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Consumer Cellular Offers Cheap, No-Nonsense Access to AT&T’s Cellular Network

Verizon used to claim that it had the largest cellular network, and for the most part, it delivered. Verizon’s network covered places no other carrier would match. It wouldn’t be unusual to get five bars of service in backwoods mountain towns or see 40 Mbps LTE download speeds in Nowheresville.

However, here in rural Tennessee, our Verizon service has steadily degraded over the past few years, to the point where my service became unusable even in town. Oddly, text messages, which are usually more robust, started failing, causing me to get frustrated calls from my wife, at least when those would work.

When I first moved to Lafayette to be with my wife, Verizon was the only game in town. When we first met, I used AT&T—at the time, the only carrier that offered the iPhone—and over our year-long courtship, I was largely unreachable to friends and family when I visited her. Once we were married, we set up a Verizon family plan. I couldn’t even port over my AT&T number because AT&T wasn’t licensed here.

That has changed recently. As part of its FirstNet initiative, AT&T has been dramatically expanding its coverage, building at least three towers in my county. At some point, we also got T-Mobile service. So now I have options. Meanwhile, my Verizon service got worse and worse, and a new Verizon tower didn’t seem to help much.

Frustrated with Verizon, I wanted to try out the AT&T network, but I wasn’t ready to commit until I saw how it performed. I asked for recommendations on TidBITS Talk, and Robert C. Johnson pointed me to Consumer Cellular, a mobile virtual network operator that piggybacks on the AT&T network. To give it a whirl, I ordered a free SIM card with a temporary number for my iPhone 11 Pro.

Consumer Cellular banner

When you order a SIM card, you must enter your iPhone’s IMEI number so Consumer Cellular can make sure your phone isn’t locked to its current carrier. You can find that in Settings > General > About. Also on the About screen, Carrier Lock should indicate if your iPhone has any restrictions.

Consumer Cellular: Everything You Want, Nothing You Don’t

First, I have to point out with some amusement that Consumer Cellular caters to an older crowd. All of its models sport at least a little gray in their hair, and it sells a device called the GrandPad. Consumer Cellular is the opposite of Boost Mobile, which merged with Virgin Mobile last year and aggressively markets to a young, hip crowd. Although there’s likely no distinction in the actual service between such companies, marketing and support could be cringe-inducing if you’re not in the target demographic. Personally, I’ll take earnest grayness over slangy enthusiasm—I just want reliable cellular service and responsive tech support.

Steve Buscemi with a hat and skateboard asking "How do you do, fellow kids?"

Consumer Cellular marketing continues the focus by getting to the point. I’m tired of corporate social media feeds bragging about how they’re redefining what it means to make a phone call or how we’re all “in this together.” Consumer Cellular sticks to phones and phone accessories. The company’s Twitter feed links to helpful articles from Android Authority, CNET, Fast Company, and other respectable outfits (sadly, not TidBITS yet) that help customers make the most of their phones. The focus and lack of “special messages” are refreshing.

You can buy an iPhone through Consumer Cellular, either up front or through a payment program. It sells all the iPhones in Apple’s current lineup, or you can get a free SIM card to install in an existing iPhone (recent iPhones can work across carriers that use different cellular technologies, unlike in the past).

Consumer Cellular's iPhone lineup

Consumer Cellular has a 30-day money-back guarantee. I canceled my first line because I was ready to port my number, and thanks to a June special, I ended up with a positive balance in my account instead of a bill.

Consumer Cellular offers the features you’d expect: 5G (for iPhone 12 models), Wi-Fi Calling, and Personal Hotspot. I had some snafus with Wi-Fi Calling and Personal Hotspot that I’ll discuss below. Once I got Wi-Fi Calling set up, it worked much more reliably than Verizon’s, which would spontaneously fail throughout the day, forcing me to turn things off and on again until it (hopefully) worked again. (I have no cellular service at my house, so Wi-Fi Calling is key.) I tested tethering with an iPad while on the road, and it also worked fine.

