Cell Phones

This page provides an extensive Cellular Phone Resource Guide, which includes information about different cell phone service providers, as well as helpful tips on how to select your plan and even a glossary of commonly used terminology.

Most Common Cell Phone Service Providers

Most common cell phone service providers

Provider Locations close to Rice

AT&T (www.att.com)

Prepaid AT&T Phones (www.att.com/prepaid):

  • No annual contract
  • No credit check
  • No deposit
  • Caller ID
  • International Calling

1) 6027 Kirby
Houston, TX 77005
(walking distance from Rice)

2) 7811 Main Street, Suite A
Houston, TX 77030
(walking distance from Target at Main)

Sprint (www.sprint.com)

Discounted or Free Sprint Phones:

1) 3315 Westpark Drive
Houston, TX 77005

2) 3246 South Loop West Freeway
Houston, TX 77025

T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com)

Discounted or Free T-Mobile phones:

1) 8200 S. Main Street, Suite 200
Houston, TX 77025
(near Target shopping shuttle)

2) 3701 S. Shepherd Dr.
Houston, TX 77098

Verizon Wireless (www.verizonwireless.com)

Discounted or Free Verizon phones:

1) 8505 S. Main St. #340 Houston, TX 77025
(near Target shopping shuttle, need SSN & photo ID to sign a contract)

2) 2071 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77098
Shepherd Square Shopping Center

3) 3817 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77027

Other cellular options

Provider Fast Facts

Consumer Cellular (www.consumercellular.com/savings)

Affordable plans, no long-term contracts

Cricket (www.mycricket.com)

  • No annual contracts
  • No credit checks
  • No hidden fees
  • Taxes included
  • Mexico & Canada included on select unlimited plans
  • Save $5/month with Auto Pay

Wirefly (www.wirefly.com)

  • Shop online
  • No waiting in line, no driving from store to store
  • Compare hundreds of cell phones by price, brand, and features across multiple carriers
  • Fast, free FedEx shipping
  • Free online tools to calculate which wireless plan will save you the most money

Make sure to take your Rice ID with you, in case that makes you eligible for a discount.

You may also want to consider J1 SIM. They offer unlimited international calls to landlines in 70+ countries and to mobile phones in 30+ countries along with unlimited calls, text and data in the U.S. for international visitors, without a long-term contract. You can request the SIM card to be sent to you in your home country, allowing you to have a working phone immediately when you arrive in the U.S.

NOTE: http://www.cnet.com is also a really great website for comparisons on any range of electronics.
CNET Cell Phone Buying Guide: http://reviews.cnet.com/cell-phone-buying-guide/
Consumer Reports Cell Phone and Service Buying Guide: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cell-phones-services/buying-guide.htm

What to bring when purchasing cell phones

Most of the stores may ask for 2 forms of ID such as:

  • Social Security Number (just number and not a hard copy), if you have one
  • I-20 or DS-2019
  • Passport
  • Texas State ID or Driver License, if you have one
  • Credit/Debit Card

Make sure to also take your Rice ID, in case that makes you eligible for a discount.

Cell Phone Repair Shops

  • Fix UR Gadget: 1001 McKinney St A-3, Houston, TX 77002, (713) 757-9000 – good reviews
  • LifeLine Repairs: 2246 W. Holcombe BLVD Houston, TX 77030, (832) 831-1310 – good reviews

Stores with Discounted Cell Phones and Plans

Make sure to take your Rice ID with you, in case that makes you eligible for a discount.

Helpful Tips

Be sure to ask how long the contract lasts

Most large cell phone providers require you to sign up for a 2 year contract, but with that contract you get phones at a discounted rate. However, you can also get phones without a contract and pay as you go.

Know your options

  • Pre-Paid Plan: You can go with pre-paid phones where you pay for your minutes ahead of time and re-charge the phone when you run out of minutes. This is a no contract option.
  • Contract Plan: Most large cell phone providers (ATT, Verizon, Sprint, T-mobile) require a two year contract in which you get phones at a discounted rate. For instance, an iPhone costs $500 retail but if you sign a 2 year contract with AT&T, they will charge you only $200 for the iPhone.
  • Month to Month Plan (No Contract): certain cell phone companies like Cricket do not have a contract and you can pay month to month.

Do research on the phone as well as the various service plans

  • Cell phone companies charge by the number of minutes you need as well as add-ons such as text messaging and data plans. Spend some time on the company’s website or talking to a sales person to understand each package and which is more cost-effective for you.
  • Ask about the early termination fee: oftentimes if you cancel your plan before your contract is up, you will be charged an early termination fee that could cost around anywhere from $100-$350 to terminate your contract.

Know how to contact customer service

  • Save the phone number in your phone’s memory or know where to locate it online.
  • You can call or email the customer service reps.

Always pay your bills on time

  • You can ensure your bills are paid on time by signing up for Auto debit where the money is taken directly from your bank account or charged to your credit card.
  • If you do not pay your bills on time, your phone may be cut off or the phone company will have a collection agency contact you to collect the overdue payment.

