What is the best mobile provider to use?
I’ve been asked this question a few times for various reasons, and in light of the recent reports about the lustful relationship between AT&T and the NSA (which I’ll cover more on an upcoming episode of my tech show, Sovryn Tech), I thought now would be a good time to cover this.
Keep in mind that if you read the main page of the Dark Android Project (which I will be adding content on this week), I recommend not using a smartphone with any telecom at all due to SIM cards being provably insecure. Certainly, the case can easily be made that smartphones in conjunction with insidious telecoms is fueling the Surveillance Society that we live in.
But, smartphones do make things convenient, and I recognize many people’s perceived need to have one. So if you’re sure you can’t get away with a classic feature phone (the option of choice for System D) and Dark Android tablet combination, here is what I consider to be the best options as far as mobile phone service providers in the Colonies…err…the United States of America (I don’t have enough experience to recommend others abroad). And I won’t be covering any Google Voice options here. That’s a whole other topic.
Don’t Use the Big Four
Well, if you really have to, go ahead and use T-Mobile. They have a pre-paid and a customer plan (your choice) for $50 a month that gives you unlimited text, talk, and data. Of course, only 1GB of that data will be at 4G speeds, but we can cover that more in a minute.
The main reason you want to stay away from the Big Four (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and even US Cellular, really) is that they know in many ways they have the market cornered, and you want to send the market signal that you don’t want to deal with them. This means what I’ll largely be recommending here are “MVNO’s” (Mobile Virtual Network Operators). An MVNO is another company that uses one of the Big Four’s towers (like how Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s towers, Virgin Mobile doesn’t have its own), and is able to offer you service at a reduced rate, which can come with a lack of features (such as roaming, etc.), and is often “subsidized” by advertisements (don’t worry, we can solve that). The bottom line that we’re trying to achieve here is paying mobile providers/telecoms as little money as possible. Think of it as finding a way to pay as little in taxes as you can as a form of activism. That’s the idea here. There really is no other case for ethics behind any of this. There are no telecoms as we understand them today that is a “good guy” in their field, so forget about that sort of thing. You’re dealing with a devil no matter what you do.
So as far as data speed throttling and caps. As it stands, Sprint is the only company that at least claims they don’t throttle (READ: slows down) your data speeds at any time while still offering unlimited data, no matter how much data you use. There is evidence to suggest that this may not be true, but none of the other major telecoms will even make the claim. With the aforementioned T-Mobile plan, which also offers unlimited data, after 1GB of data use, you’re going to get throttled, and you’ll probably go through that 1GB pretty fast. Personally, I don’t find this an issue. Most apps have become pretty efficient in how much data they use back and forth, so I don’t find this a problem. Also, T-Mobile makes exceptions for music apps like Spotify and Google Play Music All-Access, so streaming music from the cloud isn’t affected. Regardless, I think the point for most people use to be able to post to Instagram, tweet, do whatever nonsense on Facebook, or send messages with TextSecure or Telegram. Slowed speeds don’t affect any of these much–if at all. Of course, if all you do is watch YouTube videos or Netflix on your phone…uh…well…this could be problematic. But if you’re that kind of person that does that all the time (especially without a Wi-Fi signal around) well…I’m confused.
Anyway, data throttling really isn’t an issue if you’re only interested in largely communicating and sharing pictures.
Another advantage to T-Mobile is that you can bring in your own unlocked phone, and they’ll just ship you the SIM card (AT&T and to some degree Sprint allow for this, as well, admittedly). We’ll talk more about the importance of unlocked phones later in this write-up. Also, T-Mobile is really good with offering free unlimited data with their customer plans, if international use is of interest to you.
But let’s get down to what MVNO carriers to use…
Don’t Use Google Fi
Real simple. Don’t give Google any more money that necessary. That company needs to tank. Talk about a company that empowers the Surveillance State. Also, they force you at this time to use and purchase a Nexus 6 (which has a voice co-processor, and is thus ALWAYS listening to you).
A popular option, Virgin Mobile offers really inexpensive phones that aren’t too bad at what they do, with really cheap plans. It’s a viable option, but I don’t initially recommend them because they don’t allow you to bring in unlocked phones (at this time), and it can be difficult to unlock and root the phones they offer you. Also, in more remote areas I haven’t had much luck with good coverage (which perhaps you live in more remote areas?).
This is the cream of the crop that I recommend. Unlike Virgin Mobile which uses Sprint’s cell towers, Straight Talk can actually use any telecoms towers, and will often give you the choice. You can bring in your own unlocked phones, and they just send you the SIM card. Depending on your area, AT&T may work best and so you can get an AT&T-compatible SIM card. Or perhaps Verizon works best (most likely)? They can send you a Verizon-compatible SIM card. For $45 a month you get unlimited talk, text, and data, and you get 4G LTE speeds for up to 5GB of data use, which is better and cheaper than what T-Mobile (or anyone else) provides. Also for $65 you can get international unlimited talk, text, and data, which may be attractive to those who travel a lot. This is pretty much the cheapest deal out there that gives you the option of carrier towers, your own unlocked phone, and international. And you’re paying the least amount to the telecoms, which is the only “activism goal” we can really achieve in any of this. And hey, saving you money is a good thing over all.
Boost Mobile, Go Phone, etc.
I don’t really recommend any others besides Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile (and if necessary, T-Mobile). If unlimited data with throttling is important to you, Sprint is the only option you have in that realm. But again, I don’t really recommend anyone else when it comes to smartphones (feature phone mobile carriers is a topic for another time).
The Importance of Unlocked Phones
So why all the hub-bub about unlocked phones or bringing your own phone to the telecom of your choosing? Simple, as we explain at the Dark Android Project over and over again, you want at the very least to have Cyanogenmod or AOSP running as your OS on your mobile device, that way you can have some degree of real control of your device, and to do this you have to root your device. Most carriers and many modern phones just aren’t allowing for that any more.
Also, there’s the benefit of getting very powerful and yet very inexpensive phones from around the world (including ones with features you’ll never really get in the USA, such as multiple SIM card slots). Consider the 2015 model of the Moto G. For less than $250 you are getting a waterproof, very well-specced phone that you will straight up own once you buy it. No plans, no phone price “subsidies” by your telecom. When using MVNO prepaid plans and independently bought phones, you own everything outright and–again–are giving as little money as possible to the telecoms. You could even buy used phones and use them with Straight Talk if you wanted (if you’re into the ecological aspects of “mobile device wast”). And when buying a phone that is unlocked (and thus has removable SIM cards) you can at any time remove the SIM card and know you have total control of your device (and you know what I mean if your telecom has ever had to “reboot your device” for a repair, since as long as something has a SIM card in it, you don’t really control it). Options are the very essence of freedom, after all.
This all just my opinion based upon the research that I’ve done over the years, and it comes down to in order of recommendation:
- Straight Talk
- Virgin Mobile
Feel free to use this information in any way you see fit. Mold it to your own needs as everyone’s needs when it comes to connectivity are different, and I’m not going to judge you.
But I will gauge these telecoms. And I think it’s clear that telecoms–in conjunction with the governments of the world–are a menace at best, and cohorts in the removal of human liberties at worst.
And being an informed and action-taking consumer is a powerful form of activism. Like the saying goes, “Vote with your dollar”.