As for coverage, I tested the AT&T network against Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s networks (thanks to “T-Mobile’s Network Test Drive Puts 5G on Your iPhone’s eSIM,” 5 July 2021) and found the three comparable in my area, which is saying something, because I live, as George Clooney put it in O Brother, Where Art Thou, “two weeks from everywhere.” And as data speeds go, I’ll let you be the judge.

Speed tests between Consumer Cellular, T-Mobile, and Verizon
Speed tests I ran in town, where the signal is strongest.

Consumer Cellular Pricing

Consumer Cellular offers several plans, but its lineup is simple. There are talk-only plans, which are pointless if you have an iPhone, and 250-minute plans, which aren’t much cheaper than unlimited talk and text plans.

For a single line, unlimited talk and text with 500 MB of data costs $25 per month, with various tiers up to $60 per month for unlimited everything. You can have up to three lines, and with three lines, each person gets unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 per month or $90 per month total. Not too shabby. I’ve been paying $130 per month for three lines of lousy Verizon service, and that’s with a 19% state employee discount my wife gets for being a teacher.

Consumer Cellular plans

There are no overages. If you exceed your data limit, Consumer Cellular automatically upgrades you to the next data tier and notifies you. You stay on the higher tier unless you manually downgrade to a lower tier.

As for the unlimited plan, you get full speed 5G or LTE until you hit 35 GB of usage, after which it’s throttled, though to what speed I couldn’t determine.

AARP members also get a 5% discount.

Consumer Cellular Limitations and Snafus

Consumer Cellular has a few limitations. Since it’s not one of the big three carriers, it’s not part of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. I don’t see that as a big deal, since I can finance an iPhone with my Apple Card and trade it back to Apple when I’m ready to upgrade.

Family plans are limited to three lines. That’s not a problem for me at the moment because I share a plan only with my wife and mother. If you need more lines, you could presumably set up a second account to add three more lines.

Consumer Cellular doesn’t offer data plans for the Apple Watch or iPad. I don’t see why you couldn’t install a Consumer Cellular SIM in a cellular iPad, but I don’t have one to test. (Nor do I have a cellular Apple Watch, so that’s not a limitation for me.)

Although Consumer Cellular offers Wi-Fi Calling and Personal Hotspot, you have to ask the company’s customer service to enable them. I’ve activated two SIMs with Consumer Cellular: one for my test and a second when I ported my number from Verizon. Both times, data worked as soon as I installed the SIM, but I couldn’t dial out, activate Wi-Fi Calling, or use Personal Hotspot until I contacted customer service.

When you contact Consumer Cellular to get your SIM fully activated, I recommend requesting Wi-Fi Calling and Personal Hotspot at the same time. Not only will it save you another call, but it’ll also save a bit of hassle since you have to restart your iPhone each time a new feature is turned on. Also, when Consumer Cellular first activated Personal Hotspot, it turned off Wi-Fi Calling on my iPhone, and I had to turn it back on again in Settings.

Customer service is reasonably responsive—it usually takes 5–10 minutes before reaching chat or phone support. Given how long I’ve waited on hold trying to reach other carriers and given the general labor shortage, I can’t complain much. Once I’ve gotten through, I’ve had good service—the staff is prompt, courteous, and fluent in English.

The only annoyance I’ve had came when I was porting my number. Consumer Cellular’s customer service rep told me she couldn’t port the number because Consumer Cellular didn’t offer service in my area. That was weird since I had already tested its service and had no problem activating the temporary number previously. When I mentioned that I had already activated a SIM with Consumer Cellular, she eventually was able to override the block to port my number.

By the way, when you port your number, you may need a special code from your previous provider that prevents miscreants from porting your number as part of an identity theft scam. For Verizon, you need to go to a settings page and click Generate PIN, which you then give to Consumer Cellular customer service.

Installing the Consumer Cellular SIM

Consumer Cellular packages its SIM cards in an all-in-one card. For most iPhones, you’ll want to punch out the nano-SIM in the center, but don’t toss the card. If you need a different SIM card size later, you can press the nano-SIM back in and then punch out the micro or standard SIM size.

Consumer Cellular has a helpful video on how to use its SIM cards.

