When you finally grow tired of the lack of coverage, the ever increasing bill and lack of new devices that your current carrier provides you with, it doesn’t hurt to shop around a bit. As we began our Best Value In Wireless comparison, we reached out to a few of the prepaid MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) carriers to see which ones would like to participate in our test. Many responded, but one truly has shined in our testing. We’ll get into the results of all the carriers more when we publish our test results later this month, but for now, let’s take a look at Red Pocket Mobile and how it works.
Red Pocket Mobile is an AT&T MVNO, which means that the service is run off the same coverage map as the popular AT&T GoPhone service, plus a few additional areas that are covered under their agreement. The coverage area throughout most of the US is very strong, with some weaker spots in the Midwest. In the areas we’ve run the device, the Red Pocket network delivered speeds on our iPhone 3Gs, 4, HTC Radar and Samsung Exhibit II that were as fast as our T-Mobile 4G connection. Speeds ranged from the 3Mbps area all the way up to 6.5Mbps on the download and between 1.5Mbps and 3Mbps on the uploads. Voice calling was also a bit on the spectacular side for a prepaid service. Actually, voice quality snubbed every post-paid carrier in our area – including Sprint, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. Obviously, AT&T had a similar quality as it runs on the same network.
Pricing for the Red Pocket Plans depends on your usage needs. Starting at $19.99 a month for 250 minutes and 500 texts, Red Pocket allows you to keep your mobile number for a low cost without committing to any contracts. This plan also applies to Smartphone users. If you have Wi-Fi at work and home, that $19.99 a month bill is great for voice minutes on that Android device running GrooveIP at home. For the small bump to $29.99 a month, you can have the same 250 minutes and add unlimited texting to the mix. The $29.99 plan also adds 10 picture message (MMS) and 10MB of WAP browsing. Moving up to the $39.99 plan nets the user unlimited talk, text, MMS and the 10MB of mobile data, plus credit for up to 200 international minutes that will roll over every month if not used.
For regular smartphone users, this is really where you should start taking note here though, since 10MB of mobile data isn’t going to do much to satisfy the data hungry device. The $49.99 plan includes the plethora of unlimited voice, text, MMS, and the 200 minutes of international talk, but adds 250MB of mobile data to the mix. This is great for the heavy Wi-Fi user or the lighter cell data user. If you find that a bit light, the $59.99 plan takes your mobile data out to 2GB. While 2GB isn’t unlimited, for a price less than 1/2 of what you can land an AT&T plan for, it sure makes sense for 95% of the users out there.
The true advantage to any prepaid service is the lack of fees and taxes on their plans. Glancing through our last few cellular bills, we noticed the taxes and fees have crept closer to the 22% mark up from the normal 17% we used to pay. Sales tax, operator tax, city tax, 911 tax, all of these fees and taxes bring a $100 bill up to $120 in a hurry. With Red Pocket Mobile, you simply pay the flat rate fee that you see listed on the site and you are done. If you want to save even more, you can purchase your refills from a third party site and save a bit more.
If there is a catch to the Red Pocket Mobile plan, it’s the fact that there are no subsidies on devices – in fact, they don’t even offer them. Red Pocket is a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) carrier. This means once that iPhone 3Gs is out of contract (yes, the one you got for free a year and a half ago) you can bring it to Red Pocket, insert your new SIM card and be off and running. If you are one that pays full retail for devices every 6 months just to have the latest and greatest, then this isn’t a problem for you. If you are one that sits on the cell phone you have for 4 or 5 years, again, this isn’t a problem for you. But if you are the one that sits down and starts shopping devices at 19 months for that 20th month upgrade, then the loss of that carrier subsidy might be worth looking at.
The average phone discount is between $400-500 for smartphones, though deals can be found at Amazon Wireless or any GSM cellular site. So if you wanted that new iPhone 5 later this year, AT&T will charge you about $200 for it on contract, verses the $700 you would need to purchase it outright. Of course, at the same time, the market will be flooded with used iPhone 4s devices at great prices that can hop right on to your Red Pocket plan. The Quad-Band GSM phones operate on Red Pocket’s 3G coverage beautifully, but don’t expect those “4G” speeds off just any device. You’ll need to make sure the device is running the 850 band HSDPA+ speed to take full advantage of the speed of the network.
Setting up multiple devices on Red Pocket didn’t take much time at all. The largest challenge was changing settings on the iPhone and also Windows Phone devices. One of the first instructions for our iPhone programming was to jailbreak the iPhone and install a program that would allow the APN settings to be changed. While we were lucky enough to have a breakable 5.0.1 on our devices, the update to 5.1 may render MMS messaging useless until a new break is found. Windows phone created some of the same issues, although the HTC auto network programming seemed to work most of the time. Android users only need a few minutes and a quick app download to be up and running.
