Answering Questions About Straight Talk Wireless

Today, a reader Dave, asks a lot of questions about Straight Talk wireless and I try and answer them. Actually, I’d point out that Dave is taking the right approach to research the issue before switching.

Hi Bob,
I just came upon your web site while trying to do some research on Straight Talk options. I am currently paying $170/month to Cingular (“AT&T”) and am trying to radically reduce my monthly costs. Last night, I nearly signed up for Verizon service at ~$120/month, but their servers went down as I began to check out. Amazing, huh?

Because of my frustrations, I began looking more closely at Straight Talk.

I expect to purchase 2 iPhone 5s’s. In my area, the Cingular network is terrible, so I’d like to insure that these work on & use the Verizon network. Based on information that I found here, it sounds like there may be limitations, if I can get on the Verizon network at all. Is this correct? What’s my best option for proceeding, so that I get what I need in this situation?

Also, as I started my research, I found that many people had the following general issues with Straight Talk, so I wanted to get your input on them before I get serious about jumping in:

1) Can I really keep my existing phone numbers? People have posted that they were able to keep their numbers, but only temporarily. They indicated that the original numbers got disconnected and new numbers were issued in their places. We **really need** to keep our existing numbers. Are there any “gotchas” that we should know about?

2) Are there issues with support? Folks have posted that the technical support is outside of the US, and that it is very difficult to get issues understood, let alone resolved. That’s why your site is so valuable. 🙂 Can you comment?

3) My expectation is that I cannot have multiple phones on one account/card — I will need one card/phone. Based on this, I expect to get unlimited talk/text/web access (currently $45/month at Walmart, with longer terms available at a slight discount), so I expect that this means $90/month. Am I misunderstanding anything?

4) Does Straight Talk throttle their data access? At what thresholds?

5) I see from your site that Straight Talk does not allow/support Wi-Fi hot-spot functionality. Are there other limitations that I should know about?

6) Users have indicated that there may be issues with the “Auto-Refill” functionality, and that I should use pre-bought cards until things are working flawlessly before I sign up for Auto-Refill. Any comments?

7) Can I trust the folks at Walmart to know/understand the equipment and plans that they offer?

My biggest concern about moving to Straight Talk is that there are many potential unknowns, that I might not get service that fulfills my expectations, and that, in the worst case, I will be stuck with 2 iPhones that I cannot use, and will have lost our current numbers. Like many others, we rely on our cellphones, and cannot have any hiccups.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer my questions and also for making this site available. It’s a tremendously useful resource for folks like me who want the straight talk on Straight Talk. 🙂

Thanks again,
— Dave.

Hi Dave,
That is a lot of questions, but I’ll try to answer them point by point.

0. When you sign up for Straight Talk, your phone will be on either their ATT, TMobile, Verizon or Sprint networks. You mention your using Cingular, so I assume that is AT&T as ATT bought them a long time ago. You also mention you’d like to be on the Verizon network. You won’t be able to use the iPhone 5s on their Verizon network though. They won’t activate it. See Using Your Verizon iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or iPhone 5 with Straight Talk Wireless

1. Yes you can keep your existing phone number. If you read many internet forums, you’ll always find a case of someone reporting that they lost their phone number when changing to Straight Talk or another phone service. I can’t recall anyone telling me they lost their number here. I’d say that is more of a horror story, then something that happens often. It’s more common to her people report that it took days to get their number transferred. But I’d say most people get their number transferred in a few hours.

2. When you use AT&T, TMobile, Verizon or Sprint you have the ability to walk into a company store and wait while they resolve your issue. With Straight Talk and other prepaid services, you’ll need to rely on phone and online chat for support. As far as I can tell, Straight Talk’s support is outsourced outside the USA. Many people report the best results when they get their support ticket assigned to Tier 2 support.

3. I am not sure what you mean by one phone per card. Do you mean credit card? You can create an online account and add a number of phones to it. You can set up auto pay for the phones to use your credit card. You’ll get a $2.50 discount per line for using autopay. You’ll pay state sales tax for the service plus some other government fees so it will come out to a little over $45 a line in the end. See Net10 & Straight Talk Wireless Taxes and Fees

4. On a $45 a month plan, Straight Talk throttles data after you use 3GB in your 30 days of service

5. Straight Talk doesn’t offer Hot Spot / tethering. Many carriers offer this as an add on feature you pay extra for. Straight Talk doesn’t support visual voicemail on the iPhone. Some users have issues getting MMS picture messages and group texts working reliably.