Two notes about dealing with nano-SIM cards:

  • They are tiny and extremely easy to lose. Make sure you have appropriate eyewear for working with small objects, and proceed with caution.
  • Don’t touch the metal side of the card. If it gets dirty, your phone may have a hard time reading it, and you’ll get random messages about the SIM card not being inserted. It may help to wear disposable gloves.

Other than dealing with the tiny nano-SIM, swapping it out is pretty easy:

  1. If you use a case with your iPhone, remove it.
  2. Look on the left or right side of the iPhone for an oval (the SIM tray) with a hole in it.
  3. Gently push a thin metal object into the hole to pop out the SIM tray. Your iPhone came with a SIM removal tool, but if you can’t find it, use a paperclip.
  4. Store the old SIM card in a safe place. I used an old SD card case.
  5. Carefully insert the Consumer Cellular SIM card in the tray. It fits in only one way, so you can’t screw it up.
  6. Push the tray back in until it’s flush with the side of the iPhone.

Apple has a video on how to change your SIM card.

Your iPhone should recognize the SIM right away, but you may have to contact Consumer Cellular customer service to be able to make calls. The instructions with the SIM give you a number you can use to test.

If You Decide to Switch

I can’t tell you if you should switch to Consumer Cellular because cell service varies so widely around the country. I’m pleased with my service so far, customer service has been easy to work with, and I appreciate the company’s no-nonsense approach. I don’t miss Verizon at all.

I wrote this review just to share my experiences, but if you do decide to switch, I would be remiss not to mention Consumer Cellular’s referral program, which gives us both a $10 account credit. If you’re interested in switching, send me an email at [email protected], and I’ll share a referral link with you so we can both save a few bucks.

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Comments About Consumer Cellular Offers Cheap, No-Nonsense Access to AT&T’s Cellular Network

Notable Replies

  1. I can confirm a CC sim works fine in an iPad, though $15/month is kind of steep for just adding a device to your plan.

  2. Thank you, @jcenters, for a very nice article. If I ever get displeased with T-Mobile, I’d be happy to switch us over. We’re on 2 lines right now paying $90, looks like CC would get us down to about $75 most months.

    Just one little thing I can add. If somebody needs to switch to another phone and only has a nano SIM on hand, there are very inexpensive little adapters to micro and mini SIM. In many cases these might be easier to get (and cheaper perhaps too) than to wait for your carrier to send you a a new appropriately sized SIM. Here’s just one typical example, can’t vouch for this exact make.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00R25GJJW/

  3. My experience with Consumer Cellular ratifies everything in your article. If T-Mobile’s service is good in the area you care about, you’ll probably save a little money by choosing them, but Consumer Cellular completely delivers on the fronts of:

    • predictable cost, with no unexpected billing charges or persistent up-selling
    • straightforward, easy to deal with
    • good customer service (for a cell company)
  4. Yeesh. This is really my hang up with all the “cellular sidekick” type devices. It’s difficult to rationalize spending $100+/year to keep up a cellular connection that might be handy on occasion but is really mostly about the convenience of not dealing with tethering.

  5. Unless Consumer Cellular has changed, they actually use both AT&T and T-Mobile. Which network you get when you sign up depends on your location, or you can request to get a SIM for a specific network.

    You can tell which is the preferred network for your area by the coverage map. If the map shows coverage in magenta, then it is T-Mobile.

    The author’s issues with hotspot and Wi-Fi calling are because he is on AT&T. I had those same problems when I was on the real AT&T network. Consumer Cellular on T-Mobile worked for Wi-Fi calling and personal hotspot automatically.

  6. Consumer Cellular is not bad but there are better AT&T MVNOs. Airvoice WIreless offers unlimited talk+text and 3GB of data for $18/mo if you set up autopay with excellent US-based support. Tracfone offers unlimited talk+text plus 1GB with rollover for $20/mo, $5 discount for the first two months. They’re all AT&T underneath.

  7. I have had AT&T since 2007 and currently my PRE-taxes rate is $62.50 for unlimited talk/text/data. The various taxes adds another $5.00. According to the plans shown in the article, I would only save a couple of bucks with CC (assuming the taxes stay the same). For me, I don’t think the savings would be worth the hassle of switching.

