Tuesday, October 11, 2011

AT&T’s GoPhone plans offer mobile web and email, Canada and Mexico roaming

Folks -- sorry.  As of 4-22-12, AT&T changed their GoPhone plans.  The only way you can get data on a smartphone now is by buying a $25 or $50 package each month.  This means that I can no longer recommend AT&T's GoPhone service as a good, inexpensive choice for someone needing minimal data and voice. 

I am pretty impressed with the capabilities and reasonable rates of AT&T’s GoPhone plans:
Here's how it works. Buy a GoPhone (there are phones as cheap as $10 at the local department store, and you can see phones online). I myself have an old Blackberry that is unlocked. Any GSM phone that is unlocked should work on AT&T's network. If you buy a new phone from AT&T, you might want to consider a phone that has mobile web and email along with a full QWERTY keypad. These seem to start at about $50. The GoPhones in a local Fred Meyer were far less expensive than the phones in the AT&T store.
Next, buy $15, $25, $50, or $100 cards so you have time in your phone. The $15 card only lasts 30 days. The $25 card lasts 90 days. The $100 card is good for an entire year. I personally think that the $25 card is the best deal and works best for me.
If you buy another card and renew before the time expires (eg 90 days for a $25 card), then any unused amounts roll over.
Here’s what I did. This procedure will be the same for folks that buy a new AT&T GoPhone:
I already had an unlocked Blackberry that I bought last year on Ebay for $100 (an unlocked T-Mobile Blackberry, which is a quad-band phone that will work on GSM networks around the world). I went to the AT&T store today, and they confirmed that their GoPhone SIM card did indeed work in my old Blackberry. It cost $15 plus tax to activate the card. If I do not keep the phone active (eg buy $25 every three months), then the phone will become inactive, and I will have to pay this fee again.
With the $25 card, I have a choice of buying a data plan also. $5 for 10Mb, $15 for 100 Mb, etc. I chose the $15 plan. This comes out of the $25 prepaid card, leaving me with $10 for voice calls. I chose the $0.10 per minute plan.
If I roam and use the phone in Canada, my calls within Canada will cost $0.39 per minute. I see that there will be data roaming charges of $0.0195 per KB.

Here’s the web page explaining international roaming rates:

As usual, I knew more than the store representatives about their plans. The clerk who initially helped me stated that it was not possible to use a GoPhone in Canada or Mexico. I asked him to check the internet, then directed him to the above page. While he was browsing that page, I picked up a few brochures about the GoPhone. Every single brochure, as well as the very large poster on the wall, explained that roaming in Canada and Mexico was now possible!
I am thrilled with being able to have email and web access on a phone, using AT&T’s GoPhone service, at what could be as low as $25 every three months, which works out to $8.33 per month or $100 per year. I am also thrilled to have a phone that will work in Canada and Mexico at reasonable rates. Awesome!
Please note that I am using my old Blackberry as a simple smartphone for web and email, but at these rates and on this plan, I don't believe that I can use the Blackberry's email and web services. Instead, I am using Opera as my web browser, and Gmail for my email. I am not getting push-email, which is Blackberry's killer app. This is too bad, but for this budget, I am not at all unhappy.

Update 11-30-11:
OK, I've now had the plan for a couple of months, and I've learned the following.
1. Texting and voice calls while in Canada worked, both to and from my phone while in Canada (For newbies, this is "international roaming"). However, even though AT&T's website lists a rate per Kb of data while roaming in Canada, I was unable to get data while in Canada. It may be as simple as calling AT&T and asking them to allow my phone to have international access. I somehow doubt it will be that easy, however. I am sick and tired of calling phone companies and knowing more about their plans and services than the agent that I am talking to.
2. This really is a heck of a good deal for voice calls and email service in the US. There are many options, but this is how I am using and paying for this plan. I pay $25 and this keeps my phone active for three months. Out of this $25, voice calls are 10 cents per minute. I rarely make voice calls so this suits me. Also out of this $25, I purchased a $15 data plan that gave me 100 Mb of data. The first month, I used less than 10 Mb of data. I signed up to automatically purchase $5 worth of data each month, which gives me 10Mb of data each month. By doing this, the extra data that I purchased initially and did not use rolls over every month.
I now have a phone that I can use for voice calls and to check my emails everywhere in the US, for less than $100 per year. Awesome. I don't have the patience to use the Opera web browser much at all, so I am only using this for emails (web access is very slow and frustrating on this phone too).

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