Prepaid cellular

Topics in this category pertain to planning. Discussions include how to prepare yourself, your family and your community for catastrophes and what you plan to do when they hit you.

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mr.squatch
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Prepaid cellular

Post by mr.squatch » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:50 pm

I am looking to purchase three prepaid cell phones with two plans in mind. Just starting to research plans, interested in other people's experiences and advice. Seems most plans are not truly prepaid, minutes expire, day rate charges etc. :( Still looking and open-minded. I think I'll probably need two diferent ones for the two different plans

The first one I plan to use as a personal (non-work) phone and set up as my own every day unit. If I can hit it at 100 bucks and last a year that'll work for me. I do want texts and internet would be nice but not necessary. I just want a good provider and a decent phone that doesn't charge me too much if I don't use it much. I have a work paid phone I use for most calls, but I'd like a personal line to hook up my life to.

The 2nd plan is for two emergency phones. Basically they sit in a vehicle or bugout bag until needed, other than periodic charging. They don't have to have a good plan, just have to work when I need em and can't charge me a bunch. I'd like to find something that's truly prepaid and charge em up to 50 bucks each and never use em. So something that doesn't expire would be great.

Now comes the interesting part. I'd like to get these as far off the grid as possible. If I can I'd like to purchase them in person with cash and use none of my personal info to tie me to them. No illegal activities involved, I'd just like to have something that's not attached to "me". ya know? The ultimate plan for me would be to pay cash for them in a store as a John Doe and fill em via minute cards as I go. Is this something that can be accomplished?

Any advice greatly appreciated, plans, phones, experiences. Thanks guys.


g

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Post by Allen » Wed Apr 23, 2008 1:06 am

I've had a Motorola Tracefone for a couple of Years. There are cheaper
Companys but I get good coverage with Mine.
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Post by raptor » Wed Apr 23, 2008 8:46 am

A cell phone with an area code distant from yours makes sense. During Katrina the 504 area code was non-functional for about 30 days. A cell phone with an Atlanta area code proved invaluable.

I purchased a Virgin Mobile prepaid phone for this purpose. It used the Sprint network which at the time was the best working in the GNO area (note all cell service stinks some more than others, but all stink). I also have a Salt Lake City area code on the Verison service connected to the On Star service in one of my vehicles.

Getting a cell phone with a different area code is simple ask for the area code you want at the time of purchase all of eth service will let you get the area code you want.

The Virgin Mobile phone stays in my BOB and it does require $20 every 90 to stay current. There is an option on their web site to allow an automatic debit for $20.00 every 90 days ($80.00 per year).

I would suggest that if you are going to get 3 phones get them from 3 different providers in 3 different area codes. That way if one provider is damaged badly or their service fails you have 2 other services to fall back on for service which may (or may not) work better.

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Post by Jamie » Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:13 am

I like tracfone because they use (to the best of my knowledge) everyone else's towers...I seem to consistently have good signal, even when friends and family do not...they have a deal listed on their website that will keep your cellphone service current for $4.95 a month (every 30 days actually), which seems like a good deal if I were to buy one of their cheap phones and put 90 minutes on it...

I like Raptor's idea of selecting an area code that is not local to your own...do you think that a DC area code would be give preference on the cell-net in a time of crisis..otherwise, I was just planning on getting a VT area code...

nfa
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Post by Funk » Wed Apr 23, 2008 7:52 pm

We have a couple of tracfones and I agree with the guys who said they get great coverage. I have had reception when my friends or family would not on theirs. While mostly an emergency phone it does get a workout when the Ms. and I are separated for long times due to travel. Never had any problems with their service yet.

I renew it yearly for the cost of $100 for a 1 year service and 400 minutes of airtime. That cost also provides the double minutes plan which gives dbl the mins on additional airtime i add anytime later that year.

I have an older non-color display non-flip nokia phone. Probably 5 years old at least now, but the battery life is amazing on it compared to our newer color display fancier phone, probably twice as long. I love the thing and have refused to replace it with one of the newer models even though it would only cost like $15.

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Post by evil0rphan » Wed Apr 23, 2008 11:40 pm

My better 2/3 has a Tracfone... only complaint I ever heard from her was the occasional trouble renewing minutes online. I suspect that either they have improved that, or she's figured out how to do it properly. Either way, not heard a bad thing about it in months. Myself, I dont own a cell phone, nor do I expect to until the government mandates (and then enforces) I get one implanted under my skin.. :D

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Post by raptor » Wed Apr 23, 2008 11:52 pm

nfa wrote:
I like Raptor's idea of selecting an area code that is not local to your own...do you think that a DC area code would be give preference on the cell-net in a time of crisis..otherwise, I was just planning on getting a VT area code...

nfa
I found after Katrina my cell phone calls would last between 45 seconds and 1 minute then the system would "lose" my signal. It made no difference is I was moving or stationary, the signal would drop.

