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View Full Version : Anyone know anything about prepaid cell phones/unlocked phones?


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Keith Larman
08-29-2010, 11:02 PM
I'll admit to my ignorance. I'm a geek with my droid phone doing all sorts of fancy stuff. However, my mother and my inlaws could probably use an emergency cell phone. They don't need to be paying a large monthly fee as their use would be emergency only (dead car, earthquake, etc.). They currently have cell phones that they never use but pay monthly to have (which makes no sense). So... I go on line and find myself confused and need help of those more "cell savvy" than me.

So far my understanding is this...

I can buy a phone on a pay-as-you-go type deal. They can also buy a card with credit to go with the phone. But once they activate it, the minutes "run out" after some times, right? And I assume that if they don't use the phone for months at some point the carrier is going to cull them from the system? Or am I not understanding... So in an emergency 3 months from now they'd find their phone has no minutes (expired). Or in 9 months in an emergency they might even find the phone no longer active. So they'd need to have an extra card to reactivate at that time? I just don't quite get the way it works if you want a backup phone for emergencies. Am I going to have to periodically buy them a $15 card and update their phones just to make sure they're still work? That would be better than paying twice that a month for service.... But I just need to understand the process.

Next comes the so-called "unlocked" phones. I noticed that Motorola sells a interesting phone called a Motorola F3. Digital ink display, basic features, and exceptional battery life as a result. Seems to be the perfect phone for emergencies since the phone (assuming it is periodically charged) holds a charge for a *long* time. It is also dirk cheap (around $20 delivered). Can that be used with a local "prepaid" card like from AT&T? I see things about sim cards. Does an unlocked phone need a sim card for the carrier? Or does it work "out of the box" with any carrier that uses the same system (GSM for instance)? I'm confused... So if I buy my in-laws an F3 and a prepaid AT&T card (for example) can I just give them the phone and a prepaid card and let them activate it and voila, they're on? And then do what I outlined above?

Yeah, I'm confused... I'm sure someone out there uses these things so I'm looking for clarity... :)

jss
08-30-2010, 12:55 AM
But once they activate it, the minutes "run out" after some times, right? And I assume that if they don't use the phone for months at some point the carrier is going to cull them from the system?
I'm not from the States, but that's how it usually works, yes. I checked one carrier here in Holland: minutes run out after 6 months, mobile number is de-activated 90 days after that.

I just don't quite get the way it works if you want a backup phone for emergencies. Am I going to have to periodically buy them a $15 card and update their phones just to make sure they're still work?
It seems so. Emergency phones just don't make a good business case.

Next comes the so-called "unlocked" phones. [...] Can that be used with a local "prepaid" card like from AT&T? I see things about sim cards. Does an unlocked phone need a sim card for the carrier?
All phones need a simcard before you can use them. Unlocked phones can be used with the simcard of any carrier with a compatible system. (Holland is gsm-only, but I read the USA has several.)
Don't know if it's true in the States, but in Holland for calling the emergency number you just need an active sim card (so known in the systems of a carrier). You don't need any minutes and if your cell phone can't find your carrier's network, it'll just use any network it can find. (Calling the emergency number can also be done here when you don'y have the pin to unlock the phone, btw.)

So if I buy my in-laws an F3 and a prepaid AT&T card (for example) can I just give them the phone and a prepaid card and let them activate it and voila, they're on? And then do what I outlined above?
Buying them an unlocked phone and a prepaid card from a carrier that has a system (e.g. gsm) that's compatible with the phone, would work. And then buy every x months the smallest amount of minutes to keep the phone active.
Buying them the phone and the card and only letting them activate it in case of emergency, might also work technically. But I'd think that in case of emergency you don't want to have your in-laws fumble with a cell phone before they can actually make a call, of course.

David Maidment
08-30-2010, 05:06 AM
I've always had an odd experience with credit running out and phones expiring.

I never use my phone. Like, never. I literally have it because... well, if someone threw it in the bin right now I would probably not even notice. I'd have to get a new alarm to wake me up in the morning, but that's all the loss of my phone would do to affect me.

Everyone has always implied to me that my pre-paid credit would run out and that I would be disconnected from the network after so many months of inactivity. I've had two pre-paid phones over the last fifteen or so years and I think the last time I actually called or sent a text to someone was about two or three years ago. My current phone is still fully connected and I'd wager that if I popped my old SIM card into it, that number would still be working, also.

That might just be my unique experience, but given that most of the mobile networks are all being owned by each other nowadays it's a fair assumption that these kinds of policies wouldn't vary much based on country.

Janet Rosen
08-30-2010, 09:55 AM
Keith, you might want to google Jitterbug; I see their ads in the Nation and it seems to be a low tech, cheap phone with limited minutes but not prepaid so it won't expire after "x" number of months.

Steven
08-30-2010, 03:33 PM
From http://www.andreas.com/faq-cell911.html

You can use a used cell phone to call 911 without paying anything at all. Cell phones are regulated by the FCC. FCC requirements state that ALL cell phones, regardless of status of service (or even the lack of service) must be able to dial 911. Whether you have a telephone number or not, whether you have signed up for service or not, your cell phone can connect to 911.

Cady Goldfield
08-30-2010, 08:35 PM
Keith,
I agree with the suggestion to look into Jitterbug. They run ads in Parade Magazine (an insert that gets picked up by many Sunday papers) and are aimed at older adults in particular, who just want a phone that makes phone calls (no other apps!).

They have cheap monthly rates, as little as 14 bucks for something like 30 minutes, and that would be fine if your inlaws and mother just need it for just-in-case.

Michael Varin
08-31-2010, 01:14 AM
I don't have much to add to this discussion, but you might want to take a look at Tracfone.

From what I understand, it's pretty basic. You buy the phone, which is probably $9-$30, and can buy a $99 card that gives you minutes and activates the phone for one year. If it's an emergency phone, you'd probably want to get a car charger also.

$100 per year isn't bad.

Sorry, I don't know anything about unlocked phones.

Janet Rosen
08-31-2010, 09:20 AM
I don't have much to add to this discussion, but you might want to take a look at Tracfone. .

I have a tracfone and love it - you can buy a variety of minutes/expiration dates on their website so don't need to spend $99 all at once - but didn't suggest it because it DOES expire on a given date.