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An unlocked Nexus 5 can save hundreds – even thousands – each year on your cell phone bill. Just purchase a prepaid micro-SIM and make sure your APN settings are correctly configured What are APN Settings and How Can They Fix Data Issues on Your Prepaid Phone? What are APN Settings and How Can They Fix Data Issues on Your Prepaid Phone? If you sign up with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), which leases broadcast spectrum from the big carriers, you might need to configure your phone's APN settings. Read More . But how do you know which plan best fits your needs? Lots of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (what’s an MVNO No Longer Tied to a Cellular Contract? 10 Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO No Longer Tied to a Cellular Contract? 10 Reasons You Should Switch To An MVNO Are you out of contract with your cellular provider? Rather than upgrading your phone, and signing a new contract, consider switching to a mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO. You can save hundreds, even thousands,... Read More ?) offer a great selection of plans, each with infrastructure limitations and SIM card sizes. This articles analyzes the available plans, by network, relative to the technical requirements of the Nexus 5.

In the US, there are four primary carriers: Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. It appears that Verizon won’t get the Nexus 5 in the short term. So MVNOs based on the Verizon network, like PagePlus Cellular don’t currently offer service to the Nexus 5. For all other users, your ideal plans falls on a continuum between use and coverage. I’ve identified five usage patterns and their corresponding best MVNO for each cellular network:

  • Do you rarely use a cell phone?
  • Do you rarely use data but talk and text all the time?
  • Do you use lots of data, talk and text?
  • Do you use primarily data, but not other services?

Unfortunately, things aren’t as straightforward as picking a plan. Nexus 5 owners face a lot of potential problems because of the exotic nature of their device.

Problems for Nexus 5 Owners

Nexus 5 (read our review Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Google Nexus 5 Review and Giveaway Approximately a year after Google released the Nexus 4, the company behind Android has come out with its successor -- the Nexus 5. Read More ) owners face four problems in using MVNOs. First, they may experience problems getting data transfer speeds working properly. Second, the Nexus 5 is a rare bird capable of functioning on either CDMA or GSM networks, which translates into Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T (it’s technically compatible with Verizon, but not at present). Third, the Nexus 5 uses a micro-SIM form factor, which requires that some cut their mini-SIM card The Secret To Making Your Own Micro SIM Card The Secret To Making Your Own Micro SIM Card With the arrival of the iPad, micro SIMs have become commonplace for anyone wishing to connect to the mobile web from a tablet device. More and more mobile phone handsets are also using these chips... Read More . Fourth, Sprint “blacklisted” a number of new phones from working with prepaid carriers.

  • 3G, 2G and LTE: Data speeds come in three packages: HSPA (3G), HSPA+ (3.5G) and LTE (4G). Furthermore, not all carriers use the LTE bands available to the Nexus 5. Generally speaking, data speeds vary depending on your proximity to a cellular tower. Another complicating factor is the form factor of available SIM cards.
  • CDMA SIM card: In theory, the Nexus 5 should work on MVNOs from Sprint and Verizon’s networks. However, as of November of 2013, the Nexus 5’s CDMA functionality limits it to Ting. Potentially other Sprint-MVNOs will begin adding the device to their network, such as PrepaYd or RingPlus. Additionally, Verizon MVNOs might soon also add the Nexus 5. On the downside, it’s difficult getting a Ting CDMA SIM card, which runs between $15 and 30. Fortunately, Ting has begun signups for getting a SIM.
  • micro-SIM form factor: Because many MVNO carriers use mini-SIM cards, you may need to cut your SIM down, in order to fit the Nexus 5.
  • Sprint blacklist: Sprint has blacklisted all MVNOs from using many flagship devices, including the Nexus 5. Ting, however, appears to be activating Nexus 5s without issue.

Usage Pattern: Infrequent Use

If you rarely use the phone, then the kind of plan that you need is known as “pay-go”, short for “pay-as-you-go”. These plans charge purely for usage. You pay into an account and your use is deducted from this.

On the downside, depending on the plan, some carriers attach an expiration date to purchased airtime, oftentimes a year in length. This means that after one year, you lose any balance that was purchased a year prior. PTel offers a tier of minutes that do not expire, although like all pay-go plans, to maintain an account, you must continually fund it with credit.

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Data speeds remain the biggest shortcoming of many carriers that offer pay-go plans, which broadcast either on AT&T or T-Mobile. Neither network offers LTE speeds to any pay-go plan, to my knowledge. However, Ting offers a flexible plan that, on the low end, includes LTE support on the bands that the Nexus 5 broadcasts on.

AirVoice Wireless on AT&T ($3.33/Month + $4.99 SIM Card)

AirVoice comes out on top when it comes to monthly payments and data costs. They have the lowest data costs of any MVNO on the AT&T network for pay-go plans.