A LEO friend of mine using the same service and similar phone on the other hand no such issue for his official calls. He said (I do not know if this is the truth or simply B.S so do not take it as gospel) that the LEO & emergency service phones were given priority in the system by using the phone's SSID.

In other words the priority phones were coded to be given priority status. everybody else was rationed. SO I do not think DC would get priority.

Personally NFA I would suggest an area code in a different geographic region than your own. For instance I use an area code in Georgia and Utah for my phones.

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Post by mr.squatch » Thu Apr 24, 2008 5:48 pm

I figured you guys would have some ideas I hadn't thought of ;) Thanks for the info. I haven't had any time in the last few days to research, hopefully I will this weekend. 100/yr is acceptable imo, with that much a couple companies give you a year to use your minutes, and give you 1000 minutes for that much time. That'd definitely work for the bugout phones. I'm wondering which state's area code would be the last to go down in case of a nation-wide catastrophy.... wyoming? haha. They don't have many ppl up there or very many places that could be considered targets that'd disrupt much... but then again they may not have the technology to give very good service. But I'm still on my towers and power. Hmmm. More to think about. Thanks again guys, keep the info comin.

g

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Post by raptor » Thu Apr 24, 2008 6:01 pm

mr.squatch wrote: I'm wondering which state's area code would be the last to go down in case of a nation-wide catastrophy
g
Remember the least common denominator here are the towers near you. If you cannot communicate with a tower it makes no difference who's area code is up and running, you will not be able to link to the system. Having a phone with a different area code will not do you any good in that case. All you will get is no signal.

In a wide area disruption like Katrina where the area code switching system failed, that is a different story. I was able to dial out on a 504 cell phone in Atlanta (which was not affected) or New Orleans. Yet I could not get any incoming calls on my 504 area code phone either in Atlanta or New Orleans.

While in New Orleans I had a similar limitation with my 504 area code phone. However the cell phone with an Atlanta number worked fine for incoming and out going calls in both places. Nearby area codes were also swamped by call volume but recovered very quickly. That is why I suggest a distant area code.

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Post by daviddulee » Fri Apr 25, 2008 12:27 pm

I also possess a Trackphone. You can use the phone itself, under the Prepaid options menu, to renew phone minutes if you purchase a card. That way you don't have to have an internet connection to renew talk time and minutes. Usually the time and days are added to the phone within 5 or 10 minutes. Each card adds 90 days service and the cheapest one is $20 for 60 minutes of talk time.

Maybe if you are worried about the service expiring you could toss a phone with a $20 card into the bag with the phone. When you need the phone, input the card code and you get the minutes added and the service window opened back up.

Just a thought.

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Post by Jamie » Fri Apr 25, 2008 1:28 pm

I ordered one of the cheap tracfones last night, and will sign up for some distant location as its base of operations...it'll be nice to have a spare cell phone even if I never "need" it...

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Post by Moana Drifter » Fri Apr 25, 2008 1:49 pm

daviddulee wrote:Each card adds 90 days service and the cheapest one is $20 for 60 minutes of talk time.
If you google, you can always find a promotional code for double minutes.
Maybe if you are worried about the service expiring you could toss a phone with a $20 card into the bag with the phone. When you need the phone, input the card code and you get the minutes added and the service window opened back up.
If you allow your service to expire, you are most likely going to have to reactivate it, which means going online.

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Post by daviddulee » Sat Apr 26, 2008 12:53 am

I just wanted to double check to see what would happen if it expired, so i went to the website. The following is from the contract section....

SERVICE END DATE.
If you do not purchase and add airtime prior to the Service End Date, which is the date displayed on your TracFone screen and is the last day of your service period, your TRACFONE Service will be deactivated on the Service End Date and you will lose your TRACFONE phone number, even if you have minutes remaining. To prevent this from occurring, please keep your TRACFONE Service active by purchasing and adding one or more airtime cards before the Service End Date. Notwithstanding the Service End Date displayed on your TRACFONE, TracFone Wireless reserves the right to discontinue service and deactivate any TRACFONE handset for which there is no voice, text or Data Services usage for a period of twelve (12) consecutive months If your Service is deactivated, your TRACFONE can be reactivated by purchasing and adding any TRACFONE Prepaid Wireless Airtime card. However, once reactivated, your TRACFONE will be assigned a new phone number. Airtime which remained at the time of deactivation will remain on your TRACFONE if it is reactivated within 60 days from the deactivation date. However, airtime which remained at the time of deactivation will be lost if your TRACFONE Service remains deactivated longer than 60 days.


My head hurts.....but it looks like you don't have to go back online.

