A REAL cell phone plan: Virgin Mobile

Written 3 January 2003

Updated 6 June 2004

My cell phone needs are atypical. I want a phone to have in the car in case of emergency (car trouble, etc.) and to have with me on motorcycle rides for the same reason — especially when I’m out riding alone. I do NOT want to pay a monthly fee for time I don’t use. Period. I’ve been waiting for a good pre-paid cell phone deal to come along.

Months ago I changed cell phone providers. I used to use Aerial->Voicestream->T-Mobile. I dumped that because I didn’t like paying a monthly fee for something I didn’t always need or used very little. I got a Virgin Mobile (www.virgin.com/mobile) pre-paid cellular phone.

They license their airtime from Sprint, so the phone supposedly works anywhere on the Sprint network in the U.S. That’s good.

It costs as follows:

$0.25/minute for the first ten minutes you use it in a day.

$0.10/minute for each additional minute that day.

Domestic (U.S.) long-distance is no extra charge.

This includes voice mail, though I’ve never used mine.

The prices are the same anywhere in the U.S. (I don’t know what happens when you leave the Sprint network.)

You buy cards (smallest is $20) to “top-up” the phone. If you don’t use the minutes, the cards expire 90 days from activation. That is NOT BAD. Then, 60 days after that the card expires–if you don’t top-up again — you lose your phone number (no big deal) and you have to call them to re-activate your phone. I keep a spare card in my wallet.

Via e-mail AND telephone they have told me there is NO FEE to re-activate a phone in such a case. Just a phone call.

Your phone probably comes with $10 in free initial top-up.

This was a good deal and will probably save me $35/mo over my old cell

phone. I haven’t made a single call on the new phone (no need to!) so I

can’t comment on service, but the person that activated the phone for me was a friendly beach bum up in Washington state. (“Gnarly, dude.”)

You just pick up a top-up card at a store like Best Buy when you need them. Or keep a spare $20 card in your wallet.

Also, at any time (I HAVE done this) you can ask your phone to tell you how much money you have left.

This is great for me. When I go out of town, I will still have a cell phone

for emergencies or whatever and it won’t cost me an arm and a leg the rest of the year. I haven’t given the number to anyone. And even if I did, I can see who is calling and decide if I’m going to answer (if I EVER give the

number out, that is.)

I thought this might be useful to others.

As an aside, I would like to remark that whenever I have called for customer service, the folks on the other end of the line have been eager to help, competent and courteous. That’s more than I can say for the people I’ve spoken with at AT&T Wireless — both in town at the actual AT&T Wireless office (not a third-party mall kiosk) and on the phone.

My final remark is that, though my cell phone needs are atypical, they shouldn’t be. Take a look at your cellular service usage patterns. How much of that do you really need? I think many people, taking an honest and brutal look at this, will realize that they really only need a phone for three reasons:

Emergency (incoming or outgoing)

Family and CLOSE friends (incoming)

Occasional miscellaneous use (outgoing)

Beyond that, how much really can’t wait until you get home or to the office?

I even have a spare Virgin Mobile phone waiting on my bookshelf for my girlfriend’s AT&T Wireless plan (two years!) to expire. When it does, I know Virgin Mobile will be there for her.