  • Monthly cost: $3.33/month;
  • SIM card cost: $4.99;
  • Data cost: 6.6 cents per megabyte;
  • Voice minutes: 10 cents per minute of talk;
  • Text Messages: 10 cents per message;
  • Other restrictions: No LTE. And you must cut the AirVoice SIM card to fit the Nexus 5’s micro-SIM tray. Also there’s a $1 per month maintenance fee.

airvoice

Ptel on T-Mobile ($5/Month + $4.99 SIM Card)

Ptel isn’t the cheapest of the T-Mobile-based MVNO, that distinction goes to Lycamobile, but it does offer a combination of no-expiry plans and excellent customer service. If data or lower monthly payments are your primary concerns, you are better off with AirVoice Wireless, given you don’t care whether you use AT&T or T-Mobile.

  • Monthly cost: $5, depending on the plan;
  • SIM card cost: $4.99
  • Data cost: 10 cents per megabyte;
  • Voice minutes: 5 cents per minute;
  • Text Messages: 2 cents per message;
  • Other restrictions: No LTE. You must purchase the “combo-card” from Ptel in order to avoid cutting it down to micro-SIM size. You must purchase the $100/365 days of access plan in order to not have your balance expire after a year.

I should note that another T-Mobile MVNO, Lycamobile, offers the absolute lowest pricing in all categories, compared to Ptel. I’m currently evaluating Lycamobile’s service. They offer automatic APN setting (what’s an APN setting? What are APN Settings and How Can They Fix Data Issues on Your Prepaid Phone? What are APN Settings and How Can They Fix Data Issues on Your Prepaid Phone? If you sign up with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), which leases broadcast spectrum from the big carriers, you might need to configure your phone's APN settings. Read More ) configuration through a installable file. On the downside, Lycamobile doesn’t grandfather in plans, meaning their prices are subject to change at any moment.

ptel

Ting on Sprint (Costs Between $6 and $132/Month + $20 SIM Card)

Ting offers extremely flexible plans. Ting’s lowest rung of plans runs between $6 and $15 per month. You get a lower total cost from the pay-go plans discussed in this article, but Ting offers overall better value. For example, a comparable plan from PTel costs $17 whereas Ting’s plans cost between $6 to $15 (at the lowest rung). It’s also the only low-end plan capable of offering LTE, if Sprint’s LTE is available in your market.

  • Monthly cost: Varies between $6 and $132 per month;
  • SIM card cost: $9 via Ting;
  • Data cap: Varies depending on your plan. On the 2GB data plan, users pay 1.5 cents per megabyte used exceeding the limit;
  • Voice minutes: Varies between 0 and 2,100 minutes;
  • Text Messages: Varies between 0 and 4,800 texts;
  • Other restrictions: Changing to a CDMA carrier requires wiping the data on your phone. If you ever switch back to GSM carriers, it will again require a wipe.

ting

Usage Pattern: Frequently Talk & Text, Rarely Use Data

For those who don’t use their Nexus 5 much for data, but want a great deal of talk time or texting, should look to either Red Pocket, Ultra or Ting. As mentioned above, Ting is currently the only Sprint MVNO that currently offers total functionality for the Nexus 5. The rest do not function.

Red Pocket on AT&T ($29.99/Month + $4.99 SIM Card)

Red Pocket offers a reasonable talk and text plan which comes with 100 MB of data. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use LTE speeds.

  • Monthly cost: $29;
  • SIM card cost: $4.99;
  • Data cap: 100 MB HSPA+;
  • Voice minutes: unlimited;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: No LTE.

red pocket

Ultra on T-Mobile ($29/Month + $4.99 SIM Card)

Ultra offers some of the better plans for those who don’t use too much data. One of its lower tier plans charges $29 per month for unlimited talk time and texting and includes 250 MB of data at HSPA+ speeds. However, it’s worth noting that Simple Mobile offers a $25/month plan unlimited talk and text, that comes without data. In my opinion, the 250 MB of “4G” data is worth the $4 difference, though.

  • Monthly cost: $29;
  • SIM card cost: $4.99;
  • Data cap: 100 MB HSPA+;
  • Voice minutes: unlimited;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: No LTE.

ultra

Ting on Sprint (Costs Between $6 and $132/Month + $20 SIM Card)

Ting remains the best Sprint-based MVNO for the Nexus 5. Unfortunately, we can’t really compare their plan to other Sprint MVNOs, because no other provider has announced Nexus 5 compatibility on their network. For no-use to light-use, you can pay between $6 and $15 per month.

  • Monthly cost: Varies between $6 and $132 per month;
  • SIM card cost: $9 via Ting;
  • Data cap: Varies depending on your plan. On the 2GB data plan, users pay 1.5 cents per megabyte used exceeding the limit;
  • Voice minutes: Varies between 0 and 2,100 minutes;
  • Text Messages: Varies between 0 and 4,800 texts;
  • Other restrictions: Changing to a CDMA carrier requires wiping the data on your phone. If you ever switch back to GSM carriers, it will again require a wipe.

Usage Pattern: Lots of Data, Talk & Text

If you use the phone constantly, then you’ll want to get an unlimited plan. Straight Talk, because of its discounts for paying a full year up-front, and reasonably large LTE data cap (2.5 GB), take the top spot.