Activation took seconds to do online. Simply hit the Red Pocket Mobile site, punch in your IMEI number and SIM number. You then key in the refill you’d like to apply to your account, and decide if you are keeping that number you have or not. If you are porting in, it takes anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours for your number to become hot. Once it is live, your balance is transferred to your SIM and your device is set to run for 30 days.
As part of our test, we tried out the customer service line just to test how ‘activation problems’ might go, and honestly, they were good. It was a painful 10 minutes before we were actually able to reach an operator on a Saturday afternoon, but once we did, our invalid pin number (we switched 2 numbers around by accident) was fixed and the account was ready to roll.
There isn’t much that can be said here. Red Pocket makes life simple. You get 2GB of data, no overages allowed – and no throttling will happen when you reach your cap. It just stops. We’re not big fans of this, but what a way to control costs for a smaller operator. When asked about the possibility of adding additional data or a larger 5GB plan, a Red Pocket representative said that there are no plans for that at the moment. That said, anyone with Wi-Fi access will not approach 2GB of data anytime soon, and those that don’t can just spend a few evenings at Starbucks and friend’s houses if they run close to that limit before the 30 days is up.
Even with the solid 2GB cap, Red Pocket delivered excellent speed and performance across our entire device portfolio and the 4 markets we tested in. 3G speeds were on par or better than most of the 4G coverage that we see in our areas. Building penetration was excellent – usually 2-3 bars above T-Mobile and Sprint.
We are going to look at apples to apples on this one. AT&T vs. Red Pocket first. AT&T offers a great plan for individual users. For the average smartphone user, this plan will run you $99.99 for a new Samsung Galaxy S II phone. The unlimited minute plan on AT&T will set your back $69.99. Unlimited messaging will set you back another $20 a month. Adding to that is the final piece of the puzzle, $30 for 3GB of data for $30. This brings the subtotal to $124.99 a month with a $5 per month “device fee” added in for that $100 initial purchase price of your Galaxy II. Just to total this out, we add our usual 17% minimum taxes and fees to that number and we get a whopping – $146.24 per month.
Red Pocket, on the other hand, will cost you $449.99 for that same Galaxy S II device off contract. Then a flat $59.99 per month – so we will cal it $79.99 per month for the device and service per month over that 2 year span. That’s a flat rate with no taxes, excess charges or other fees that increase the price of your bill. The savings on Red Pocket with a new Samsung Galaxy S II device is nearly $45 a month. Those savings increase to nearly $85 a month if you have an out of contract device that is unlocked already – or choose a lower cost option for your device like the AT&T GoPhone version of the Pantech Breakout for $125.
The answer to the question here is very simple, but we have to ask it anyways. Do you want to save some serious cash on your cellular bill? The answer that everyone chimes in with immediately is, yes. The next time you see your cell bill online or delivered in that little envelope, we invite you to check that last little section called “Fees and Surcharges” and see how much you are wasting every month. Our last Sprint receipt we saw showed a $157.96 bill and taxes that took that bill to $192.04. Yep, $35 a month for the government and over 30% added to our bill. This was more than enough to drive one of us to switch to Red Pocket immediately following our testing.
It’s a hard sell not to with the numbers adding up the way they do. Even using a T-Mobile “Value Plan” at $49.99 a month, the taxes and surcharges still drive that number out of the realm of “under $60 for unlimited text and voice”. Realistically, the only 2 carriers that were touching that number were SIMple Mobile and the Sprint MVNO’s (Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile). Unfortunately, in all 4 areas, the three that could match the pricing, couldn’t touch the performance.
Overall, for the light user, you might be able to sneak in the $49.99 plan and just borrow a few MB here and there on the road. For the ‘I want to Facebook from my phone at home” body, the $39.99 plan is right up your alley. For you power users, and we don’t me those tethering fools that challenge themselves weekly to set a 100GB download record, the $59.99 plan should be a great fit.
You can get a FREE Red Pocket Mobile SIM at online superstore here.
UPDATE: Shortly after publication there was a change to the Red Pocket Mobile available plans. The new “MAX” plan features a $54.99 price tag and is limited to 1GB of data. This appears to be the new limit that AT&T is starting to hand down to their MVNO’s. We appreciate Red Pocket’s transparancy in the data allotment unlike carriers like Net10 and Straight Talk that will not publish a threshold, but rather will just terminate service for “excessive use”. As with any operator today, Unlimited has various meanings with RPM. From what we can tell, you can use 5,000 voice minutes, 5,000 SMS/MMS messages and 1GB of data with the $54.99 plan before any account actions are taken. If you have any additional questions feel free to post in the comments below.
UPDATE: There are now new plans available from Red Pocket Mobile for T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless compatible devices as well. Please visit http://www.4gfastdata.com/plans.html for more information on these new offerings.