I currently have a Nokia 1200 and I've never visited an area where it doesn't work. My phone operates on 900/1800 MHz, so it will not work in the USA. Soon, I will visit the USA for approximately one month, and I might relocate there later. If I understand correctly, 2-G communication inside the USA is either IS-95/CDMA or GSM at 850/1900 MHz. For my upcoming and future visits, I want a simple phone — preferably something similar to my Nokia 1200 — that is pre-paid. I phone very rarely, but it is important that I am able to phone occasionally. Therefore, I am looking to buy a(n) (ultra)basic pre-paid phone for US-only use.

Between IS-95/CDMA phones and GSM 850/1900 MHZ phones, which one would be recommendable considering:

  • Coverage, including rural areas (for example, Mammoth Lakes, California)
  • Validity of pre-paid credit (if I charge my phone with 10 US$, then not use it for a year, do I still have my credit?)
  • Overall costs
  • Other factors
  • This seems to be backwards. 850/1900 is the operating frequencies of AT&T, so something seems to be amiss here.
    – Karlson
    Mar 9, 2013 at 18:32
  • @Karlson Oops, I had it mixed up indeed.
    – gerrit
    Mar 9, 2013 at 19:14
  • What other factors?
    – Karlson
    Mar 9, 2013 at 20:25
  • 1
    @Karlson Anything that I'm not thinking of but that I should be (I admit that it's vague, hence it comes all the way at the bottom of the list).
    – gerrit
    Mar 9, 2013 at 20:29
  • There is not really a catch all clause of costs. If you're looking at potential incidentals I'd add 10% on top of the costs.
    – Karlson
    Mar 9, 2013 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


There are many available options as far as prepaid services available in the US:

Most of these sell GSM phones that are enabled for US and some are even able to be used in Europe but you will need to have a tri-band or quad-band to be able to do that. Now as far as IS-95 commonly known as CDMA is that outside the US/Canada the coverage is not as common and not as available.


  • Coverage in Mammoth Lake depends on the carrier. Most major ones are likely to have it covered, smaller ones are likely not to have coverage in more rural areas.
  • Credit - It expires. AT&T Go phone will expire in 6 months to a year.
  • Overall costs: Phone + service vary by phone and by service. GoPhone Alcatel Phone: $15 + 10c/minute
  • 3
    I already have a phone that works in the rest of the world. My question is specifically of CDMA/IS-95 vs. GSM 850/1900 for a simple 2G phone. The links you show seem to want to sell me smartphones with 3G or even 4G capability (even the so-called Simple Mobile). Cricket advertises plans starting at 50$/month; that's more than I spend on my phone in a year.
    – gerrit
    Mar 9, 2013 at 19:52

How about 1700/2100?

Since you have no need of data service...

T-Mobile USA has a pay as you go prepaid plan which, when you add a $100 top-up card, switches your prepaid account to a 1 year expiration, which remains in effect for the lifetime of the account, and only requires adding $10 per year before it expires in order to keep the account active. (Their website doesn't make this clear, but that is how it works. I've had one of these since 2008.)

You can purchase a device from T-Mobile or bring your own device (see eBay US for ideas) and get a SIM for $10. You can buy the device or SIM online or at any T-Mobile shop. Top-up cards are available at many grocery stores and pharmacists around the country, or online.

Voice coverage is pretty good throughout the US, excluding some rural areas in the west where nobody lives anyway. And yes, they have coverage in Mammoth Lakes.

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