Piggybacks on: Clearwire, Sprint
Starts at: $0/month for 200 voice minutes/500 texts/500MB data
In business since: 2011
FreedomPop's claim to fame: Free service. Whether you bring your own phone or buy a refurbished HTC EVO 4G or Samsung Galaxy SII ($109 and $159, respectively), you'll get a monthly stipend of sorts: 200 voice minutes, 500 text messages and 500MB of data. If you hit those caps, extra data runs 2.5 cents per megabyte and a penny per voice minute or text message — competitive rates all around. There are also monthly and annual plans for users who want unlimited calling and messaging, though data remains capped at 500MB.
But FreedomPop's website borders on user-hostile, providing no information about phones, plans or coverage unless you first enter a ZIP code and email address. Even then, it's extremely difficult to browse the available options. And where I live in metro Detroit, there's no coverage, meaning FreedomPop has yet to expand beyond Sprint's Clearwire WiMax network — at least for phone service. It's available in only about 18 major metropolises.
Thus, for the moment, FreedomPop's promise of free service is mired under the weight of vague options and services, and limited availability.
Piggybacks on: T-Mobile
Starts at: $40/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 250MB data
In business since: 2013
Hate the idea of paying $40 to $50 per month to a greedy, faceless corporation? You might feel a little better knowing some of that money is going to a good cause. Giv Mobile donates 8% of your plan payment to one of your choice of charities, including the American Red Cross, Alzheimer's Association and United Way.
Giv's phone selection leaves much to be desired (they're mostly outdated Android models), but for $5 you can buy a mini/micro SIM for use with any unlocked GSM phone. From there you choose either the $40 or $50 Everything plan, both of which offer unlimited calls and messaging but just 250MB or 2GB of high-speed data, respectively. Other carriers give you a bit more bang for the buck, but only Giv gives back.
Piggybacks on: AT&T
Starts at: $30/month for unlimited voice minutes/texts, 500MB data
In business since: 2005
Although H2O Wireless sells the unlocked iPhone 5 (at full price) and a smattering of lower-end Android handsets, the company caters primarily to the BYOD crowd, offering service for any unlocked GSM iPhone or Android phone.
The $30 plan is good for 500MB of data, plus unlimited calls and messaging; it includes free international texting (100 outgoing, unlimited incoming) and a $5 international calling credit. At the $40 level you get 1GB of data and $20 toward international calls, making this an attractive choice for overseas travelers and users with overseas friends and family.
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