I'm not ready to go prepaid just yet

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: September 13, 2012

Back in June, when Verizon came forward to announce their Share Everything plans, I didn't take the news too lightly. Big Red made no bones about their endgame: they want everyone on Share Everything, and they want to kill unlimited data once and for all.

As with a lot of loyal customers, the news rubbed me the wrong way. In short, Verizon gave customers who buy subsidized phones an ultimatum. Come upgrade time, grandfathered unlimited plans will expire and customers will be forced to pay for more of everything, whether they want it or not. (Personally, I don't need unlimited minutes or text messaging. Paying for them and never using them is a waste of money. Unfortunately, Share Everything doesn't give the option to cut those packages out.) 

It never made sense to me why Verizon let customers keep their unlimited data plans if it was never going to last. When I upgraded my line last the rep told me to enjoy it while it lasted, that Verizon was likely to kill it off the following year. Sure enough, they implemented a tiered data structure. And now, thanks to Share Everything, every grandfathered unlimited data plan has an expiration date.

To be fair, you can keep your unlimited data plan with Verizon by buying phones sans contract. But that can get rather expensive at $500 or more a pop.

I've been with Verizon Wireless since the Alltel merger, and I was a loyal Alltel customer for several years before that. I've grown to like my primary carrier, its network is unfaltering in most of the areas I spend my time. But there is no real sense of loyalty anymore. Unlimited data was the only thing keeping me tied down to a specific carrier.

Frustrated that my unlimited data would soon end unless I succumbed to paying the full retail price of every phone moving forward, I started weighing my options. And following the announcement, I wrote a piece titled, I think I'll take the prepaid plunge over Share Everything.

Here I am, nearly three months later, and my contract is now just a few days from ending. And I'm at a crossroad. Following the iPhone 5 announcement, I realized that it's time to make a decision: where do I go from here? Do I stick to my guns and show my rebellion by switching to prepaid? If so, which prepaid carrier should I go with?

Over the past couple months, I did my fair share of research. Originally, I thought my biggest issue with prepaid would be the supply of devices. But with the ability to bring your own device (BYOD) and considering the Galaxy S III made its way to Ting and the iPhone 5 is slated to hit Cricket and C Spire just one week after its hard launch date, high-end devices are quite easy to come by for prepaid carriers nowadays.

I even gave Straight Talk (using AT&T, not T-Mobile) a test run for about 35 days or so. I looked at coverage in my area for Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile, Cricket, etc. They all have decent coverage in the Charlotte Metro area, so there's little to complain about there.

So what's the problem with prepaid? Each MVNO has a stipulation in common: fair use policy.

Virgin Mobile, for instance, offers unlimited minutes, messaging and data (3G and 4G) for $55 per month. That's about half of what you would pay on Sprint for the same deal, and far less than half of what a comparable plan (obviously without unlimited data) would cost on Verizon or AT&T. But there's a catch. Unlimited is a bit of a misnomer under the fair use policy and actually means something along the lines of, "more than your average user would ever need in a month." Unlimited data isn't truly unlimited, and once a user hits the magic number (2.5GB), speeds may be throttled to 256Kbps or slower. If you abuse the terms and use excessive amounts of data, messaging or minutes:

"Virgin Mobile reserves the right, without notice or limitation, to terminate individual calls, or after providing notice to you, offer you a different service plan with no unlimited usage components, limit data throughput speeds or quantities, or deny, terminate, end, modify, disconnect or suspend your service, or decline to renew your service, if you engage in any of the prohibited voice or data uses detailed below or if Virgin Mobile, in its sole discretion, determines action is necessary to protect its wireless networks from harm or degradation"

Harsh, right? Well, that's the risk of using prepaid. Virgin isn't alone. Cricket, Straight Talk, Simple Mobile, Boost Mobile and virtually every other MVNO have similar terms and conditions. Honestly, I can't deal with that. I use tons of data each month, and I can't risk my service being disconnected without warning.

I'm not particularly thrilled, but I'm currently waiting for 3:01 AM to roll by so I can pre-order an iPhone 5 for Verizon. (I've been using 3G for entirely too long.) Fortunately, I won't have to switch to Share Everything. But I will have to surrender my unlimited plan for a tiered one. I got off to a rocky start on tiered data with AT&T, but things have smoothed out a bit over time. I've learned my boundaries and curbed my usage accordingly.

With all of this said, prepaid isn't a terrible option, especially for those looking to save a buck. I learned that I'm not quite ready to dive in head first yet. But the fact that I was even pondering it should serve as a testament to how far prepaid carriers have come in the last few years. Another year, maybe two, and I may face another crossroad, debating if its time to take the prepaid plunge again.

For now, unfortunately, I'm all but forced to stick with postpaid.

Tell me. Have any of you switched entirely to prepaid? Have you switched and found yourself missing your postpaid service? Or is everything working out as planned?