 3G CDMA network (known as 1xEVDO) carries speeds up to 3.1 megabits (more than enough to watch a show on Netflix) and I can easily get 1 megabit in areas with a bad signal. Checking Facebook is no problem, streaming internet radio is great, and sharing pictures takes only seconds. It’s the same exact service that Verizon customers pay more for if they don’t have LTE (4G) in their area, or an LTE capable phone. The difference is that we pay less for it, and skip the contract, credit check, and even having to give them our real names.

“Sure, but all the new phones are 4G/LTE! You can’t use them!”

That is not exactly true. I carry an LTE Samsung Galaxy Nexus (the Verizon model) right now, and have it activated with PagePlus. My girlfriend has one, too. You can’t just call up PagePlus and get it activated, but if you tell them you’ll program it yourself, they’re more than willing to assign your account to that phone’s serial number or “MEID”.

Maybe you’ve heard of using a “donor phone” to get some new phones onto a prepaid such a PagePlus, Boost, Next-G, Talk-for-Good, or others? That’s what the “flashing services” that advertise online will typically do, and they charge $40 to $100 to do it. Well, I have good news for you. You no longer have to buy a donor which is rendered useless in order to get service activated on these new LTE phones. You also don’t have to pay someone else to do it. In my next article I’ll introduce you to an affordable donor phone (the Samsung Fascinate) which you can use over and over again, and also show you how to do the process right, with links to the needed software, and screenshots!

Following my tutorial, you can get the keys and passwords needed to activate a Sprint or Verizon Galaxy Nexus, A Verizon Galaxy S3, or even a Sprint HTC Evo (including Shift and EVO LTE) on Verizon-based prepaids such as PagePlus, Next-G, and Talk-for-Good.

Stay tuned, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you in my next installment!

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