How can I minimize total cost of ownership (primarily means low monthly rate) for an iPhone if my voice and data usage is light?
Update: The following rate plan is no longer available.
AT&T has a $(25+5)/month GoPhone service plan that works with an iPhone that you acquire yourself.
The $25/month GoPhone service provides 250 minutes (extra cost $0.10/minute). The $5/month data package provides 50 MB data (extra costs $5/50MB). To save 10%, don't buy credit directly from AT&T. Instead, purchase a discounted electronic refill card such as the TMI Wireless $100 refill for $90 and paste the card number into the AT&T GoPhone website. This brings the actual total cost to $27/month for base usage.
There are also the one-time costs of a GSM-compatible iPhone (e.g. used from eBay, either unlocked or locked to AT&T) and an AT&T GoPhone Micro SIM Card ($4). Setup involves installing and activating the SIM card.
If you need more than 50 MB data, there is the $40/month plan, which has 500 minutes and 200 MB data ($36/month after 10% off).
Per the rate plan terms, you could in theory buy the $60/month plan for one month, and use it to buy 1 GB data packages for $10 each, then switch back to the $25/month plan and keep the data from expiring using a $5 for 50 MB auto-refill. However, the $25/month rate plan has an undocumented data package cap of 150 MB; data above that is lost when you switch rate plans.
Walmart has unlimited voice and data for $45. It is called Straight Talk. It uses AT&T cell signal and is fully functional except for visual voicemail.
Your iPhone does need to be unlocked.
For iPhones with CDMA (Sprint) hardware, Virgin Mobile has a no-contract plan for $30/month + taxes, fees, and surcharges.
With great savings over major carriers, two services we enjoy using (billed automatically to a credit card):
For USA, Consumer Cellular (“CC” www.ConsumerCellular.com) offers inexpensive, flexible voice and data plans (adjustable anytime before monthly bill date), with no contracts. CC has GSM mini SIM cards for older unlocked phones.
For USA and 197 countries worldwide, TelnaMobile.com offers GSM SIM cards (dual mini/micro sizes) for $19/year plus usage rates/minute at very low cost (especially cheap with a WiFi internet connection). Parent Telna.com also offers both "dial around" long distance and a worldwide calling card.
Note: Check tech specs to see which phones SIM cards will fit. CC and Telna do not yet offer nano size SIM cards required for iPhone 5 or iPad Mini.
Here's more info about both (Feel free to delete or edit if too much):
a. Consumer Reports (not related) ranked CC the #1 Best mobile phone service, with highest ratings for value and customer services, in its January 2012 & 2013 issues.
b. CC offers national service on AT&T’s GSM system. GSM is also the international mobile standard, so phones should work in most of the world.
c. CC has no contracts, sends text & email alerts if usage approaches limits, and allows customers to change voice or data plans (up or down) at any time, including the current month, to save costs and avoid extra usage fees.
d. Because CC un-locks phones, we can buy a cheap GSM SIM card for local service—either (i) worldwide [e.g. TelnaMobile.com SIM for 198 countries] or (ii) separately in any country we visit. Many family and friends do so when crossing boarders in Europe.
e. Since we remove our CC SIM card outside the USA, we pay zero international roaming charges (typically $1 to $3 per minute otherwise). Incoming calls go to voice mail, which we check periodically when traveling, as we’ve done for years.
f. Voice plans are much cheaper at CC. For our typical usage while in USA, we pay less than half of what AT&T charged (on the same network!). When outside the USA, we pay only $10/phone for standby, instead of full price monthly. (But AT&T would not suspend, reduce, or change service plans, so we were previously stuck with the total contract cost!)
g. Flexible Data plans for modest usage start at $2.50/month, and can also be adjusted up or down any time. (Zero cost for no service when overseas, or just using WiFi.)
h. Instead of expensive cellular data, we use Wi Fi for Internet, email, photos, data files, etc. both at home and via free hotspots when traveling. Free or low cost Wi Fi is offered in numerous restaurants, hotels, tourist offices, public spaces, etc.
a.Telna says its SIM card will connect to cellular services in 197 countries of the world. Cost is $19/year plus usage at very low rates, especially cheap with a WiFi internet connection. This is far simpler and easier, and costs much less than renting phones, buying SIM cards, or paying hotel phone fees when traveling abroad. It does require some tech savvy to navigate the differences in phone systems from one country to another.
b. We also added Telna "dial around" long distance to our cellular phones for overseas calls (big savings--e.g., only 4 cents/minute to France land line).
c. Telna offers customers a worldwide calling card that can be used to dial from any phone anywhere (rates are inexpensive, but vary due to charges by local providers at point of origin for calls).
Finally, we're happy customers, and don't have any other affiliation with either company.