Are Alternative Carriers Like Virgin Mobile Selling the iPhone for “Real”? (you better believe it!)

Radio Shack Virgin Mobile iPhone $30/month plan

How long has this plan been around? This plan sounds so cheap, there has to be a catch. Are these re-manufactured phones? Anyone know anyone with this plan? It is auto pay, no annual contract, 300 minutes, unlimited data and messaging, for the iPhone 4S. I don’t have a cell phone, believe it or not. The phone is $649. $30 plus taxes and fees per month.

Virgin Mobile is the “Real Deal” and I am now using the service myself. Phone and data coverage is as good anywhere that Sprint is – well… good. That is, Virgin uses Sprint’s networks. So, as far as 3G or 4G SPEEDS, these are SPRINT issues. Sprint is rolling out 4G “LTE” networks as fast as they can, but total deployment looks at least two years away.

Virgin Mobile - iPhone Ads
Virgin Mobile – iPhone Ads

Yes, there is a $30, monthly billable (in advance of use) plan for 300 minutes, unlimited text and Data. I got the 1200 minute plan for $45, unlimited text & Data. I lived on Miami Beach in a high rise and for 10 years never had an issue with Sprint, until the iPhone came out and I HAD TO SWITCH TO ATT whose “Miami Beach” coverage at the time sucked. (I hated that). I couldn’t make a phone call from inside the Apple store when I bought the first iPhone because of “no bars” inside the Lincoln road store in South Beach! Could when I walked outside of the store with only “two bars” showing service.

The phone you buy at Radio Shack is the same phone you would get from Sprint, Verizon, ATT, Best Buy, HH Greg (kidding) or Apple (except they are different models for different carriers). Same warranty applies as does Apple care extended warranty if you buy it. They are not refurbished (although I would buy a refurbished one before paying $649 for a 4S that will soon be out dated and orphaned as Apple has started doing with all of it’s products.

That is, leaving out relatively current models from software upgrades available only for “newer” models. [John’s 2008 Mac Pro unable to load Mountain Lion directly from the App store].

Apple wants your money directly, they make less money if third party vendors sell thier products. So whoever “they” are that are telling you NOT to buy from a third party like Best Buy or Radio Shack, is just blowing smoke. Apple warranties all of it’s newly purchased products for one year, unless they are “gray market” purchased in another country, regardless where you bought it from.

Virgin Mobile is a great alternative to all carriers at the moment, as are many of the other “pay as you go carriers”. The iPhone 4S is still ONLY 3G capable, keep that in mind if data speed is important to you. As more people wake up to the fact that phone subsidies with two year contracts wind up costing you far more than an outright purchase of a phone and a reasonably priced phone plan (like Virgin is offering) without a contract.I had T-Mobile, because I first used my iPhone (after dumping ATT) 3G but only got 2G (Edge) data speeds. I was okay for this for a while, because I rarely needed mobile data. However, when I started trying to use Real Estate sites like Zillow, Trulia or MLS Mobile software in the field away from Wifi, the need for roaming faster data became necessary.

My good friend Allan Tépper got me started with my first Sprint cell phone originally, and I have followed his suggestions regarding phones for the last 13 years. He does exhaustive research to find the best deals and service. So we have often arrived at the same conclusion about different cell phones. I think that he has purchased phones outright (without contracts) and still has his original T-Mobile truly unlimited plan “grandfathered in”.

His issues with iPhones involved international issues where an “unlocked” phone is essential in order for him to change SIM cards and get service in foreign countries. This is something of a struggle with iPhones, because Apple doesn’t want to sell them “unlocked” and make it almost impossible without paying through the nose for an “unlocked international phone”.

The problem for TMobile and iPhones has been that the 3G frequency that ATT uses is different even though the phone itself will work just fine (hacked and unlocked as millions of TMobile customers using iPhones already know). TMobile refused to knuckle under to Apple demands for prepaid subsidies and other demands they make of carriers in order to sell the precious iPhone. Shooting themselves in the foot once again.

TMobile’s answer? “Well we will just open up the same 4G LTE band frequency iPhones use (they have had 1900Mhz all along) and iPhone 5 users will have the option of using their phones on the FASTEST (by far) mobile data network in the USA”. Oh, and the iPhone 3, 3GS, 4, 4s, will also work (only at the fastest 3G speeds available from TMo, beating ATT, Verizon and Sprint again). Until all of the big carriers roll out their LTE data services all over the US (about two years away), TMo will be the fastest, bar none for the foreseeable future”.

Another friend in Seattle told me recently that his iPhone 4S just started working one day at beyond 3G speeds. He told me speedtest showed 9MBps download (faster than ATT, Sprint or Verizon) and 760kbps upload on TMobile. So they must have rolled out the 1900mhz band, already in Seattle.

TMobile just like all of the other major carriers took away my “truly unlimited” data package when they went to 4G and capped data at 2GB just after I bought a Samsung Galaxy S 4G. Sprint and Virgin Mobile by proxy are the only major carriers offering true unlimited 3G data plans at this time. All the other carriers cap at 2GB or 5GB, and slow way down once you hit that ceiling. I was getting 15-20GBps on TMo with my laptop using the phone as a “hot spot”, 8 times faster than my hard wired cable modem. That was before they capped the “Unlimited Plan” at 2GB and started charging for the privilege of using the phone as a “hot spot”.

