We know that deciding on a prepaid cell phone provider is only the first step. Once you choose a provider and a phone, you'll need to activate that phone. The prepaid cellular companies do their best to make activations easy, but sometimes a little help might be needed. So we bought phones from our top prepaid wireless providers, had one of our editors activate them and document the process in case you need someone to walk you through the steps.
If you've had a problem activating your phone, we want to hear about it so we can add it to the activation guides in case others experience the same problem.
AT&T GoPhone – Motorola C168i
Click here for the AT&T prepaid activation guide
AT&T makes it really, really easy to activate their prepaid phones. The hardest part, actually, is installing the SIM, which says a lot about the ease of the process. That is, unless you run into any issues when using the online or phone activation. I did not, but that's not to say that no one will.
Boost Mobile – Motorola i415
Click here for the Boost Mobile activation guide
We did this activation online, and we have to say that we're thoroughly impressed. There were a few extra steps mixed in the middle, and they asked for some information that other providers don't ask for, but everything was simple and explained to us. When we were asked to enter our SIM card number, they even told us where to look and what the number would start with. It's as if Boost went out of their way to ensure a simple activation process. We like that.
Net10 – Motorola C139
Click here for the Net10 prepaid activation guide
Of all the web-based activations, Net10 took the least amount of time from beginning to placing calls. It's a stripped-down version of Tracfone, and they even stripped down the activation process.
Straight Talk APN Settings Guide
Click here for the Straight Talk APN Settings Guide
Many prepaid customers choose to bring their own phones to a new network instead of purchasing an entirely new phone. But sometimes, porting your device can bring challenges. So if you made the change to Straight Talk and can't receive texts or internet, then you probably need to change your APN settings.
T-Mobile To Go – Nokia 6030
Click here for the T-Mobile prepaid activation guide
We expected T-Mobile to have web activation. After all, they are a Big Four. However, we were surprised — even dismayed — to find that we had to call from a landline to go through the process. We thought it was a bit longer than the other processes, but that might just be because of our disappointment. Really, though, it's no more difficult than the others. And you start off with a $10 balance, so that helped.
TracFone – Motorola C139
Click here for the TracFone activation guide
Tracfone really gets it. Instead of having you look through your box for the relevant activation numbers (IMEI, serial, SIM if applicable), Tracfone has them listed right inside the phone. So you just click through the website and your phone, and voila! The only external element you need during activation is the airtime card.
Verizon Wireless prepaid – Nokia 2366i
Click here for the Verizon prepaid activation guide
They may be the No. 2 service provider in the country, but they definitely have the No. 1 activation process in terms of simplicity. All you do is dial a number right from the phone you are activating. They ask you a few questions, and there you are. It didn't take more than three minutes to activate once we were connected. Take that, AT&T.
Virgin Mobile – Kyocera
Click here for the Virgin Mobile activation guide
We're sure that the website activation normally works. However, when we gave it a try, we kept getting stuck on one screen. Knowing that it was probably a temporary error, we left it for an hour and came back. Still, we had no luck. So we called the activation number, and found it simple and short. The website setup seemed easy, but since it didn't work, we can't say for sure. But it was very easy over the phone.