How can a tourist get an unlimited data plan for his mobile phone in the US?
January 2, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How can a tourist get an unlimited data plan for his mobile phone in the US?

I'm going to New York and Boston in March. I'd like to get an unlimited 3G data plan and a local phone number for my unlocked (using ultrasn0w) iPhone. I'm guessing I'll use a lot of data (Google Maps and such) and very few calling minutes. AT&T customer support told me that I can get a contract with them and then cancel it when I leave but that's pretty expensive (canceling the contract is something like $170). I'll only be in the US for 9 days, so I'd really prefer something cheaper. Any ideas?
posted by A Kingdom for a Donkey to Technology (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As far as I know, this is currently impossible. But in a few weeks (after CES) you'll probably able to get one from DataJack.
posted by Mwongozi at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

A while back you could stick a prepaid AT&T GoPhone SIM card in and pay $19.00 for a month of unlimited internet. I'm looking now though, and it looks like I'm guessing too many people took advantage. Now it's only 100MB, and costs just as much. It might still work out if by a lot of data you mean around 100MB (or, ick, you could pay $40 and get 200MB). On my iPhone, it looks like I'm averaging about 300MB a month (except for the outlier from when the internet here was dead and I tethered for a week, that month I used several gigabytes.)
posted by floam at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2010

Sprint allows you to cancel a new contract within 30 days without penalty
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2010

Doesn't T-Mobile have a pre-paid no-contract plan for that? Looks like it's about $80 for a month, though.
posted by dilettante at 11:20 AM on January 2, 2010

I'm not sure how familiar you are with US wireless stuff, but the suggestion above for Sprint won't quite be too handy; they're CDMA. The only big GSM carriers in the US that could work for you are AT&T and T-Mobile (and their MVNOs). Sprint, Verizon (and their MVNOs) means you need a different phone.
posted by floam at 11:31 AM on January 2, 2010

As others are suggesting: There's a dearth of reasonably-priced options for short-term data use on iPhone in the US. (I visit New York a lot, and Boston a bit, with my Canadian iPhone).

One not-ideal option to consider (among many not-ideal options), is to rely on wifi wherever you can get it, and try to use offline applications for thinks like maps. There are some decent offline maps these days.

Used to be you could sign up for TMoblibe prepaid, and pay $1 per day for their "sidekick" plan, which allowed for unlimited data (ableit only on EDGE). That was an awesome deal. I think the deal still exists, but I think they put something on it that makes it work less well (or not at all) on iPhones.

See here and here for some previous threads with some useful info.

If you figure out a better way to go, please post it here! I struggle with this problem every time I go to the US.
posted by ManInSuit at 11:32 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

AT&T has a 30 day cancelation policy for their plans, so you could get an AT&T plan and cancel within 30 days w/o having to pay that kill fee. If you don't have a US credit history you may have to put down a deposit to establish an account. It might take a while for them to credit that back to you.

The T-mobile plan dilettante would work and be cheaper than roaming on your home network but you'd only be able to use T-Mo's EDGE network since its 3G network is on a different frequency as AT&T's.

If it is 9 days, you could get a cheap prepaid voice plan so you can have that US phone number you want for voice, but then exploit Wifi whenever possible for data.
posted by birdherder at 1:03 PM on January 2, 2010

Mwongozi: You happen to know if DataJack offers SIM cards? Both the poster and I appear to be after such a thing.
posted by pwnguin at 1:40 PM on January 2, 2010

I think you'll find that AT&T, Sprint, etc. require you to have a permanent US address and a US bank account/credit card before you can get their phone service.
posted by essexjan at 3:06 PM on January 2, 2010

T-Mobile has no contract plans now (called Even More Plus plans). There 3g is on a different frequency than iPhones, though, so you can only get EDGE. You can see the different plans here.
posted by R a c h e l at 6:40 PM on January 2, 2010

Maybe cricket?
posted by ijoyner at 3:40 AM on January 3, 2010

Cricket is CDMA, ijoyner. He needs something that'd get him a SIM card he could pop into his iPhone. (DataJack is also out).
posted by floam at 7:09 AM on January 3, 2010

DataJack SIM-only: I asked, they said no.
posted by Mwongozi at 9:29 AM on January 4, 2010

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