Last month, I reentered that point of being self-employed that seems to be constant when you are early in the game (2yrs in), I’ve got to cut expenses again. I’ve cut things all over, but now its tight, and all kinds of things are falling behind. I’ve gotten simpler in eating, travel, and working. But, the one thing that’s remained has been the relationship that my mobile lifestyle has had with AT&T over the past decade plus. Despite other’s issues with the nation’s largest GSM wireless carrier, I’ve had very few issues. And to that end, its been quite simple to adjust my usage as needed and continue with them. That was, until last month’s life/budget crunch made it clear that I needed to consider other options. Simple Mobile has been on my radar for sometime, and therefore, it got a month to convince me that this too should be an area where I should go simpler.

Simple Mobile is an MVNO
Simple Mobile is what is considered a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) – in other words, its not really a service provider in the sense that it builds out the towers and such, but that it leases the towers from a larger carrier (T-Mobile, AT&T, etc.), and then sells the mobile services on top of it. There are several of these in the USA right now – Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Net10, MetroPCS, and Cricket all come to mind.

These service providers are usually smaller in footprint than AT&T/Sprint/T-Mobile/Verizon, encompassing a region, and then brokering some roaming agreements for a slightly larger service area. Simple Mobile is one of the larger ones in terms of its footprint – they pretty much seem to have a service area that maps almost exactly to T-Mobile’s footprint (a few additonal areas in places, lack of rural coverage in many others). I split much of my time between the Philly and Charlotte metro areas – with the highways in between stitching me together. For me, Simple Mobile has to not just work where I’m stopped, but where I’m traveling.

Philly and Starting Use
A month ago, my AT&T line was temporarly suspended and so I used that opportunty to check out Simple Mobile. Being in Phila for 2 weeks, I knew that I’d be fne with coverage, and so after doing the homework on their website (mysimplemobile.com), I saw the plan that I’d go with ($40USD/month, prepaid, unlimited everything, 3G mobile connectivity). I use an unlocked Nokia N8, which sort of passed the test on their site as being a supported handset (the Nokia E7 was listed as supported by not tested), and so with my $40 and $13 (or so) for the SIM, I went ahead and tried them out (I used an authorized retailer, Galaxy Communications in Landsdowne, PA).

The first couple of days were ok. Voice and SMS were fine. I noticed no difference to what I was used to with AT&T. It was a bit disconcerting though to not exactly know why my MMS wasn’t working. After checking out the access points, and then the settings for MMS on my mobile, I realized that it was simply a matter of changing to using Simple Mobile’s access point – the AT&T one was there by default.

While staying with my sister in NE Philly, data speeds were ok when I was outside of her house. Inside, I often noticed the signal bars dropping to 1 or 2, and the connecting going to EDGE (2G) speeds. This wasn’t a problem except for the time when tweeting pics of my niece. I did try Joikuspot a few times, and that was ok in terms of tethering my iPad, but because of the speeds, that just wasn’t an option that made sense.

But, like I said, outside of her place, I noticed the 3.5G indicator on my N8, and got very fast connectivity. Faster than AT&T to be honest. Mind you, the Nokia N8 is able to do 3G on all GSM carriers in the USA (one of the few mobiles that can claim this), and so that was interesting. A few weeks into things, I got my billing situated with AT&T and setup call forwarding to the Simple Mobile number (wish it also did SMS forwarding). I would swap SIMs a few times a day to check SMS on my [primary] number and notice just the difference in network response and connectivity. They were nearly equal unless I was indoors – and depending on whose doors, that was either Simple Mobile or AT&T.

Travel and Smaller Metro Use
Traveling down to Charlotte with Simple Mobile was another test. The USA interstate system has done a really nice job of making sure that there’s cellular connectivity while on or near major highways. Though there were moments when I dropped to 2G (EDGE) connection, the data speeds were fine for quick messages, and stable enough for calls not to drop when doing 70MPH. Same experiences I’ve had with AT&T.

Upon returning to Charlotte, I’d be given a chacne to see how Simple Mobile fares in a less dense metro area and in country spaces. The first night, the change of my mobile’s network status (using Nokia Situations to drop connectivity to 2G and utilize the power saving mode while I’m sleeping) seemed to confuse the mobile on the network. I had some issues with receiving calls/messages and doing some browsing until I rebooted the mobile. This happened once more, so I’m not sure if it had to do yet with a specific area of the city, or just how the N8 works on Simple Mobile’s leased lines.

Glitches and Usage
Other than that, the only other network-related glitch that I’ve run into was an inabiltiy to SMS a vCard to a friend’s mobile the other day. Seemed like this isn’t allowed, given the message that I recevied from Simple Mobile after sending it. I probably should have used Bluetooth since he was right in front of me, but its so natural for me to uses SMS/MMS for sending pics and small data like that.

I do have to say that I’m impressed. Granted, its a cellular connection – there should be no difference in the quality of one service provider over another. We really should be past that point. I see cellular services like gasoline, and I don’t drive a BMW, so I don’t need 93 octane – for mobile, that would be the 4G, blazinging fast stuff. I need the ability to connect and stay connected in a manner that doesn’t kill my wallet, or ability to be mobile.

I’ve got a few days left in my billing cycle, and according to what I read on my online account for Simple Mobile, my usage was just a bit more than what I was doing with AT&T. In fact, to have a plan that matched what I was doing with AT&T, I’d be paying over $110USD/month, before taxes and fees. Frankly speaking, $40/month is a lot better proposition for me.

I’m going to stay with Simple Mobile. Yes, I’d lose that consistency of connectivty that AT&T has given me – I’ll be on T-Mobile’s leased lines as far as I can tell. I’ve got the kind of mobile though that works efficiently on any network, and by going prepaid with Simple Mobile, I’ll be able to at least keep the simplicity of things in mobile for just a bit longer.

There are other inexpensive MVNO providers out there. PrePaid Phone News has frequently updated site talking about these, rates, and such. If you need to cut things down a bit, and you’ve got mobile flexibility, then you might want to check out Simple Mobile and others talked about here.