Know where to take your phone to get it repaired of fixed

  • iPhone users can take their phones to the Apple Store but you often must make an appointment beforehand.
  • Usually, you can take your phone back to the place where you bought it to get assistance.
Glossary of Common Terms

  1. Early Nights and weekends
    Nights usually begin at 9 PM for most cell phone providers but if you get the “early” nights and weekends, your nights will start at 7 PM instead of 9 PM for example. It will cost more.
  2. Early termination fee
    This is the fee charged to you for terminating your contract earlier than the set time (usually before 2 years); please check with the providers to see what the fee is in case you need or want to cancel your phone plan before the contract time is up.
  3. Unlocked cell phone
    A phone not “locked” into a single carrier’s network. Since an unlocked GSM phone is not tied to any carrier, you are free to insert your active GSM SIM card into any unlocked phone and start making calls.
  4. Prepaid phone
    A prepaid mobile phone (also commonly referred to as pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-talk, "pay and go", or prepaid wireless) is a mobile phone for which credit is purchased in advance of service use. The purchased credit is used to pay for mobile phone services at the point the service is accessed or consumed. If there is no available credit then access to the requested service is denied by the mobile phone network. Users are able to top up their credit at any time using a variety of payment mechanisms.
  5. Activation
    Activation is making a phone active on a cell phone network. It is the process that links a specific cell phone to a specific customer account and phone number. It requires configuration on the network side, for the network to recognize that specific phone as belonging to that customer. It may also require configuration on the phone itself.
  6. Carrier (Service Provider)
    Wireless carriers, also called service providers or operators, are the companies that operate the wireless networks and sell use of those networks (the service).
  7. Hot Spot (Hotspot)
    An area where wireless service is made available for Wi-Fi enabled devices or computers to access the internet. Most hot spots charge users for access by the day or month, however some are free.
  8. Land Line
    Conventional (non-wireless) telephone connection.
  9. PAYG (Pay-As-You-Go)
    Essentially another term for pre-paid, meaning service that is paid in advance, as-needed, instead of billed at the end of each month (post-paid). Since service is paid for in advance, there is no generally no need for contracts or credit checks with pay-as-you-go. One difference from prepaid is that a PAYG plan can (optionally, usually) be set up to automatically deduct funds from a bank account when depleted, instead of the balance simply becoming zero, rendering the phone unusable until the account is manually replenished.
  10. QWERTY
    QWERTY is a standard layout for letter keys on text keyboards and thumboards. Originally created for typewriters, it is currently the layout found on most English-language computer keyboards. It is named for the order of the first six keys on the top row, which happen to form a pronounceable word.
  11. Refurbished
    Refurbished phones are used phones that have been inspected, tested, and restored to full working condition at a factory or authorized service center. They may feature new housings or other new parts, or they may simply be used phones that have been tested and certified.
  12. Resolution
    Resolution refers to the number of pixels on display or in a camera sensor. Higher resolution means more pixels, which provides the ability to capture or display more visual information (more detail and clarity.)
  13. Ringtone
    The sound that a phone makes to indicate an incoming call. All modern mobile phones allow at least several choices for different sounds or melodies for a ringtone.
  14. Roaming
    Using a wireless phone outside of your service provider's own network coverage area or, in some situations, outside of a specific local calling area. Roaming arrangements between service providers (carriers) allow you to use other carriers' networks. Service providers may charge a higher per-minute rate for calls placed while roaming.
  15. SIM
    Subscriber Identity Module. A small, stamp-size "smart card" used in a GSM or iDEN phone. The SIM card contains a microchip that stores data that identifies the user to the carrier. The data is also used to encrypt voice and data transmissions, making it nearly impossible to listen in on calls. The SIM can also store phone book information - phone numbers and associated names. The SIM, typically located under the battery, can easily be removed and placed in another phone. This will cause the new phone to instantly operate using the subscriber's existing phone number and account. All GSM phones and most iDEN phones use SIM cards. CDMA, TDMA, and AMPS (analog) phones generally do not use SIM cards. The information is instead programmed directly into the phone. However, some CDMA phones for China and Latin America use a very similar type of card called R-UIM.
  16. Streaming Video
    This feature provides the ability to play video content. While many phones can play downloaded, pre-recorded video content, "streaming" allows immediate playback as the video content is sent over the network, instead of waiting for a full video file to download first. This permits real-time viewing of live event and news broadcasts. Since video is very data-intensive, the performance of this feature depends heavily on the speed of the data connection (packet data).
  17. UI (User Interface)
    The technical features of a device that the user interacts with directly Broadly, this can include hardware such as the display, buttons, other controls, and mechanical features. More commonly, the UI refers to the software-controlled visual elements displayed on the screen that allow the user to interact with the device. This includes menus, icons, text entry boxes, etc.

More glossary terms can be found here: http://www.phonescoop.com/glossary/.

For more resources, please also see http://blog.sprintax.com/international-students-guide-cell-phones-plans/