T-Mobile vs. AT&T, a Pre-Paid Mobile Smackdown!

After posting earlier about AT&T’s discriminatory practice of only giving pre-paid subscribers a subset of the coverage area that their contracted mobile customers get, I thought I’d expand on the topic.

As a participant in the Nokia Blogger Relations program, periodically I receive phones to trial and review. Thus, I’ve looked for GSM providers in the U.S. and have used AT&T and T-Mobile. In the US, there are 4 major cellular providers. AT&T is the granddaddy of the GSM market and is known for having better network coverage where T-Mobile has excelled in customer service year over year.

First Option: AT&T

When signing up for AT&T on a pre-paid basis, you have two choices. In my geographic area, GoPhone will allow you to pay by the minute. Currently there are two offerings, Pay as You Go Unlimited talk which costs $0.10/minute and you pay $1.00/day on days in which you use your phone. Alternatively, you can pay $0.25/minute and there is no per day charge. Both options include voicemail and unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes while calling someone on the AT&T network.

If you want to have a bucket of minutes rather than paying by the minute, you can chose GoPhone Pick Your Plan. This unique plans start off at $29.99 (for 200 minutes per month) and go up to $69.99 for unlimited talk and include nationwide long distance and some additional features. Note: the only way to get a flat rate data plan on a pre-paid basis with AT&T is to use a Pick Your Plan option. This is crucial for those with smartphones who want to do a pre-paid plan with AT&T.

As I posted before, you don’t get access to AT&T’s wireless network while on either pre-paid plan.

Second Option: T-Mobile

T-Mobile offers three options for pre-paid. If you chose Pay By The Day, you pay $1 for days you chose to use the phone and pay 10 cents per minute, unless you’re calling a T-Mobile customer or anyone during the night hours where these minutes are unlimited.

A second option called Pay As You Go involves paying by the minute. The most popular plan is $100 for 1000 minutes, which works out to be 10 cents per minute.

Finally for those wanting a month-to-month conventional bucket of minutes plan, T-Mobile offers FlexPay. FlexPay gives you access to any T-Mobile calling plan on a month-to-month basis with no annual service agreement or credit check.

This is a very important point: T-Mobile gives you access to any monthly plan with FlexPay, unlike AT&T. T-Mobile’s plans are better priced and offer more minutes when compared head to head with AT&T. Plus, you get access to T-Mobile’s entire network, not just a subset of it as with AT&T.

As with AT&T, you must chose the monthly option of FlexPay from T-Mobile to get a flat rate monthly data plan.


In my opinion, T-Mobile is a better choice for pre-paid customers. They offer a full suite of rate plans and don’t discriminate against those who chose to be month-to-month type customers. T-Mobile also gets high marks for superior customer service.

8 comments on “T-Mobile vs. AT&T, a Pre-Paid Mobile Smackdown!
  1. The unlimited data option is available on PayGo both the 25 cpm and $1 a day options. They’ve also changed the $20 3,000 N/WK minutes option on the $1 a day option to unlimited.

    Krogers iwireless beats the daily plans from both.

    $30 a month gets free nights starting at 6pm free weekends and free inbound sms.


  2. I’m considering buying an unlocked E71 to use as a world phone. However I find the information provided by US carriers about their pre-paid/PAYG offerings very limited, and it seems the big 4 (ATT, T-Online, Sprint and Verizon) have trouble with the whole BYOD concept. Maybe you can help me finding the right offering, if I may ask for help.

    I currently live in Chile but go to the US 2-3x a year, Europe about once a year, might go to Brazil or Argentina for the occasional vacation. Are there US carriers (that work in New England where I most often go) that provide pay-as-you-go 3/3.5G service? I’m in the US less than a month a year so a contract doesn’t make sense for me. I want to avoid roaming rip-offs and just swap SIMs as I move from country to country, as well as use Skype when I’ll have wifi reception.

    From what you wrote, looks like AT&T doesn’t provide 3+G data service on a PAYG basis? How do you get your email without an ongoing plan/contract? What about the other carriers? I’m just confused by their crappy web sites.

  3. Hey Olivier,

    The carriers are terrible about giving out good info on Pay as you go.

    Here’s what I know – if you go with an E71 or any GSM phone, your two choices are AT&T and T-Mobile.

    AT&T and T-Mobile only allow unlimited data on their monthly plans. That is, you pay X amount of dollars for Y amount of minutes, rather than being a certain cost per minute (such as $0.10/minute). So, with your monthly plan you can buy an unlimited data plan.

    As my post says-get the Pick Your Plan option. It will give you 3.5G/3G (depending on the coverage in your geography). Just sign up for a monthly plan and cancel it after a month or whenver you’re done with it.

  4. Thanks Jason. After posting here I did further research and found about AT&T’s Media Net Unlimited option under their GoPhone offerings. However, their (really) fine print in their TOS states that you can’t use Media Net with a PDA (which they define as a device with a full-fledged keyboard). They have a “PDA” data plan that doesn’t even seem to be available as a GoPhone option. Lots of people apparently say “screw the TOS” and use Media Net with their iPhones or whatnot anyway, which looks like only viable option available to someone like me anyway. These carriers are really a bunch of scammers who only want to lock you in and charge you through the nose!

  5. Hi Olivier,

    I use AT&T GoPhone Pick Your Plan and MEdia Net on my E71 with no problems at all. It’s just data, so I’m not sure where the issue lies.

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