  8. Well, they’re almost free of social media clichés. One of their newsletters last year starts:
    FROM THE FOUNDER

    RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

    We are stronger together.

  9. Tmobile pre pay is $15 pm with 2GB data. Why pay $30 when you can pay $15 :slight_smile: At one stage we were on the magenta plan was some old plan where we were paying about $70 a month for two lines now we pay $30 for two lines saving $600 ± a year not too shabby. Just returned from Deutschland where we used eSIMS so we are still ahead!

    The only gotcha is when you run out of data you really run out of data - they cut you off! You can get a top up before the end of the month but for $700 a year I’m going to put up with that!

  10. The trouble with MVNOs, though, is that you don’t get all the frequency bands. You may notice that if you have someone with you that’s on one of the major’s, his/her’s reception indoors usually is better than yours and yours may not be usable. YMMV

  11. This is good info. I also have AT&T through my workplace discount (18%) and it went from $52/month (unlimited voice/text…not sure the data limit but I never exceed it…poss 7.4GB? from the app) to $58/month including fees/taxes, over the last 3 years. AT&T is notorious for their ‘administrative’ fee increases without recourse other than leaving. My issue with AT&T is poor coverage where I live, along with how when I travel, 10 miles from the Canadian border*, Rogers network tells ATT that I am roaming (I am not). I have to turn off cellular and use wifi calling on vacation. * top of the Adirondack Park, in NY State.
    One question is: when it comes to data, you need to have wifi somewhere. The apps and iOS sizes are pretty much the limit of most data caps and wonder how that works when you are doing a 4GB update to iOS over cellular data…

  12. I changed to Consumer Cellular a few months ago and got two unpleasant surprises: 1. no cellular service for my Apple Watch and 2. very primitive voice mail. I probably could have lived without the Apple Watch though I liked knowing that I was still connected even if I forgot my phone.

    But the Voice Mail was what finally cause me to go to Verizon (I had been on ATT since 2007). The reality is the CC gives you a 1990’s version of voice mail. It is like an old fashioned answering machine WITHOUT a counter. You have to play back the messages to determine whether there are any new messages and there is NO CALLER ID so you can’t even tell who called or what their number was. This can be a problem if your caller assumes your phone will record their number and forgets to tell you how to call back.

    I will say the service was fine and if you don’t use either an Apple Watch with Cellular or care about modern voicemail features, you will get a great deal from CC. Don’t forget to get your AARP discount if you qualify.

  13. Good article, thanks. Just a note on other carriers and pricing. While I was on Republic Wireless with my Android phone ($15/mo no data) and needed to switch out since they did not do iPhone, I found Mint Mobile. They apparently use T-Mobile and are extremely reasonably priced. Since I use very little data I got on the $15/mo plan which does unlimited talk/data and 4GB data per month (no rollover). Sounds like they just throttle the data if you go over but I’ve never had a chance to find out. Been happy with them so far, YMMV.

  14. I don’t use much cellular data (e.g., 299 MB last month); so I always look for plans that let me pay less for using relatively little cellular data. I had Consumer Cellular for several months a couple of years back and I was very happy paying only $23.30 per month for their lowest tier plan. I switched to Spectrum Mobile when that became available on the iPhone. I couldn’t pass up a flat-rate $14 per month for 1 GB of data.

    Aside from getting service set up initially, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a customer service person at a phone company. They are usually motivated to help you get their service set up, because otherwise they can’t take your money. Afterwards I’ve never needed them; so I don’t consider customer service a factor in choosing a cellular service. I certainly wouldn’t pay extra, month after month for potentially years, because a company had a friendlier person to answer the phone.

