mobile operator profiles. I will be posting new profiles frequently, starting with the best known carriers. Eventually these posts will cover all the major US mobile operators and MVNOs that offer prepaid plans.
Overview: Straight Talk, TracFone, NET10 and SafeLink are all owned by Mexico based América Móvil, the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. According to Forbes, the world's richest man is América Móvil's founder and CEO, Carlos Slim.
TracFone, NET10, Straight Talk and SafeLink combined have over 23 million subscribers which makes América Móvil the largest US prepaid mobile operator. América Móvil does not break out subscriber numbers for each of its prepaid brands.
Straight Talk is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), it does not have a network of it's own but buys service from other operators which is re-sells. Straight Talk phones and top-up cards are available only at Walmart stores, walmart.com and straighttalk.com
Straight Talk phones use the T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint networks in the 50 states and Claro in Puerto Rico. Each Straight Talk phone has one of the five as its home network which it uses whenever possible.
Straight Talk GSM (AT&T and T-Mobile) phones will roam on other networks for voice and text messaging only. There's no data roaming. Straight Talk CDMA (Verizon and Sprint) phones do not roam at all. See How to Tell Which Network (AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon) a TracFone, NET10 or Straight Talk Phone Uses for more about Straight Talk's network options.
Technology: AT&T, T-Mobile and Claro based Straight Talk phones use GSM on the 850 and 1900 Mhz bands for voice and GPRS (2G), Edge (2.5G), UTMS/HSPA (3G) and HSPA+ (4G) data.
T-Mobile devices use the 1900 Mhz band for voice and GPRS (2G) and Edge (2.5G) and the 1700 Mhz AWS band for 3G and 4G. T-Mobile has begun deploying HSPA+ (4G) on the 1900 Mhz band in many areas to better serve users with unlocked AT&T phones and international visitors.
Sprint based Straight Talk phones use the 1900 MHz band for voice and data including EVDO 3G.
Straight Talk feature phones on the Verizon network use CDMA on the 850 and 1900 Mhz bands with 1xRTT (2.5G) data support. Straight Talk Verizon Android based phones support EV-DO 3G data and some also support LTE.
Plans and Pricing: Straight Talks's pricing structure is simple, there are only two plans:
- The "All You Need" plan includes 1500 minutes, unlimited SMS and 100 MB of data for $30/month
- The "Unlimited" plan gives you unlimited voice, messaging and data for $45/month.
- The "Unlimited International" plan includes no extra cost calls to most landlines in 32 countries. (PDF list of covered countries) and to cell phones in Canada, China, India and Mexico. Straight Talk does not support international direct dialing (+1 - country code - city code - phone number). Instead you have to dial an 11 digit access code, wait for a prompt and then enter the number your are calling,
If you use up your allotment of minutes, texts or data on the All You Need plan that feature stops working until you add another $30 top up. There's no roll over either, adding $30 dollars resets your balance to 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and 30 MB of data.
As is usually the case, Straight Talk's "Unlimited" data does have limits. Data speeds are throttled to approximately 128 Kbps after 3 Gb is used in a month. Straight Talk's terms of service prohibit streaming audio or video or using the phone as a wireless modem for a laptop or other device (tethering).
Customers who tether, run speed tests, stream video or use more than 100 MB of data in a day have reported having being throttled even though they haven't used more than 3 GB of data. The premature throttling seems to happen mostly with AT&T based accounts although some Straight Talk Verizon customers have reported being throttled after using less than half their allotted data.
International Text Messaging: Strangely it's not possible to send international text messages with most Straight Talk phones and SIMs even on the International Plan. The exception is with Straight Talk's Android phones on the Sprint network which can send international texts at no extra charge.
Coverage: Straight Talk coverage varies depending on which network the phone uses. The AT&T based phones have the best overall coverage with the Verizon and T-Mobile phones close behind. Sprint based Straight Talk phones have the smallest coverage footprint by far. The map below shows how the different networks coverage compares. GSM-T is T-Mobile, GSM-A is AT&T, CDMA-S is Sprint and CDMA-V is Verizon. Unlike most carriers Straight Talk does not provide detailed block by block coverage maps.
Devices: Straight Talk offers feature phones on the AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile networks and Android phones on Sprint, Verizon and AT&T network and Symbian smartphones on AT&T. To determine which network a Straight Talk phone uses see, How to Tell Which Network (AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon) a TracFone, NET10 or Straight Talk Phone Uses. Straight Talk smartphones only work with the Unlimited plan, they can not be used on the All You Need plan which is restricted to non-smartphones, aka feature phones.
