From smartphone makers to cellular providers, it seems just about everyone in the mobile business likes to talk up the benefits of fast 4G networks. The problem is, 4G happens to be a pricey luxury costing anywhere from $20 to $50 per month. Worse, carriers often count 4G service as an extra add-on to your existing voice plan. Now factor in different tiers of service available offering varying data amounts, sharing data among devices, family plans, and you can get a 4G-size headache in no time. You'll likely wind up with a fat $100 bill, too.
Newcomer Simple Mobile, however, says its $50 Unlimited Nationwide plan is all mobile smartphone owners need. Even better, the plan doesn't require a stifling contract, and Simple Mobile even encourages you to bring your own unlocked device to the party.
How it works
Just sign up online or at a local Simple Mobile dealer and the MVNO will send you an activated SIM card made to operate on T-Mobile's GSM network. At $12.99 a pop, you can choose either the standard-size SIM or micro-SIM to insert into your unlocked handset. It's also important to note that with T-Mobile phones, the most compatible models you're apt to find in the U.S. are already unlocked.
Also, since you're bringing your own phone, all that's necessary to create an account is a valid e-mail address, no credit check or even credit card required. If it's more convenient, you can give Simple Mobile your payment credentials to set up automatic billing or pay in person with cold, hard cash.
Numerous phone features are bundled into the Simple Mobile Unlimited Nationwide plan. This includes unlimited local and long-distance calls, domestic and global text messaging, along with basic voice mail, caller ID, and three-way calling. You can also use a $5 credit toward calling people internationally, but I bet you'd burn through that coupon pretty quickly. The Simple Mobile service does not support call forwarding, though, so using third-party cloud-based solutions for your primary voice mail such as Google Voice won't work.
The big draw of Simple Mobile's $50 wireless plan, though, is its 4G data access. According to the company, if your handset supports T-Mobile's 1,700MHz GSM band and the HSPA+ data protocol, you'll be good to go. In addition, for those who have a compatible handset, you theoretically will enjoy peak data downloads of 21Mbps or 42Mbps. Of course if you're not located in a T-Mobile 4G, area you're out of luck.
Setting up Simple Mobile service on my test phone wasn't too painful. To make sure I had a device with maximum wireless compatibility, I chose the Meizu MX. It can operate on a whopping nine GSM bands, though its 1,700MHz support is what I really cared about.
Physically installing the card was merely a matter of turning off the Meizu, removing the back cover, placing the Simple Mobile Micro-SIM into the phone's slot, and then turning it back on. Cajoling the handset to grab hold of an Internet connection was a bit more tricky, but anyone familiar with setting up an unlocked device won't have any trouble. I looked up the APN settings for Simple Mobile's wireless network on its Web site and punched them into the Meizu's network settings menu.
4G speeds with the Meizu MX on Simple Mobile's network, however, weren't awe-inspiring. Average downloads clocked in at about 3Mbps with peaks of almost 5Mbps down, and uploads hovered at the 2.5Mbps mark. While these speeds are anything but blistering, they're solid enough for typical data tasks. I also expect that an official T-Mobile device capable of pulling down 42Mbps, such as the HTC One S, for example, will turn in better network performance.
So far, I like what I see from Simple Mobile. What will really clinch it for me, though, is just how fast the carrier's data can get or for that matter how T-Mobile will allow it to be. Also, while Simple Mobile claims vaguely that it doesn't hold a data cap in place, it does reserve the right to pull the plug if it feels users engage in "abusive behavior." I'm also not entirely convinced that all T-Mobile phones are unlocked. Be sure to check back soon, though, as I iron these concerns out and provide a full rated review.