The prices for cell phone service seems to be just going up and up and even though I begged for consideration because of my disability from TMo, they wouldn’t give me a better deal or let me out of my contract. So I dumped them, too. Enter Virgin Mobile with their “no-nonsense” pay in advance plans. As I said, the real carrier is Sprint, so as Sprint roles out it’s LTE network, so will Virgin Mobile customers benefit. The iPhone 4S will perform as well on Virgin Mobile as it does on Sprint’s unlimited plan.

There is no “CATCH” to Virgin Mobile plans. They are pretty straight forward. However, I’m not 100% sure whether the iPhone Virgin will sell will be as their phones are in Europe. Those phones have a removable SIM card and are “international” (by EU laws), The US Sprint versions do not have user accessible SIMS, as with Verizon’s CDMA phones. So Geoff, if you plan on buying a $649 iPhone 4S, you might want to wait until Apple releases iPhone5 in a week or two.

That $649 price will drop, but you will only have 3G data speeds. According to Engadget website, the cost of manufacturing the iPhone 4S including labor is $119.78, so Apple is still making out like bandits, as I would guess they are selling them to Virgin at a premium. 3G speed on Virgin Mobile (Sprint) is not terrible, but not blistering “4G” as TMobile points out in it’s ads. I bought the Samsung Galaxy S phone when it first came out on Tmobile, and it was amazingly fast on 4G. THE NEWER Galaxy S II and now the Galaxy S III are spec’d way beyond what the iPhone 5 has been rumored to be and with a much bigger screen more base ram and up to 64GB expansion.

Unless all of the iPhone5 rumors are wrong, including the lack of much of a form factor change, the screen isn’t much bigger, the specs are not that much better than the 4S except a better camera, the base memory the system reserves for IOS and Apps, hasn’t even been talked about (where all of the apps and data live) and that is what really limits smartphone performance and capability. Without memory expansion, the iPhone is becoming an “also ran” in my opinion to Samsung and other manufacturer’s rolling out new models (HTC, Nokia, LG, Sony, Kyocera, etc.)

Android designed phones are being released at a frightening pace IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion). Android is maturing at an amazing rate (with Google driving it) and several features like “Swype” text entry are far superior to iPhone text entry. Apple needs to step up it’s model introduction rate and offer a wider variety of models at all price points, so the masses can get one. The iPhone 3GS is so outdated now, ATT sells it for 99¢ but with a two year contract. Apple must have made ATT buy a butt load of 3GS’ and now they have to “unload” them to newbies wanting to get in on the iPhone craze. They find out pretty soon though how dated the phone is when they cannot upgrade to the latest Apple software.

LG Optimus Elite
LG Optimus Elite
The Android Powered LG Optimus Elite at $149.00 is a far better phone than the 3GS and Virgin Mobile plans make it a better alternative to an outdated Apple iPhone. It has two gigs internal memory half of which is reserved for systems and apps. If you have an SDHC Micro ram chip installed, you can offload third party apps to run from the removable chip. ( I am running a 4GIG SDHC Micro ram chip).
Siri… well it’s just a gimmick and a total waste of bandwidth as far as I am concerned. ATT reported double the data usage after the 4S released, mainly because Siri uses data connecting to their server, processing the request, then returning the answer to the user. Uses up 2Gb of data pretty quickly. I don’t care what celebrity they use to promote it, still a gimmick IMNSHO.
Voice translation/recognition on the other hand, has been built into Android for at least two years, and doesn’t use double the bandwidth to accomplish voice to text in any app you can/want to enter text. Siri cannot translate voice to text. You have to buy Dragon Natural Speak or some other third party app for IOS in order to get the “free – voice to text” feature included with all Android devices. I will not buy another iPhone without an expansion card slot, “Swype” and a standard micro USB data port (rumored new connection port probably will be proprietary, just like the current connector and not the standard Micro USB) and built in voice to text in every app that text can be entered.

The recent release of the 15″ Mac Book Pro gives me real pause. Because of the soldered in CPU & RAM, glued in hard drive, Apple lost it’s “green status” because the 15″ Macbook Pro isn’t as “recyclable” as previous Macbook models have been. There are no user serviceable parts inside the machine, and I dare say we adventurous hardware hackers will find this new machine difficult (at best) to deal with on a “field repair” basis. Supposedly SSD hard drives have a much higher MTBF (mean time between failure) rate than traditional hard drives, but RAM fails too.

When the new 15″ Macbook Pro SSD drives fail, my guess is that Apple might just replace the machines, how can they “un-glue” them?. I cannot imagine how they will “un-glue” the SSD’s to fix one, but it won’t be pleasant getting the glue out and a new SSD glued back in.

I fear that Apple may continue this trend, making completely sealed products not even “professionals” can repair, except their own tech guys. Where does that leave the thousands of trained Apple independent consultants? Out in the cold, I’d imagine, as they did once before. Apple started a technicians training program (that I took in 1999) only to shut it down two years later. Four years passed and they came up with “The Apple Consultants Network”. As Apple makes machines less user serviceable, end users and consultants may suffer. Maybe Apple knows what people want in products, but this “sealed” approach makes me wonder if they are planning “disposable non-upgradeable products” from now on.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.