  15. We’re paying $70/month (total) for T-mobile for two iPhones and unlimited data and phones can be used as hot spots. And it includes data in something like 70 foreign countries—not important to us now, but it helped in a European trip and will in the future. I think T-mobile is generally rated 2nd for coverage in the US. At times we use a lot of data (~8GB). Particularly when traveling and using various map/GPS apps and looking for hotels. Lately not so much. Also supports using Wi-Fi instead of data, but that doesn’t work reliably; don’t know if it’s Apple’s or T-mobiles fault, but suspect Apple. We have a weak cellular signal at home and in some parts of the house a web page or app will stall. I put the phone in airplane mode and pages load. Why doesn’t the phone know to switch itself? Just from reading the few posts here, one can see the pricing is not consistent. We changed about three years ago because of a foreign trip and a buy one get second phone free deal (iPhone X).

  16. blm

    When I first switched to CC, my voicemail was like that too, so I chatted with their support and they poked at something and the exact same voicemail I had with AT&T returned. While you probably don’t want to switch back, for anyone else encountering that problem, try contacting their support.

  17. Hey, Josh. Great article and giving me much to think about. I’m moving from up north to Murfreesboro in about 10 weeks. Is it possible to contact you for a couple of brief questions directly?

  18. Thank you to Josh and the many people who have made comments.

    If anyone is with Boost and wants to switch (to any other network, I suppose, not just Consumer Cellular), learn from my experience and inexperience. I had a family plan with Boost. Nowhere on my Boost account web page did Boost disclose my account number, which CC required to port the numbers. But wait, it’s worse. It turned out that I had two account numbers, one for each phone number. Boost gave me one account number, CC tried to port the phone number associated with the other account number (that I didn’t even know existed), and said there was a mismatch. On the third iteration of being bounced between CC support and Boost support, I got transferred to (twice!) to higher level CC support. The nice tech set up a three way call and got everything resolved, but it took an entire morning (much of which was on hold, as you can imagine). The lesson is to get a Boost account number for each telephone number. And why can’t Boost just show the account number(s) when the subscriber logs into his or her Boost account?

    The nice woman who finally broke through the Boost blockade asked me if I wanted Wi-Fi Calling. I didn’t know what that is and she did not provide an explanation I understood. (Feel free to educate me.) I asked Wikipedia and found the following.

    Since the GAN system works over the internet, a UMA-capable handset can connect to their service provider from any location with internet access. This is particularly useful for travellers, who can connect to their provider’s GANC and make calls into their home service area from anywhere in the world.

    Tell me if I understood that correctly. I can get an eSIM for overseas use but leave my CC SIM in the phone. To make an overseas call, I use the eSIM; to call someone in USA, I ensure I have a decent Wi-Fi connection and use the physical SIM. Is it that simple?

    As I said, I moved two lines from Boost to CC. I put a T-Mobile SIM in one phone and an AT&T SIM in the other. I figured this gave us a better chance of having some service when we travel. (The other phone owner and I hardly ever separate while out of town.)

  19. Consumer Cellular is great. I asked for a T-Mobile SIM, which is what you want if you go overseas. You want to make sure they turn on visual voicemail, hotspot, international, and wifi calling. It took a call or two to get those turned on. And if you belong to AARP you get a few bucks off. As was mentioned, you can get either an ATT or a T-Mobile SIM.

  20. Don’t confuse the two things. Wi-Fi calling is entirely independent of SIM/eSIM — all it needs is carrier support. If your carrier supports it and you turn it on in settings, your iPhone will show you something like “T-Mobile Wi-Fi” at the top when you’re connected to a wifi network of sufficient quality. Once you see that, you can send/receive calls and messages as if you were at home even if you’re 8000 miles away.

    SIM vs. eSIM on the other hand is really just the option to use your phone with two different SIM cards at the same time, IOW with two different phone numbers. It can be convenient for travel since you could still receive calls/texts on your own number, while using the other local SIM to place calls without incurring expensive roaming fees. Some people also use the setup to be able to take personal and biz calls using the same device. Wi-Fi calling can work in such a setup as well, but it’s entirely independent of it.

    If you want to be able to take/make calls on the cheap abroad, Wi-Fi calling is great. An additional local SIM (i.e. a foreign SIM) is a good work-around if you’re not certain you’ll always be on wifi. And using eSIM here is especially nice because it means you don’t have to choose which phone number to be available under at any given time as you don’t have to disconnect your home number from the network just because you want to plug in your local SIM.

