9/3 Update: Straight Talk is offering the ATT SIM again. See
Recently I have been getting a lot of questions and requests for help from Straight Talk Wireless customers. This makes sense since back in May, I posted my How to Setup Straight Talk Wireless Data and MMS for your iPhone running iOS 6 guide, and people are coming to smartphonematters.com for help.
Using your iPhone with Straight Talk’s T-Mobile network GSM SIM might not be the best choice. Read on to find out why.
As you may or may not know Straight Talk (ST) is what’s known as a Mobile Virtual Network Operate or MVNO for short. An MVNO doesn’t own their cellular network, they buy service wholesale from AT&T, T-Mobile, and even Verizon and resell it to you at a discount. In fact, Straight Talk even sells iPhones, but the iPhones they sell run on the Verizon network. If you are reading this, you most likely already have an iPhone and you are trying to use STs Bring Your Own Phone plan .
The idea ST’s Bring Your Own Phone plan is that you have your own smartphone, you buy a SIM kit, activate the SIM, put it in your phone and you are good to go. But there is a big issue you need to be aware of. Straight Talk Wireless currently sells SIMs that use the T-Mobile network. Before March, when you bought on of these SIM kits, there were three SIMs in it. Two for the AT&T network, and one for the T-Mobile network. In March, Straight Talk stopped offering the AT&T SIMs. The general consensus is that AT&T changed the terms for MVNO’s so that they couldn’t offer lower cost unlimited data plans. They stopped selling the ST AT&T SIMs. If you can find a Straight Talk ATT SIM, you can activate it but they are hard to find these days. You can check eBay they sell for between $50 and $100. You are only going to find ST T-Mobile Networks SIMs at retail in your local Walmart,
If you have an iPhone, this can be a problem. Because even though your unlocked iPhone can use the T-Mobile SIM, data will often be slow. T-Mobile was the last big carrier in the US to support the iPhone. Many current and older iPhones can only use slow 2G data with a ST T-Mobile SIM. Also, if you live in an area where T-Mobile service is spotty or not well supported, your phone will roam to another network. I have heard from a many readers that live in areas with poor T-Mobile coverage and their phones often roam to some other network and they don’t seem to be able to get data working at all.
Recently, T-Mobile started offering the iPhone and as part of this, they are updating their network to support fast 3G and 4G data on the iPhone. Unfortunately T-Mobile is still upgrading their network market by market. This means in order for you to get 3G or 4G service, you need to be using your iPhone in places where they have updated the network. So for example, one reader in Las Vegas told me he gets 3G service there.
OK, So What are My Options?…
- Use the Straight Talk T-Mobile SIM in your iPhone and live with slow 2G data service. (not appealing)
- Get a Verizon model iPhone and sign up for Straight Talk using the Verizon network. The iPhones that ST sells are on the Verizon network. You will get Verizon 3G, not 4G LTE speeds with the iPhone 5.
- Find an ST AT&T SIM. Pay the premium of $50 to $100 for that SIM. Look on eBay.
- Switch to Net10. Net10 is the sister company to ST. They still offer the AT&T SIM with $50 unlimited talk and text with a 1.5GB data cap per month. Supposedly your data stops working when you hit the limit. I never have.
- Switch to AT&T Pay N Go. Its $65 a month for 2GB of data. If you have the iPhone 5, they offer 4G LTE super fast data
And finally, I would add that if you do live in one of the markets where your iPhone works well on the T-Mobile network, it would be worth your time to look at T-Mobile directly. They may have a plan that better fits your needs. For example, if you don’t use a lot of voice they have a $30 mo plan with 100 minutes voice and unlimited data.
I hope this helps.