Friday, February 10, 2006

Beyond Wireless: Out With The Old, In With The New

January 31st was the last day that Beyond, or anyone else for that matter, could activate any TDMA phones on AT&T's roam-able network. *Sounds taps*. But Beyond Wireless isn't gone yet. They now have a pretty good service on Cingular's GSM network.

Naturally you won't be able to use the old TDMA phones, and as a consequence of the network shift there's no more practically unlimited roaming. With this goes double-dialing though, but I still think double-dialing is a small price to pay for cheap home minutes and roaming everywhere. Cingular's Pay As Yoy Go network, which Beyond runs on, seems to have free roaming on certain small networks though, so the coverage map on the site is inaccurate in a positive way in some areas, though you'll definately not get all the coverage a Cingular plan gets, and where there's no home rate coverage there's no service.

Now to the phones. You can buy a sim card (ah the joys of GSM) for $16.66 including shipping, which gets you $6 in airtime as well (more on airtime later) so you can use any Cingular or unlocked phone out there as long as it has 850 and 1900 bands (all but those ritzy Europhones or really old Voicestream phones have both). Keep in mind though that as far as has been seen the only services Beyond GSM offers are, like its TDMA sibling, voice and text messaging so don't buy too rich. They can even activate an unactivated Cingular sim card, though I'm not sure about how much airtime (if any) that they give you. You can also buy one of (only) three phones off of their website, one of which is good and the other two of which are of dubitable value. There's the $60 Siemens S56, probably the best non-camera, non-MP3, non-keyboard, non-PDA phone out there. In other words it's definately made for talking on, and it does that, as well as other phone-centric features, well. It even has bluetooth!

The other two phones are the not-so-hot ones. There's the oh-so-old Motorola T720 and the oh-so-lousy LG C1300, around $65. I'd look elsewhere for a flip phone, like eBay. An interesting thing Beyond GSM had when it just had come out about a week ago was the Motorola c155 for $50, so if you wanted that phone and didn't want Tracfone's high rates you could get it, though I for one would pass.

As far as rates go things can be rather sketchy but everything seems to be very good, though a far cry from TDMA's super rates. The $5 card, with 36 minutes, remains, but on all cards there are now expiration dates, which range from 15 ($5) to 90 ($100) days. The lowest monthly cost is achieved with the 60-day $15 card, which gets 105 minutes. The lowest per-minute cost is of course the 1000-minute $100 card, just like on TDMA, except with the expiration date.

Interestingly, the billing system on Beyond GSM is based on play dollars (you ALKWAYS get between 15% and 70% more than the cost of the card, depending on how big a refill you get) similar to Cingular's GoPhone Pay As You Go system, and, seemingly jsut like it as well, you get texted with your balance after each phone call. Minutes are decremented at 16.75 or so "play cents" each from your balance, which in real life as said before ranges from 10 to about 14 cents. As a side not, if you buy from a bricks-and-mortar Beyond Wireless dealer (as opposed to their website) you get less minutes for any given ($5, $15, $25, $50 or $100) refill amount so it's definately better to buy from their site.

Text messaging is more of a blurry subject. Incoming text is always 6 cents, probably in "play money", while outgoing text rates vary, ranging from 8 to 6 cents depending on how many are sent, I guess within some mystery time period... Realistically incoming text will be more around 3.5-5 cents (refill values once again factor in) with outgoing text proportionally cheaper, but I'd rather just have free incoming text and a steeper outgoing rate. If you text a lot you probably want to look elsewhere.

All in all, Beyond Wireless has come out with a reasonably competitive GSM product after the demise (plays taps again) of their excellent (though roaming in my area) TDMA plans. It won't get anyone jumping up and down for joy, but it's a good deal for people who just talk and text a little and are in Cingular areas (I'm not so I won't be getting this, not until Cingular stops razing the bar here in central Texas at least). Oh, and the Siemens s56, as well as the "activate your own sim card" and "activate with your choice of number" bits are nice things we've all come to expect from a pretty good prepaid reseller.

1 comment:

raderator said...

Got a Beyond SIM off eBay for $3 w 40 mins. Activation was easy. Just call the 888 number and the automated system asks you for your activation code and zip, then gives you a local number. The online activation didn't work.

You can use any AT&T phone (including GoPhone) or an unlocked GSM phone. You can use an unactivated AT&T SIM if you call. They will send you a Beyond SIM for free with no mins if you ask.

Beyond bills in 15c increments but the "funny money" can bring that down to 10c. They have a $50 1yr PIN (w 113 mins) which can be added to other PINs to extend them. There is a 99c/month fee so you lose 6.6 mins/month (99c/15c).

Two examples:

$15 two month PIN. $15/(126-13)= 13.3c/min, 56 mins/month, $7.50/month, $90/yr

$100 PIN + $50 1yr PIN. $150/(1110+113-79)= 13c/min, 95 mins/month, $12.50/month.

Beyond bills SMS at 10c/min. But since their base rate for airtime is 15c, their real rate for SMS is 2/3rds that or about 8.7c (13c X 2/3).

Places like Callingmart sell discounted PINs.

If you need AT&T coverage and want to use your own phone (not use Tracfone or Net10), then Beyond GSM is worth considering. But unlike Trac/Net10, there is NO roaming.