    Finally, Wi-Fi calling can also be great in situations where you don’t have cell coverage, but you still want to make calls or receive texts. Part of my work happens in a heavily shielded environment. There’s tons of thick concrete walls with plenty rebar. There’s zero cell signal, but we have wifi repeaters all over so I never drop out of coverage as long as I keep wifi turned on on my iPhone. Another example is air travel. Some carriers will offer fairly decent wifi, usually at a fee of course. On some of those connections Wi-Fi calling has worked so I was able to actually receive calls or texts when up in the air without any usual cell coverage.

  21. Good advice here. You can also use FaceTime via WiFi calling. It’s great for sharing events, vacations, etc.

  22. I’ve been with CC for seven years now, always with an iPhone (5c, then SE, now SE 2nd gen).

    I’ve almost never used CC’s voicemail directly; I listen to (and read) voicemail on my iPhone itself.

  23. I have had CC with a single phone for several years and generally pleased with them. My mobile phone bill went from around $50/month with other providers down to less than $30/month, often below $25 despite increased usage. I know of someone who dropped their AT&T bill from $200 to under $30. What is little known is that with CC you get access to a number of mobile service providers through them for the same price, as CC does not have its own mobile services but contracts to the major provider for them. In my case due to the lack of proximity of AT&T mobile services towers in my area, mobile services were not available inside my home. So, CC switched me service through them to T-Mobile and now it is great. All it required was changing the SIM card in. my phone.

  24. Also, Consumer Cellular’s support is first rate.

  25. While its support is far better than other mobile or communication providers I have encountered, considering the few occasional issues I have had with it over the years, I might be somewhat reluctant to describe it as first rate.Instead I would discribe it as much better than most when relating to other communication providers and above average when considering customer support from outside the relm of communication industry.

  26. I am not sure how you “read” the voicemail since there is no voice recognition feature.

    Like I tried to say, it depends on how you use email. I need to be able to see who called and when, without playing back the messages.

  27. Thanks for the detailed description, which included more than my restricted scenario. I don’t think I was confusing the Wi-Fi calling with SIM and eSIM, although my phrasing might have suggested I was.

    I meant that I would get an eSIM for overseas use, both phone calls and data (mainly tethered). But since it’s an eSIM, I wouldn’t remove the CC SIM. Since the CC SIM would still be in the phone, I could make a (local) call to a USA number if I had decent Wi-Fi, by choosing the CC network over Wi-Fi. I think you confirmed that, but it is all new to me and it seems too good to be true. Are we saying the same thing?

    However, you seemed to take it a step further. Is it correct that I could receive a (local) call from a USA number on the CC SIM while I am overseas, if I’m connected to a Wi-Fi network?

  28. Yes and yes.

    Just beware that in general, being on wifi is not sufficient. You’ll want to make sure your iPhone is actually displaying something like “T-Mobile Wi-Fi” at the top.

    The reason I say this is because I’m sometimes on wifi that’s either poor, or has crucial ports blocked so that wifi calling won’t work even though wifi data traffic is otherwise ok.

  29. I believe that your carrier still knows that the call was made from overseas, even if you are on Wifi calling. A few years ago, I asked AT&T about a scenario where I had Wifi calling activated, was overseas, and turned on my AT&T SIM to check Visual Voicemail. They said that that would count as an International call under their International Calling Plan (where you pay a set fee for each day the number is used internationally). My workaround for checking voicemail was to use the VOIP app on my phone (associated with my landline) and check voicemail by calling in.

    Ever since Apple has provided phones with eSIMs, I have used an eSIM for my local carrier. In traveling overseas, I buy a short-term SIM for the SIM slot and switch my phone to using that number for all services until I return home. One of advantages of this is that I don’t need to fumble with the SIM slot on the plane returning home; I just need to change the cellular setting to point at the eSIM

  30. @aforkosh makes a good point. This could absolutely depend on your carrier. I only know that if I take or place a wifi call abroad on T-Mobile it will be for free, or rather, considered included in my unlimited calls. It’s of course entirely possible that’s different with another carrier.

