Monday, October 19, 2009

Red Pocket Mobile US GSM Prepaid Service Review

After not having access to a cellphone because of the high costs of roaming and long distance from Canadian cellphone service providers (can be as high as $2.00 per minute with one of my Canadian cellphone accounts), I thought about getting cellphone service whenever I traveled within the US. I was interested in getting a cellphone or cellphone service with a low yearly maintenance fees as well as low per minute rates within the US and low per minute rates to call Canada since over 50% of my calls whenever I'm in the US would be calling Canada. I also had a preference for a GSM service provider because I wanted to use my unlocked smartphone and I didn't want the added cost of having to purchase a new cellphone. In my search, I came across a company called Red Pocket Mobile.

I've been using my Red Pocket Mobile SIM for approximately 2 years after purchasing it from a seller on Ebay and all in all, I'm happy with the service. I will sometimes lend my Red Pocket Mobile SIM to friends and family when they go to the US.

Red Pocket Mobile is an AT&T MVNO that doesn't use the full AT&T coverage map but uses the native and more limited AT&T GoPhone (prepaid) coverage map. To view Red Pocket Mobile's coverage (and AT&T GoPhone's coverage map), go to AT&T Coverage Map Viewer and under the heading "Coverage Type," click on the "GoPhone." In the "GoPhone Coverage Legend" section, select "Pay As You Go Plan."

What I find attractive about RedPocket Mobile is that the basic airtime rate is a maximum of $0.15 per minute and a minimum of $0.10 per minute (based on airtime purchase). Red Pocket Mobile like most carriers round the calls up to the closest minute. For my airtime purchase of roughly $25 every 90 days, I have access to a US cellphone number with the very low rate of $0.15 per minute. This low basic per minute rate applies to calls made to US phone numbers as well as phones in Canada, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Monterrey (Mexico), Guadalajara (Mexico), and Mexico City (Mexico). The low basic per minute rate also applies to landlines in Taiwan and South Korea (calling cellphone numbers in both of these countries carries an extra surcharge).  Calling other countries/cities not listed above carry a long distance surcharge. Red Pocket Mobile uses direct dialing in order to get the low basic rate to call the above non-US countries. Some other wireless carriers such as O2 Wireless Service require dialing a US number similar to a calling card number in order to benefit from their low basic rates (before connecting to the long distance number). O2 Wireless allows for calling more countries at local rates but there was something in the terms of usage for O2 Wireless that didn't appeal to me based on my usage.

Red Pocket Mobile includes call display, call waiting, voice mail, and SMS services. The charge for incoming as well as outgoing SMS is $0.10 per text message regardless of the destination. I didn't like the idea of paying for incoming SMS that I had no control over where some of the SMS might be spam so I had Red Pocket Mobile disable SMS on my account. Unlike T-Mobile prepaid, Red Pocket Mobile is able to disable SMS on your account. Similar to T-Mobile prepaid, call forwarding is not part of Red Pocket Mobile's service and neither is wireless data. Unlike in Canada (at least with Rogers), there is no charge if someone leaves you a voice mail message at your Red Pocket Mobile number. However, there is a charge to listen to your voice mail messages from your phone.

With Red Pocket Mobile, when dialing a non-US number, there will be a short pause and then a message will say "Thank you. Connecting your call" before attempting to connect to the non-US number. This "connecting your call" message adds approximately 5 seconds to the call in the case that the call is actually completed. You are billed a minimum of 1 minute for the call when calling a non-US number. These non-US numbers are recorded on their website when you log into your account. If the call is not completed, there is no charge for the call. A completed call is any call that is answered or goes to voice mail. Depending on certain redirection (forwarding) options, a call will also be considered as being completed by Red Pocket Mobile if you call such a number (for example calling a Google Voice number will count as a completed call regardless of whether the person picks up the phone or not).

In the places that I've used my Red Pocket Mobile SIM with my quad band GSM phone, I find that the reception is quite good. I've used it in Washington DC, New York City, Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia as well as at the Quebec Lacolle border crossing into the US. I did notice that in some casinos in Las Vegas, I would have no reception/coverage but once I left the casino floor, the signal bars on my cellphone would go up to the maximum level. When calling, I would sometimes get what appeared to be noise/static and the call would not complete. After the "connecting your call" message, I would get this "static/noise" and I would be forced to manually hang-up/disconnect the call. This caused me to have to make the call twice (being billed for the call that didn't appear to go through and the 2nd call). I don't have the exact figure on this but during my trip to New York City, this happened less than 5% of the time (where I would get static/noise and have to hang up). However, once the call was actually completed, there were no problems with noise or sound quality. The problem that I experienced in New York City might have just been because of the congestion problem with AT&T's network.

Red Pocket Mobile's website advertises 24 hour phone support but they don't offer 24 hour support (at least not in English). I had an issue with my account in the evening on a Saturday and I had to wait until 1pm on Sunday in order to get a customer service representative on the phone (their hours are based of Pacific Time and they start at 10am on Sunday according to their timezone). Generally when I have a question or non-urgent request because of possible language issues (since the company caters to a Chinese clientele), I deal with the company via e-mail which is generally responded to within an hour during regular business hours.

For personal reasons, I deactivated voice mail on my Red Pocket Mobile account. However, when I did have voice mail on my Red Pocket Mobile account, I noticed that their voice mail system had more advanced features than what I'm used to in Canada. For example, it can be set up so that if someone leaves you a voice mail message, the voice mail system will call you at another phone number to let you know about the voice mail. The voice mail system can also be set so that if you call from your Red Pocket Mobile SIM, you are not prompted for a voice mail PIN in order to access your voice mail messages.

An important thing to note is that in order to use/activate your voice mail for the first time, you must call yourself at least once from your Red Pocket mobile phone. It isn't possible to activate your Red Pocket Mobile message initially from using another phone. Since I received my Red Pocket Mobile SIM while I was in Canada, I wasn't able to activate the voice mail until I went to the US since Red Pocket Mobile does not offer any international roaming capabilities. You won't be able to activate your cellphone's voice mail box if you leave the United States (or if you're in the United States but don't have AT&T GoPhone coverage). After you call yourself from your Red Pocket mobile phone for the first time, you are walked through the process of setting up your voice mail box. I believe that you are billed airtime for this process, however, the entire process took under 2 minutes so at most it will only cost $0.30. Once your voice mail box is set up, you can then pick up your voice mail messages from any phone by calling your Red Pocket Mobile cell number, waiting for it to go to voice mail, and pressing "*" during the message.

When dialing any number in Canada and the US, I found that the phone requires the international prefix of "1" before the actual phone number. This doesn't make a difference in terms of charges but it just causes some issues dialing some of the contacts in my smartphone where I haven't entered the "1" before their area code.

Just like with most prepaid phones that I'm familiar with, Red Pocket Mobile offers rollover minutes as long as you add your airtime prior to the balance expiration date.

As mentioned above, Red Pocket Mobile does not allow for international roaming so if you leave the US coverage area, you will not only not have access to make/receive calls but you will also not be able to obtain your balance by dialing *777# and hitting [SEND] from your Red Pocket Mobile phone. This isn't really an issue since I've found that it is easy to obtain your balance by sending an e-mail to Red Pocket Mobile's customer service.

I have another blog entry (which concentrates on the activation/purchasing process) about Red Pocket Mobile *HERE*.

If you have any questions/comments regarding my review on Red Pocket Mobile's US GSM Prepaid Service, please don't hesitate to leave a comment in the comments section.

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