6. I use Auto Refill, it works for me. I can’t say I have had many readers report issues with auto refill. In fact, I’d say I hear about more issues when people forget to refill their account and reactivate it. Again, this isn’t common. Also remember when reading my site and others, you are reader about users that had a problem and are looking for help. Most customers don’t bother to post that everything is working fine.

7. I think it depends on the individual employee at Walmart. Walmart employees aren’t straight talk sales or support agents.

I generally tell people that if support is really important to you, your best off going with a prepaid plan directly from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint. You can walk into a store and get them to set it all up for you and go back if you need help. This plans may cost more money, or offer less high speed data for the money. For example, Verizon’s AllSet prepaid costs $45 a month for 500mb of data vs Straight Talk’s 3GB of data (before throttling).

I have used ATT, TMobile prepaid, Straight Talk, Net10, H20 Wireless, and recently Red Pocket. I had a few issues with getting my phone numbers transferred to Straight Talk, Net10, and Red Pocket. It required a hour or more on the phone and in one casea new SIM to resolve, which Straight Talk sent me for free. For me it was worth the savings. Since signing up, I don’t have any reason to call for support.

For you, it might be best to decide which network works best in your area, and then pick from the prepaid companies that use that network.

Also, I’d encourage you to read through the many articles and comments on smartphonematters. You’ll get a sense of what problems people have had and the effort needed to resolve them.

I hope this helps.

Regards
Bob

13 Comments

  1. Mat | | Reply

    I have figured out the solution to the vanishing visual voicemail on straight talk. I currently havw an iphone 4s for straight talk. for the longest time my visual voicemail disappeared and i couldnt figure out why but i just recently got it back. no extra apps. no jailbreaking. no network reset. and no other service or sim card. just your straight talk iphone and your laptop

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Mat,
      Would you care to share your solution with Smartphonematters readers? I know a lot of people would appreciate it.
      Regards
      Bob

  2. John Sawicki | | Reply

    My wife is using Straight Talk now. I was givin a IPhone 4s previously on Verizon, is it difficult to transfer the iPhone to her account and keep the same number?

  3. Trevor | | Reply

    Hello,
    I just wanted to let you know that visual voicemail does in fact work on the Iphone5 CDMA (verizon) on straight talk. I have had the iphone5 CDMA straight talk phone for a little over a year and have never had problems with visual voicemail, SMS messaging etc. I did have the Iphone 5S GSM (ATT) straight talk phone before and I had problems with visual voicemail and SMS (group) messaging. As far as I can tell, the only Iphone that can operate on the CDMA (verizon) network using straight talk is the Iphone 5. I wish they would either fix the SMS/Visual Voicemail problems on the GSM phones or allow the newer Iphone models to be activated on the CDMA network. BTW, walmart is currently selling refurbished Iphone 5’s (CDMA Verizon) for $345 with a free month of unlimited straight talk service if anyone is interested in getting a ST CDMA Iphone. =)

    Thanks,
    Trevor

  4. Beth | | Reply

    Hi Bob,
    I am a straight talk customer for over a year, I had a few issues in the beginning but love it this far. How do I get visual voicemail back? I never really worried about the hassle of calling customer service about it since I signed up, but I now really want the voicemail back. any suggestions?

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      hi Beth,
      Straight Talk doesn’t support Visual Voicemail. There is an app in the App Store called YouMail. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but others have told me its a reasonable replacement. Last I checked it was free, so there is little downside to giving it a try. If you do try it, I’d love to hear back from you with what you think about it.
      Regards
      Bob

  5. Brittany stephens | | Reply

    I have a Verizon Motorola g and can’t get it to activate I got the network access code and every time I try to activated it its says that it can not be activated at this tim e or program it I mean

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Brittany,
      I would try it again later. Also try using the zip code for the nearest big city. If that doesn’t work, call Straight Talk and see if you can get the G registered over the phone.
      Let me know how it goes.
      Regards
      Bob

  6. Dave | | Reply

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your very timely reply. It was tremendously helpful. You were able to address all of my major questions.