  31. Really?

    When I visited Italy several years ago, I used Verizon’s Wi-Fi calling from my hotel. All of the calls were billed as if they originated from my home state.

    If AT&T is billing for that, it sounds very sleazy to me. It’s not like an international roaming phone call because no foreign mobile operator is involved with completing the call. As far as their network is concerned, their cost to complete a Wi-Fi call from the US is identical to the cost to complete a Wi-Fi call from anywhere else in the world.

  32. I’d like to see this tested in a city during a busy weekday. MVNOs and the prepaid plans offered by carriers are de-prioritized compared with customers on full-cost plans. This means when it’s busy, you may get a full 4-bar signal, but be unable to use the Internet. Speeds drop to a crawl, if you can get through at all. (The exception are speed-test services. Carriers usually whitelist those from throttling.) This is less of a problem in rural areas. It really depends where you live.

  33. So, here in rural north western Vermont I dumped AT&T a few years ago, thinking their service was getting worse, and chose Verizon. Their service is just OK. To be clear, I’m only describing their local cell phone service.
    Inspired by Josh’s article I posted a request to our local Front Porch Forum and got 6 or so responses. Every one said that AT&T service still sucks.
    Looks like geography and corporate neglect trump what sounds like excellent service from Consumer Cellular.

  34. Yeah, it’s hard for me to strongly recommend a certain network because it’s all so region-specific. And coverage maps tell you very little. Best to ask locals or get a SIM to try out for yourself.

  35. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m in a city on a busy weekday, but I’m hoping that will be a long time from now :slight_smile:

  36. I tried Consumer Cellular and had to stick with AT&T for one reason: microcell. My house had aluminum siding and roof and so the signal in my house was zero. I had to get a microcell for my phones to work and Consumer Cellular basically said AT&T wouldn’t let CC use their microcells. So I had to stay with AT&T.

  37. gib

    Be aware that not many European operators support eSIMs yet. None in Italy, for example, except TIM, which is a nightmare in every possible way—avoid them at all costs. So put your U.S. service on the eSIM and get a physical SIM outside the country.

    The cost of cellular service in Europe is far, far lower than in the U.S. For example, I get 150GB of 5G/4G-LTE data with unlimited calls (including all of Europe, USA, Canada, and a bunch of other countries) and texts for €8/month from Fastweb in Italy, because there’s intense competition. We need more competition here!

  38. Tell me about it. When I was working in Sweden a couple years ago I had unlimited data for $20/month. Here, with T-Mobile (and including even a second line for my wife on the same account) it’s $45/month with autopay.

    Lack of competition. And because our regulators refuse to regulate, we just went from 4 national carriers down to 3. We should expect more of the same if we refuse to smarten up. I was taught free market capitalism had to do with efficiency through fierce competition. Things seem to have changed since back then. :laughing:

  39. I had thought about that but decided it was easier to deal with an eSIM for overseas because then I didn’t need to open the SIM slot. Of course, that would mean I need to find an overseas provider who provides eSIMs.

    Thanks for the tip. I have swapped SIMs before and would do it again to save not very much money and even less aggravation.

    I’m not aware of CC offering an eSIM, but I forgot to ask. Does someone know?

  40. In Australia we are half way between USA and Europe. Aldi supermarkets run a scheme, for data $95 a year with 25 g and for mobile $25 a month for 18g but that rolls over for ever so at present I have 64 g credit which is good if I decide to binge out or use the phone as a modem for heavy use

  41. James Reynolds, no need at all for a microcell. Use wifi calling.

  42. Many carriers no longer even offer a microcell because of Wi-Fi Calling. It’s kind of a shame because Wi-Fi Calling isn’t always reliable.

  43. I switched to Google Fi and lowered my cost plus it works in 203 countries. Down side is there is no unlimited anything outside the U.S. I pay only for the cellular data I use. Make calls on Google Voices or WhatApp, stick to wifi for anything data intensive like streaming. My bill is never more than $30 a month.

  44. i bought into the description “uses the ATT network” and tried CC 4 years ago.