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Post by evil0rphan » Sat Apr 26, 2008 2:16 am

Just FYI (and more info is better, I say) all cell traffic eventually goes through a regular voice network. For instance, in Katrina, we lost a few narrow band switches (voice) and that had more of an impact on cellular service than losing 3x as many cell towers. Cell phones are not 100% wireless, always keep that in mind. The call you make will eventually hit copper at some point in its route.

That said, I do not recall any area codes having priority, but there are special codes that you can punch in that will give it to you, and may be embedded (not sure here) on SIM cards. I know I could (in my previous career) inject into an established call, and terminate it to clear the line in case of emergency.
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Post by wester » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:55 am

I had a Nokia 2126 from Tracfone, served me well for about a year. Then Tracfone had a deal on a Motorola with built in double minutes so I ditched the Nokia. We had a power outage for some shortly after and for some reason my Motorola wouldn't work while the Nokia worked perfectly, some other issues I had with the Mototorola was shorter battery life and worse reception. Both phones were Tracfone and both were cheap (sub $20) but what a difference the Nokia made. Just a little food for thought.

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Post by LilDaemon » Sat Apr 26, 2008 8:59 am

nfa wrote:
I like Raptor's idea of selecting an area code that is not local to your own...do you think that a DC area code would be give preference on the cell-net in a time of crisis..otherwise, I was just planning on getting a VT area code...

nfa
During 9/11 when the pentagon got hit, everything was jammed up similar to New Orleans. That included 703, 202, and Maryland's area codes. Ironically, no one could get through for several hours...except for Discover Card asking me for a late payment. Based on that, maybe it works to call from a call center when you're looking for loved ones. :D

I see raptor also answered this, but I thought I'd give some personal perspective.
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Post by tilt » Sat Apr 26, 2008 11:46 am

Call centers usually have dedicated lines to a dedicated switch in some degree of redundancy (usually at least three) as a point of business continuity.

For that reason, calls made from a call center out will generally connect, however a call into a center may have less success, as the call must go through the originating EC, through any switches and then to the destination EC.
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Post by zoiders » Sat Apr 26, 2008 12:00 pm

Remember one thing about bug out phones

Cellular networks very often get switched of in times of emergency, well not so much switched off but rendered useless to the public. They did it here in the UK when the 7/7 bombings took place to stop the network getting jammed and to prevent mobile phones being used as remote initiation devices for bombs as happened in Madrid

Dont rely on the mobile network

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Post by raptor » Sat Apr 26, 2008 3:57 pm

zoiders wrote:Remember one thing about bug out phones

Cellular networks very often get switched of in times of emergency, well not so much switched off but rendered useless to the public. They did it here in the UK when the 7/7 bombings took place to stop the network getting jammed and to prevent mobile phones being used as remote initiation devices for bombs as happened in Madrid

Dont rely on the mobile network
Excellent point. Also remember if/when that happens text messages still will usually go through. The messages may be delayed but they will go through more often than not.

I learned during Katrina that the SMS system is actually robust. The message will be stored until the system can communicate with your phone. The SMS system also uses so little bandwidth so it i smore likely to stay operational.

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Post by andygates » Sat Apr 26, 2008 5:21 pm

That last part is region-variable; here, during moderate network congestion it's true, but during heavy congestion the network rejects the SMS with a "message sending failed" reply.

That level of congestion's pretty uncommon though: the hour around new year midnight, big planed events like concerts which cram the cell with users, or media-saturated megadrama events.
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Post by mr.squatch » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:13 pm

Who can tell me what info you had to give up to activate your phone. If it's pre-paid and I paid cash for it and refill with prepaid cards, no reason they should ever have to contact me. Could I get away with using false contact info? I hate going to sears or somewhere and they want my phone number or address or both in order for me to pay cash for something. grrr.

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Post by LilDaemon » Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:36 pm

You can tell them that you don't want to give them that information. They'll either leave it blank or fill it in with all 9's (whatever the store policy is), and you don't have to be bothered. They normally collect it for promotional purposes.

Unless it's a purchase that can seem a little iffy, like boxes of rounds from Outdoor World, then I won't give it to them. (That's my feeling on it anyways.) If someone throws a fit, most likely cause it was impressed on them by their manager that they need this info, tell them to either make one up for you or give them a fake one.
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Post by MrNobody » Sun Apr 27, 2008 7:38 pm

Another happy tracfone owner, I've carried one for three yearswith no trouble and keep an extra one in the Mossberg InstantAccess gun safe.
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Post by Cheap-A$$-Survivor » Mon Apr 28, 2008 9:05 am

Tracfone customer for 4 years or so. Simple, easy, and cheap. I forced myself to be the type of person that doesn't need a bazillion ring tones, wallpapers, internet, music previews, and all the other crap so many people think they must have. Many of the models have very good battery life(especially c139), and charge fairly fast. The only negative comment is that customer service is near complete D- service, so make sure you never need to call them up unless you are activating or upgrading(this seems to be the only two things they are willing to help you with).

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