media logos

Prepaid services that offer data services

Last week, when we learned that Virgin Mobile would release a prepaid mobile hotspot, it really highlighted their data plans. They’re some of the best plans you can get on a prepaid basis. But it also made me think about the state of prepaid phone data. Virgin’s Broadband2Go plans are meant for use as laptop cards, not smartphone data. Unfortunately, prepaid data plans are tough to come by, as I’ve been reminded by many recent emailers. So which carriers do offer decent data plans?

There are, of course, the unlimited services offered by Boost Mobile, Cricket, MetroPCS, and Straight Talk, but that might not be what everyone seeks. In order to get the unlimited data you need to sign up for the full plan, which can range from $40 to $60. For people who don’t want to talk a lot, that might be seen as a waste.

PlatinumTel has an interesting offer with its Real Paygo plan. Minutes and messages are charged on a per-use basis, so you won’t end up paying for minutes you don’t use (unless you let them expire). Data costs 10 cents per MB, which is a fairly reasonable rate. It means, obviously, that 100 MB costs $10, which is less than kajeet ($14) and AT&T GoPhone ($19.99).

As we laid out last month, you can get prepaid data on T-Mobile, but it can be a bit tricky. For starters, they only let you get prepaid data on their 2G prepaid phone inventory. You can circumvent that by placing your SIM into a 3G phone. But then its 99 cents per hour, which might be a steep rate depending on your usage. Verizon prepaid offers data for 99 cents per day, which seems like a better deal than T-Mobile until you realize it’s over 1xRTT, which is ploddingly slow. It’s not good for much beyond checking weather, quick news updates, and sports scores.

The best of the lot, it appears, is actually Virgin Mobile, though clearly not its Broadband2Go plans. Instead, its $25 monthly plan, $35 with BlackBerry, provides unlimited data and messaging with only 300 voice minutes. That helps keep costs down for those who don’t talk a lot, while providing ample service at a good price for data users.

Which prepaid services do you prefer for data?