    Back then, my cellular iPad did not work at all. the CC network just would not take the SIM.

    I also need to use my phone as a hotspot and sometimes turn on the VPN connection on my mac. that did not work.

    i went back to ATT on my phone & put TMobile on my iPad.

  45. I had no problems with CC on ATT but now got a TMobile SIM (they offer both) since that is better overseas, if we ever go back. And you have to explicitly ask them to activate the hotspot. Things you need to make sure are activated: visual voicemail, hotspot, wifi calling, international stuff.

  46. GV

    My wife and I switched to Consumer Cellular several years ago when she retired and we lost her employer discount at ATT. Our only regret is that we did not switch to CC sooner, as we now average $42/month for two iPhones. We aren’t interested in joining AARP but we do enjoy a 5% discount when using an American Express credit card. (Apparently some cellular resellers do not qualify for credit card-related discounts.)

    I appreciate that almost everything I usually need to do can be done on the CC website. I’ve only needed phone service at the very beginning and it was excellent. CC regularly rates #1 for customer service; it’s certainly much better than our experience with ATT.

    A couple of years ago we decided to upgrade our 5 year old iPhone 5S units. CC had brand new 32GB iPhone 6S for $250, the only place I could find new phones. Elsewhere the iPhone 6S was going for around $240 for used/refurbished units. CC has an interest-free financing option too. The only “downside” is that buying a phone from CC requires a 6-month contract but it was a non-issue for us since we were already sold on CC.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is Consumer Cellular’s SIM lock service. The lock can be done by phone and when I did it I was told that I could use any passphrase I wished vs. just a PIN. Unfortunately, the customer support person did not tell me that until after I had provided a 4-numeral PIN. . .

    Unlocking and changing the passphrase cannot be done by phone. CC has a process that requires various forms of ID and it is only done via mail. The change is handled by a dedicated customer security department. I consider this to be a significant benefit because it makes a SIM swap via social engineering impossible.

    I don’t know anything regarding the availability of SIM locks and how they are handled at other carriers. But I consider this single feature to be a big plus. . . IMO it should be offered as an opt-out default at all cell carriers.

  47. Just be aware that last fall the original owners/developers of Consumer Cellular sold out to a private equity firm. Recent interactions with the company have not been reported as positive. I was ready to jump from AT&T to CC. I had purchased the CC/AT&T sim cards from a local Target store when I decided to do ‘due diligence’. I returned the sims unopened.

  48. That’s a little disappointing, but I didn’t know and it hasn’t caused me any issues. I think private equity gets a worse rap than it deserves. I worked at Dollar General corporate when it was under KKR. They spun around a failing business, took it public again, and it’s now very successful. Of course, not every private equity story ends that way, but it’s not all horror either.

  49. As a $15 a month pre paid evangelist it’s import to note that none of these cheap services will give you a data plan for your Apple Watch.

    One would think with the proliferation of eSims there would be an option for this? So the Apple Watch is some special case that can only get data via an agreement between Apple and carriers.?

  50. I mentioned that in the article. I don’t know why data is limited to the big three carriers, but it’s frustrating.

  51. I’ll suspect it’s because the carriers would greatly prefer people pay more for their services. And if a carrier notifies that you are close to your limit, they never suggest you turn on WiFi calling or other money saving opportunities.

  52. What about it? $10/mo for a mobile accessory (like a watch or an iPad) seems like the same prices offered by many other carriers.

    Note that this does not include the price of the watch itself or of your base mobile service. The $10 is simply the cost to add a watch onto an existing mobile data plan.

  53. From the link you provided, this is for adding a family member’s Apple Watch in family setup mode (e.g., for a child or yours or perhaps a parent). This gives the person with the Apple Watch some limited usage compared with a standard Apple Watch plan. (I suspect that TruPhone also has an option to add a regular Apple Watch account to your normal account for $10/month.)

  54. Ok that’s what I was missing but my exact use case. Adults are on pre-pay but it looks like I could add this as a stand alone ESim and eSims from other carriers for one of my kids without having an account with that carrier no? We have a Series 3 cellular sitting in a box collecting dust.

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