Here's How to Get T-Mobile's Hidden $30 Smartphone Plan
T-Mobile has a prepaid plan that offers 5GB of data that you may not have heard of.
Image: Yutaka Tsutano/Flickr
Sprint, the fourth largest wireless carrier in the US, generated plenty of headlines yesterday when it announced it was offering cut-rate smartphone plans for as much as 50 percent less than what its competitors charge. But as good as those plans may be, they can't possibly hold a candle to one elusive plan from T-Mobile.
The plan, which is buried deep within T-Mobile's website and is rarely mentioned outside of the confines of places like Reddit, costs $30 per month and includes 5GB of 4G LTE data (which slows to 2G speeds if you burn through all 5GB), unlimited SMS, and 100 voice minutes per month. That means you can Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter to your heart's content for the price of two New York City movie tickets. Calls made with apps like Facebook Messenger and Skype consume data, not minutes, so there's not too much to worry about there.
There are a few caveats to keep in mind. This is a pre-paid plan, so you're not eligible for T-Mobile's "Uncarrier" promotions like unlimited Netflix viewing. It's also only available for new T-Mobile customers. And actually subscribing to the plan is a bit of a hassle.
For one you'll need an unlocked smartphone. This can be a smartphone that's unlocked when you buy it (an unlocked iPhone 6s starts at $649), or one that you ask your previous wireless carrier to unlock after you've fulfilled your contact. You'll then need a T-Mobile SIM card, which are readily available on Amazon for about $5. And once the SIM card is installed you'll need to activate the plan on T-Mobile's website.
I have personally used this plan for three years with a Nexus 4, iPhone 5s, and iPhone 6 (my current device), and have not run into any major issues. I do live in New York City (well, Queens), and T-Mobile is generally acceptable everywhere I need to be. This may not be the case where you live, of course, so be sure to check out T-Mobile's coverage.
Finding a similar wireless plan on the other carriers isn't easy. Verizon does offer a $30 per month prepaid plan, but that doesn't include wireless data, making it just about pointless. AT&T has a $45 per month prepaid plan, but that only includes 1.5GB of "high-speed" data (data is slowed after you reach that threshold). And Sprint has a $35 per month prepaid plan, but that only includes 1GB of data (which is also slowed after you reach that threshold).
Google's Project Fi may also be an option if you've got a compatible smartphone (like the Nexus 5X and 6P), with $30 getting you unlimited voice minutes, text messages, and 1GB of data.