Straight Talk on AT&T ($41.25/Month + $6.99 SIM Card)

Straight Talk remains the king of unlimited plans, particularly for LTE access. Yes, the Nexus 5 can access LTE on MVNOs. While other services offer LTE speeds (in select cities), none are as easy to setup as Straight Talk. If you experience issues setting up LTE connectivity, try these instructions.

  • Monthly cost: $45 or $41.25 if you pay a year in advance;
  • SIM card cost: $6.99;
  • Data cap: 2.5 GB before throttling at LTE speeds for AT&T (T-Mobile doesn’t offer LTE on Straight Talk, but AT&T does);
  • Voice minutes: unlimited;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: Potential future problems with data connectivity; LTE requires newest AT&T SIM card.

straight talk

GoSmart Mobile on T-Mobile ($34.99/Month + $12 SIM Card)

GoSmart Mobile, now owned by T-Mobile, offers the lowest “unlimited” plan available anywhere. Its data speed, however, doesn’t surpass 2G speeds, according to reports from the field. I include this as an alternative to Straight Talk for those who don’t require LTE or 3G functionality.

  • Monthly cost: $35;
  • SIM card cost: $12 via Amazon;
  • Data cap: “unlimited” estimated cap at 5 GB with 2G network speeds;
  • Voice minutes: unlimited;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: 2G max data transfer speeds; good luck trying to hit 5 GB of data on a 2G connection.

gosmart mobile

Unlimited Plans are a Dead End on Sprint

Unfortunately, the only provider on the Sprint network that currently functions (as of November, 2013) with the Nexus 5 is Ting. Ting does not offer an unlimited plan and its data plans are expensive by MVNO standards.

Usage Pattern: Lots of Data, Infrequent Talk & Text

The two best unlimited plans, with a soft data cap, are T-Mobile prepaid plans and Straight Talk’s AT&T SIMs. Both offer great rates. However, be sure to not use Straight Talk’s T-Mobile SIM cards, which don’t offer LTE.

Straight Talk on AT&T ($41.25/Month + $6.99 SIM Card)

AT&T is an expensive place to get raw data. Unfortunately, Straight Talk’s 2.5 GB cap on the AT&T network provides the cheapest alternative to anything on the T-Mobile network. I’ve heard that GoPhone and AiO are also good places for LTE data, although their prices are much higher at $60 and $70, respectively, per month.

  • Monthly cost: $45 or $41.25 if you pay a year in advance;
  • SIM card cost: $6.99;
  • Data cap: 2.5 GB before throttling at LTE speeds for AT&T (T-Mobile doesn’t offer LTE on Straight Talk);
  • Voice minutes: unlimited;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: Potential future problems with data connectivity; requires latest AT&T SIM card for LTE.

T-Mobile’s Prepaid Plans ($30/Month + $30 SIM Card)

T-Mobile official prepaid plan offers three tiers, with varying talk times. You get 5 GB of data, unlimited texts and 100 minutes of talk time for $30. This service also permits HSPA+ and in select markets, LTE. The Nexus 5 transmits and receives on pentaband and multiple LTE bands, unlike the Nexus 4. A bit of errata here: For those with a Nexus 4, you can modify your phone to use single-band LTE How To Enable LTE on The Nexus 4 (It Can Be Done) How To Enable LTE on The Nexus 4 (It Can Be Done) Did you know that the Nexus 4 actually has LTE functionality? The absolute truth is that yes, it does in fact have LTE, no matter what Google or anyone else may try to tell you.... Read More , best used with T-Mobile plans.

  • Monthly cost: $30/Month;
  • SIM card cost: $30 via Walmart;
  • Data cap: 5 GB at LTE or HSPA+, throttled afterward;
  • Voice minutes: 100 minutes of talk;
  • Text Messages: unlimited;
  • Other restrictions: LTE restricted to a very limited area. Most will not receive it. SIM card only available through Walmart or T-Mobile.

tmobile

Ting on Sprint (Costs Between $6 and $132/Month + $9 SIM Card)

Ting’s data prices are among the highest of any MVNO around. Unfortunately, because many Sprint MVNOs such as RingPlus, haven’t yet been cleared for use, Ting is the only option. Ting’s plans shine for moderate users. For pure data, they fall far behind the rest of the pack, although their prices (2014) underwent a solid price-cut.

  • Monthly cost: Varies between $6 and $132 per month;
  • SIM card cost: $9 via Ting;
  • Data cap: Varies depending on your plan. On the 2GB data plan, users pay 1.5 cents per megabyte used exceeding the limit;
  • Voice minutes: Varies between 0 and 2,100 minutes;
  • Text Messages: Varies between 0 and 4,800 texts;
  • Other restrictions: Changing to a CDMA carrier requires wiping the data on your phone. If you ever switch back to GSM carriers, it will again require a wipe.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, the best Nexus 5 prepaid plan is T-Mobile’s 100-minute, unlimited data plan for $30. However, for those of you with differing network requirements, Straight Talk will often provide the best LTE service. And for those of you who barely use your phone, AirVoice Wireless provides one of the best services around. For low-use or moderate cellular users, Ting provides the best plan on the Sprint network.

plans compared

Anyone looking for a Nexus 5 prepaid SIM card? Let us know in the comments.

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