Straight Talk feature phones (aka dumb phones) include messaging phones and touchscreen models that can be used on either the Unlimited or All You Need plans. Most have cameras and many have a music player. Straight Talk's feature phones tend to be quite locked down with features like BlueTooth file transfer and PC synchronization and the ability to install your own ringtones, games and wallpapers disabled on some models. The newer phones are better. The LG 500G, 800G, L840G, LG 900G and the Samung S390G allow installing apps and games and support basic PC connectivity and sending photos by Bluetooth.
Bring Your Own Phone (BYOP): Straight Talk supports BYOP of AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon and unlocked GSM phones. Verizon phones must be postpaid models, activation of phones sold for Verizon prepaid is blocked. SIMs for either the T-Mobile or AT&T networks and activation codes for Verizon and Sprint devices are available from the Straight Talk web site and walmart.com.
Straight Talk BYOP requires the Unlimited plan, BYOP devices can't be used on All You Need plan.
Data (APN) Settings for Straight Talk SIMs:
Visit Straight Talk's How To Update Data Settings page and enter your phone number or SIM ID for settings and instructions.
See How to Setup Straight Talk & NET10 Data and MMS on Android, iPhone & Windows Phone for detailed instructions on how to configure Straight Talk data and MMS APNs
How to Buy: Straight Talk phones are available only at Walmart stores, walmart.com and straighttalk.com. SIMs and CDMA activation codes are available online at straighttalk.com.
The GSM Straight Talk feature phones use SIM cards. However these SIMs are locked to the phone they were sold with and can not be used in any other phones including other Straight Talk phones. The feature phones themselves are virtually impossible to unlock and can not be used on any other service.
How to Activate: Straight Talk phones can be activated at straighttalk.com by clicking the Activate/Reactivate tab and following the instructions. You can also activate by calling 1-877-430-2355 from any phone except the one you are trying to activate.
After activating Verizon based phones online or by calling, Straight Talk will tell you to dial *22890 on the mobile phone to complete the activation. If that doesn't work try dialing *228 and choosing option 1 when prompted.
I've seen multiple reports of users having problems when porting existing numbers from another carrier using the website. Some have even lost their numbers. If you are porting it's best to call Straight Talk, preferably using the "Executive Resolutions Dept." number at 1-305-715-6500 or 1-800-876-5753, Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM Eastern time.
Payment Options: You can refill using a credit or debit card by calling 1-877-430-2355 or on the Straight Talk site which also offers an auto-refill service. You can also buy top-up cards or PIN codes at Walmart stores and walmart.com. Straight Talk refills are not available at convenience stores or from 3rd party online sites.
Taxes and Fees: Unlike most prepaid operators which include all taxes except state sales tax in the plan price, Straight Talk adds additional taxes to the price of refills These taxes vary by state and average between 76¢ and $1.72. You can avoid these taxes by ordering refills from walmart.com which only charges state sales taxes. Walmart sends refill PINs by email which can take hours and sometimes a day or two so don't wait until the last minute.
Account Management: If you register at straighttalk.com you can top up and check your used and remaining All You Need minutes etc. online. On unlimited plans you can check data usage by texting USAGE to 611611.
Free information services calls
911 - Emergency services
Phone support: 1-877-430-2355 is the official Straight Talk support number which is available 24/7. You can also use this number to access the automated service for adding top-ups. You can also reach a customer support representative at this number from 8 AM to 10:45 PM Eastern Time 7 days a week. Calls are handled by off shore call centers. Wait times are usually short and the representatives courteous. However, they often appear to be following a script and seem unfamiliar with the details of Straight Talk devices and services.
The general support number for BYOD SIM Customers is (855) 222-2355.
An alternative is Straight Talk's "Executive Resolutions Dept.", a possibly Miami based call center at 1-305-715-6500 or 1-800-876-5753. It's available Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM EST. At other times calls to that number are handled by the off shore call centers. The Executive Resolutions representatives are more knowledgeable and better equipped to resolve complex issues. I recommend always calling 1-800-876-5753 for things like no service and billing issues, porting your number from another carrier and switching phones while keeping your service.
Several users have reported that they were able to get problems fixed by submitting a support ticket on Straight Talk's Facebook page.
Phone Sales and General Information Web Site: straighttalk.com
Straight Talk Pros: Lowest price unlimited plan of any carrier, good coverage with most phones, bringing your own phone is supported.
Straight Talk Cons: not transparent about how much data is included with the unlimited plans, limited retail presence, cumbersome international dialing, no international messaging on most phones, lack of detailed coverage maps, "taxes and fees" charged on top-ups, crippled Bluetooth and PC sync on feature phones.
Updated 12/11/2014: Verizon LTE phones are now supported for BYOP.