    With respect to “Cingular”, they bought “AT&T Wireless”, who had gone out of business earlier. “AT&T”, now essentially a holding company, eventually acquired SBC/Cingular and re-branded Cingular’s network “AT&T Mobility” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AT%26T_Wireless_Services#AT.26T_brand_returns_to_wireless).

    One of my pet peeves in business is that companies that have performance issues (like Cingular) will just rename themselves, and most consumers won’t know the difference. In this case, I found it to be most insidious, as the “AT&T” brand meant quality to most people for many decades, but they ended up getting the same crappy Cingular service.

    Cingular’s service has slowly improved over the years, because of competition with Verizon (who themselves were previously “Bell Atlantic”), but in my area in Massachusetts, there are still many, many dead spots and capacity issues, even on major highways. I have been locked to them for business reasons, and have complained over the years, but they don’t seem to listen.

    I now have the chance to finally be free from these guys, and am concerned about ending up back on their network. However, if I do so, it will still feel better as I will be doing it a much lower cost (~$90 vs. $170).

    Anyway, that’s why I have continued to call “AT&T” “Cingular”.

    Thanks again for taking the time & effort to make SmartphoneMatters.com available. I really appreciate it!

    Best regards,
    — Dave.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Hi Dave,
      I live in Massachusetts too. I have used Cingular, ATT, and TMobile. My wife was using Cingular when it was rebranded ATT. I guess my memory is failing because I thought I remembered ATT acquired cingular, and then SBC acquired AT&T.

      I used t-Mobile with my iPhone in 2012 and finally gave up because I only got 2G service and there were so many dead spots in Middlesex and my GPS navigation would just stop working. I have T-Mobile service on my iPad now, and they have updated the network significantly and I get pretty fast LTE but I am relucant to switch back for fear of entering an area where they haven’t updated their network.

      My experience with Straight Talk with the ATT network is good. My wife seems to manage to find the dead spots on her commute and in some areas she has trouble hearing me when I can hear her clearly. I don’t have much experience with Verizon, except that whenever I borrow a Verizon phone to test their data speeds I am pretty unimpressed. I have readers around the country reporting blazing fast LTE data speeds with Verizon but i have never experienced them.

      Let me know what you end up doing.
      Regards
      Bob

      • Dave | | Reply

        Hi again Bob,

        Thanks again for the site — it’s been invaluable.

        Right now we’re leaning toward Verizon (either a contract or the AllSet plan), especially with the fact that Straight Talk won’t allow us to use the iPhone 5s on the Verizon network.

        We need to get away from the Cingular/AT&T network. We live in Worcester County and we work in Middlesex County. I routinely drop Cingular/AT&T calls on Rt495 during cell handover at rush hour, and my wife works in a Metrowest suburb and can only receive service in a small corner of her workplace. We do get service in our home, but there are huge network holes in the area around our home. I have made Cingular/AT&T aware of the holes (I’m sure that they already understand where they are), but there has been no improvement. They don’t seem to care.

        One additional complication in our case is that my wife has started streaming audio, and right now we’re using about 2GB/month. I’ll have to walk through the AllSet plan to how much it will cost.

        I have asked around and I haven’t heard any complaints regarding the performance of the Verizon data network. One thing that I am somewhat concerned about is that Verizon will often limit the functionality of phones on their network, ostensibly for support reasons. Have you heard of any such limitations by Verizon? It would be good for us to know/understand these before we commit, as opposed to after.

        Also, my expectation is that if Verizon opens their 4G LTE network to MVNO data customers, I should be able to transition from AllSet to Straight Talk/Net10, should it make sense, although there are no guarantees. Any thoughts?

        Once again, many thanks for the site. It’s helped me take a very serious look at non-contract wireless, which is really maturing. My hope is that the additional competition will push the large providers more and more, and that consumers will benefit.

        Best regards,
        — Dave.

        • Bob Thompson | | Reply

          Hi Dave,
          I think AllSet will be expensive for 2GB a month. You might want to check out PagePlus Page Plus Cellular Offers 4G LTE on the Verizon Network. They have 4G LTE on the Verizon network. I understand they cap the speed, but several readers have reported that it’s quite usable.

          Let me know what you end up doing.
          Regards
          Bob

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